Austal Australia has taken possession of a de-commissioned Armidale-class Patrol Boat (ACPB), the former HMAS Maitland, from the Commonwealth of Australia, to commence planning, modification, and test and evaluation of autonomous and remotely operated systems, according to the company’s release.
The Patrol Boat Autonomy Trial (PBAT) is a collaboration between Austal, Trusted Autonomous Systems Defence Cooperative Research Centre and the Royal Australian Navy Warfare Innovation Navy (WIN) Branch. The Trial will 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 into the future. The Trial will also explore the legal, regulatory pathways and requirements of operating an autonomous vessel at sea.
PBAT couples Austal’s experience as the expert designer and manufacturer of the Armidale-class Patrol Boat (ACPB), with subcontractor L3Harris’ experience as a world leader in autonomous vessel technology. With co-funding from the Commonwealth of Australia, guidance and support is provided from the Trusted Autonomous Systems Defence Cooperative Research Centre.
Following the arrival of the vessel in Henderson, Western Australia, the re-named ‘Sentinel’ has entered the Trial’s ‘modification phase’; which includes the fitting of a variety of monitoring and control systems and technologies that enables autonomous and remote operations. From July 2023 the vessel is expected to be registered under Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) jurisdiction as a domestic commercial vessel to enable sea trials to commence October 2023.
In late 2020 the Australian Defence Force issued a Joint Concept on Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS). The Concept defines RAS in terms of both the threats and opportunities it provides across all operating environments (land, sea, and air).
In parallel, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) released the Robotics and Autonomous Systems-Artificial Intelligence (RAS-AI) 2040 Strategy outlining its vision for “a fighting and thinking Navy” that embraces RAS-AI, to transform and improve its ability to fight and win at sea.