The recently decommissioned Royal Australian Navy Armidale class patrol boat – the former HMAS Maitland – is to be converted into an autonomous patrol boat testbed.
Maitland will be converted under the Navy’s Patrol Boat Autonomy Trial (PBAT) announced at INDO-PACIFIC 2022 on 10 May, with the work to be conducted by vessel OEM Austal in conjunction with L3Harris and the RAN.
The vessel was decommissioned by the RAN on 28 April in Darwin as part of the transition to newer Evolved Cape class boats and in preparation for the arrival of the larger Arafura class offshore patrol vessels. Maitland will have its weapons and other systems removed at Austal’s Henderson facility in WA, before its autonomous systems are installed, with it projected to return to the water in late 2023 or early-2024.
An Austal release reads, “This trial, harnessing our SMART (Self-guided Maritime and Remote Technologies), will couple Austal’s experience as the expert designer and manufacturer of the Armidale class patrol boat, with L3Harris experience, a world leader in autonomous vessel technology, to jointly develop a proof-of-concept demonstration of autonomous capability, guided by Trusted Autonomous Systems, for the Commonwealth of Australia.”
It says, the PBAT aims to:
- Significantly progress the concept of operations and the certification approach;
- Increase the understanding of fuel management, communication, and navigation systems to be made autonomous;
- Investigate and understand the sustained operation of shipboard mechanical systems without crew intervention, including systems redundancy and reliability to support operations at sea for extended periods;
- Provide input to long-term risk reduction for future naval projects, considering remote or autonomous vessels. This will be extended to other sensors and autonomous vehicles once the initial trial is compete;
- And, transfer lessons learned on the application of remote or autonomous systems to the RAN’s current fleet to potentially optimise crew workload. Remote and autonomous operation has the potential to reduce crew workload and increase operational safety by reducing human error.
Austal and the Navy are expected to collaborate with the US Navy which is planning on testing similar technologies on a larger Austal-designed Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) vessel.