Unmanned vessel centre opened by Portsmouth’s minister

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THE country’s centre of excellence in the unmanned vessel industry has opened in Portsdown Technology Park.

The market for underwater drones is estimated to be worth £9bn each year over the next eight years.

Minister for Portsmouth Matthew Hancock having a go on the real-time simulation with Mike Bush, technical manager from Thales. Picture: Sarah Standing (143321-7991 and 0011)

Minister for Portsmouth Matthew Hancock having a go on the real-time simulation with Mike Bush, technical manager from Thales. Picture: Sarah Standing (143321-7991 and 0011)

Yesterday, a £4m Centre for Maritime Intelligence Systems (CMIS) was officially opened by the minister for Portsmouth.

Funding for the centre was announced by the prime minister at Farnborough Air Show in July.

Minister for Portsmouth, Matthew Hancock, officially opened the centre. He also visited the Centre of Excellence in Engineering & Manufacturing Advanced Skills Training (Cemast) at Daedalus in Lee-on-the-Solent.

- To watch a video interview with Mr Hancock during the visit click here.

During his visit to CMIS, Mr Hancock was shown around the new centre. It includes a laboratory where a number of firms including BAE Systems, Qinetiq and Thales UK are working on simulators of how unmanned vessels could work in the future.

The West Suffolk MP was given the chance to test out a simulated emergency situation, with a container ship on fire. The exercise was used to show how unmanned vessels can be used for intelligence-gathering and to keep people out of harm’s way while doing a job remotely.

Afterwards, he said: ‘From a standing start, 10 weeks later, to see so many different companies collaborating to build the best maritime intelligence systems is great.

‘This technology does not have a global leader and we want to put Britain in a place where it could take that global leadership.’

Solent Local Enterprise Partnership chairman Gary Jeffries said the area will be home to a cluster of businesses working on ‘cutting-edge’ technology.

The LEP currently has a £1m fund open to assist companies in the unmanned vessel industry.

Councillor Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City Council and director of Solent LEP, said she was ‘hugely impressed’ following a tour of Cemast, and said she was ‘really, really pleased’ the technology park centre was now open.

She said both give young people the opportunity to learn new skills and cut the number of unemployed young people.

Asked about Cemast, which opened in September, Mr Hancock added: ‘It’s really exciting to see this college developing, and to see it flourishing, especially because of the links between the college and local employers.

‘This is the future for colleges across the country, and it’s great to see it here.’

Asked about the traffic problems facing the Gosport peninsula, he said: ‘I am fully aware of the traffic issues now. I listened very carefully to Solent LEP, which made a very strong case for an upgrade. They have put a bid in to the latest round of growth deals and I will be taking the case to my colleagues – which is what I do as minister for Portsmouth.’

The trip to Cemast was organised by Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage.

She said: ‘It was fantastic to welcome Matt Hancock to the Daedalus Enterprise Zone and to show him just a few of the exciting projects which are under way at the site. He was very impressed by the cutting-edge facilities at Cemast as well as the aircraft at Aerotech and we had an extremely productive meeting to discuss the future of the site and what needs to be done to ensure that it reaches its full potential.’

Fareham College principal Nigel Duncan showed Mr Hancock around the newly-opened centre.

Afterwards, he said: ‘The fact he has taken the time to come and look around the college is fantastic.’