A Bluebottle renewable-powered uncrewed surface vessel is set to begin trials with the Royal New Zealand Navy this month.
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HMNZS Aotearoa, a Polar Class logistics support ship, will deliver the 6.8-metre craft constructed by Sydney-based Ocius Technology from Sydney to Devonport Naval Base in Auckland for the short-term lease, according to a statement from RNZN published on 4 December.
The solar, wind and wave-powered Bluebottle is expected to undertake fishery protection, border protection, meteorological data and maritime tasks at sea without fuel or personnel. The craft is powered to a maximum speed of five knots by a retractable rigid sail, photo-electric cells and a flipper/rudder system.
RNZN Maritime Component Commander, Commodore Garin Golding said the sheer size of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone is a key contributing factor for the potential capability of the USV.
“Our EEZ is the fifth largest in the world at more than 4 million square kilometres. Coupled with the 30-million-square-kilometre search and rescue area that New Zealand has responsibility for, that is a lot of ocean to cover,” Commodore Golding said.
“The evidence we’ve seen from our partner militaries overseas is that uncrewed drone aircraft and vessels can provide real value in fulfilling some of these search and surveillance tasks.”
The RNZN’s Autonomous Systems Staff Officer, Commander Andy Bryant said the RNZN is looking forward to the USV demonstrating its potential.
“The Bluebottle has already undertaken a range of activities in support of the Australian government for long periods of time without the need for refuelling, recharging or crew respite,” Commander Bryant said.
“I’m confident we will see similar benefits from the time we have with the vessel, particularly a better understanding of how to operate and sustain uncrewed vessels, and this will provide a great opportunity to share experiences on the new system with the Royal Australian Navy.”
The craft is able to utilise sensors (including radar, electro-optic and infra-red cameras) for effective control of the system and identification of other vessels. The USV will be constantly monitored and operated from a control room at Devonport Naval Base using mobile phone signal while close to shore or via high and low bandwidth satellite when further offshore.
The USV can be transported by trailer for launch and recovery from a boat ramp or craned on and off a Navy ship to launch on operations while deployed overseas.
Earlier this month, the RNZN also confirmed two successful live fire events from Anzac Class frigate HMNZS Te Mana using 3.2 metre-long, 25-kilometre range Sea Ceptor surface-to-air missiles in the East Australia Exercise Area.
The test, against two two-metre-long uncrewed aerial drones simulating inbound missiles, completes the final part of the frigate’s testing and evaluation process for a Frigate Systems Upgrade on Te Mana and compatriot Anzac Class frigate, HMNZS Te Kaha.
During the test, the ship’s combat management system identified and classified both threats before Sea Ceptor missiles were launched, intercepting and destroying the targets.