The US Office of Naval Research (ONR) has conducted an unmanned boat swarm demonstration that saw multiple vessels autonomously participating in harbour defence manoeuvres.
Taking place in the Lower Chesapeake Bay, the test involved a number of rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) alongside other small craft. Using a combination of software, radar and other sensors, the swarm patrolled a large area of open water, engaging with an unknown vessel when it entered the area. While assessing the status of the unknown vessel, updates were continually provided to human operators on shore.
“This demonstration showed some remarkable advances in autonomous capabilities,” said Commander Luis Molina, military deputy for ONR’s Sea Warfare and Weapons Department.
“While previous work had focused on autonomous protection of high-value ships, this time we were focused on harbour approach defence.”
The autonomous technology used to coordinate the manoeuvres is known as CARACaS (Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing). According to the ONR, the system uses some off-the-shelf components, and the overall cost of CARACaS is significantly less than maintaining manned vessels for harbour approach defence.
“The US Navy knows our most important asset, without question, is our highly trained military personnel,” said Dr Robert Brizzolara, the ONR’s CARACaS programme officer.
“The autonomy technology we are developing for our sailors and marines is versatile enough that it will assist them in performing many different missions, and it will help keep them safer.”
The ONR first tested CARACaS back in 2014 during a naval escort demonstration on the James River in Virginia. According to Brizzolara, the platform’s capabilities have been greatly improved since then. CARACaS now enables multiple unmanned vessels to participate in task coordination, additional behaviour and tactics, and more advanced automated vessel classification.