The Western Australia-based shipbuilder is set to modify the patrol boat with autonomous and remotely piloted capability.
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Austal Australia has assumed ownership of the former HMAS Maitland — a decommissioned Armidale Class patrol boat.
The vessel is expected to be leveraged for Austal’s Patrol Boat Autonomy Trial (PBAT), which involves planning, modification, and test and evaluation of autonomous and remotely operated systems.
This is expected to involve collaboration with the Trusted Autonomous Systems Defence Cooperative Research Centre and the Royal Australian Navy Warfare Innovation Navy (WIN) Branch.
The trial aims to establish robotic, automated and autonomous elements on a patrol boat, providing a proof-of-concept demonstrator, for optionally crewed or autonomous operations for the RAN.
PBAT is also expected to explore the legal, regulatory pathways and requirements of operating an autonomous vessel at sea.
Specifically, the PBAT project aims to:
- progress the concept of remote operations and the autonomous 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 of 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; and
- transfer lessons learned on the application of remote or autonomous systems to the Royal Australian Navy’s current fleet to potentially optimise crew workload.
After arriving in Henderson, Western Australia, the vessel — renamed Sentinel — entered the trial’s “modification phase”.
This involved the fitting of monitoring and control systems and technologies that enable autonomous and remote operations.
The patrol boat is expected to be registered under Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) jurisdiction as a domestic commercial vessel from July 2023, enabling sea trials to commence in October 2023.
“Austal understands the future of Australia’s maritime capability will partly depend on how quickly our naval enterprise can better understand and integrate autonomous and remotely operated vessels,” Austal Limited CEO Paddy Greg said.
“Austal are pleased to be at the heart of Australia’s autonomous naval journey, working with our industry partners, Navy and the Commonwealth, to complete the modification and trials, and share this data to improve the wider knowledge base.
“…Austal always strive to improve our designs and build ships that outsmart Australia’s adversaries, delivering capability into the hands of the Australian Defence Force to improve their ability to fight and win at sea.”