The Royal Australian Navy has welcomed its fifth and final Bluebottle uncrewed surface vessel during a meeting of manufacturer staff, Navy personnel, and Assistant Minister for Defence Matt Thistlethwaite.
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Bluebottle manufacturer Ocius Technology showcased the fifth edition of its seven-metre-long autonomous solution for maritime surveillance in Randwick, Sydney on 9 June.
The craft is powered by three propulsion units using wind, waves and the sun; as it covers long distances and stays at sea for extended periods of time.
Navy warfare innovation director general Commodore Darron Kavanagh, who spoke at the event, said this type of innovation has the potential to be an “absolute game changer”.
“One of the beauties of all these smaller vessels is that they complement our existing fleet really well. The persistence of these vessels allow them to remain out for long periods of time rather than crewed vessels, which come back for crew respite,” he said.
“I can leave them (Bluebottle) out in dull areas for long periods of time, like off a particular island or an area where fisheries protection, they can have that persistence of staying in that area. I can call on my more expensive crewed assets when they identify something.
“We have already worked with Border Force; we’ve seen opportunities where having these sorts of platforms out there.”
Commodore Kavanagh said there was also opportunities to use the craft in undersea surveillance.
“At the moment, we’ve been very fixated on maritime and fisheries protection. But also, we’ve been doing work on undersea surveillance as well,” he said.
“We see an opportunity with this sort of platform because of how quiet it is, it makes a perfect platform for listening undersea. Also, in the future, we see it being a potential platform for being able to be used in more of things like detecting submarines.”
The fifth craft is scheduled to be transported to Western Australia within the month, however, four other craft will be used by the Navy for testing in Jervis Bay.
Assistant Minister for Defence Matt Thistlethwaite said the inventive solution provides leading edge capabilities to assist in contending with an increasingly complex strategic environment.
“Investing in partnerships with Australian companies such as Ocius Technologies is critical if Australia is going to meet the challenges of our dynamic strategic environment,” he said.
“We’re in the process of developing the Defence industry strategy and that will be released by Pat Conroy later this year, but the Defence Strategic Review highlighted the technological advancement around autonomous vehicles, and that Australia needs to be at the forefront of that.
“So, in terms of a naval capacity and a maritime capacity, this is perfectly suited to that sort of role within the ADF.
“It’s something that I think has adaptability and may deliver many options for the Navy. They’re (Navy) very impressed with the technology. They’re keen to use it more broadly and it’s a win-win for Australian industry, for the Australian government, and the Defence Force.
“We’re conducting the surface fleet review, to make sure that the investments that we make into the future are fit-for-purpose and ensure that the Australian Navy is innovative.
“That is a quick review, it will be completed by the end of the year. We understand that defence industry, particularly those working in the maritime space, are keen for the outcomes and the conclusion of that as quickly as possible.
“I think they should take some comfort from the fact that the largest investment that Australia is making, in terms of our military capacity into the future, will be in the maritime domain (with AUKUS).
“There’s going to be a large number of opportunities for industry to contribute to that. Not only directly through the submarine build, but for supporting technology like this, which assists the submarine and the surface fleet in the work that they do.”
Event attendees also voiced support for Exercise Autonomous Warrior to be held later this year before the Indo Pacific International Maritime Exposition in November.