James Bond drone 'spy boat' joins Royal Navy fleet in Portsmouth for milestone tests

THE Royal Navy has welcomed a hi-tech robotic ‘spy boat’ to its fleet in Portsmouth.

Monday, 29th March 2021, 11:42 am
Updated Monday, 29th March 2021, 12:18 pm

The 32ft vessel, named the ‘Madfox’, is packed with the latest gadgets and artificial intelligence kit that could one day help it skulk behind enemy lines or spy on drug gangs without the need of a crew.

The state-of-the-art drone, that looks like something from a James Bond film, is now being trialled by NavyX, a specialist naval branch dedicated to developing, testing cutting-edge technologies for use on the front line.

It’s hoped the multi-million pound piece of kit will be the first in a fleet of unmanned surface vessels (USV) earmarked to join the navy in the next few years as it seeks to modernise its fleet.

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The new Madfox autonomous boat docked at HMNB Portsmouth. Photo: Royal Navy

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Commander Antony Crabb, NavyX team leader, said: ‘With Madfox now directly in the hands of NavyX, the team will be able to explore a multitude of issues such as safety, regulatory compliance, new missions, new payloads and the role that a USV can play in complex operations and within the future fleet.

‘Later this year NavyX will also accept an autonomous rigid inflatable boat into the inventory. This exciting work will help inform how systems are deployed, and employed, from future vessels of the Type 26 and Type 31 classes.’

Madfox has already undergone a series of tests with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) over the past 18 months.

The Madfox autonomous boat has officially been handed over to the Royal Navy. After 18 months of rigorous trials and testing, the vessel is now owned by the Navy.

Now the boat will operate out of Portsmouth as NavyX prepares to put it through its paces over the ‘next year’.

The team of tech whizzes aim to see how uncrewed vessels like Madfox can be used for military tasks like surveillance and force protection.

The investment in Madfox comes as the Royal Navy and Royal Marines look to expand their use of crewless and autonomous equipment.

The boat will now go through a period of trials by NavyX, a specialist naval branch seeking to test the latest robotic kit.

It follows a £3m cash splurged by the Ministry of Defence in the development of unmanned boats, which includes a new crewless version of the Pacific 24 boat – unveiled in Portsmouth last year.

The craft will be able to operate individually, or in groups, reaching speeds of up to 38 knots – almost 44mph.

As well as unmanned boats like Madfox and the new Pacific 24, the navy is also looking at autonomous minehunting technology.

It comes as the Senior Service seeks to retire its current fleet of ageing minehunters.

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