Royal Navy ships from Portsmouth use artificial intelligence to defend against missile attack for the first time

THE Royal Navy is using artificial intelligence for the first time at sea in a bid to defeat missile attacks.

By Tom Cotterill
Saturday, 29th May 2021, 12:45 pm
Updated Sunday, 30th May 2021, 10:23 am

Leading-edge software is being tested by two Portsmouth-based warships at sea against live missiles during the largest exercise of its type off the coasts of Scotland and Norway.

Involving more than 3,000 military personnel, Formidable Shield tests the ability of Nato warships to detect, track and defeat incoming missiles, from sea-skimming weapons travelling at twice the speed of sound just above the waterline, to ballistic missiles.

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The operations room of one of the Royal Navy's most modern warships the Type 45 destroyer HMS Dragon during an air defence exercise off the Scottish, Hebride Isles Image from the Type 45 destroyer HMS Dragon

Three Royal Navy warships are taking part in the exercise, which runs until early June: destroyer HMS Dragon and two frigates, Lancaster and Argyll.

HMS Lancaster and Dragon, which are based in Portsmouth, are trialing artificial intelligence and machine learning applications which offer a glimpse of the future of air defence at sea.

Experts from the government’s defence laboratory Dstl and industry partners from Roke, CGI and BAE Systems are using the three-week exercise to test their ‘Startle’ and ‘Sycoiea’ systems.

Startle is designed to help ease the load on sailors monitoring the ‘air picture’ in the operations room by providing real-time recommendations and alerts.

While Sycoiea builds upon this, allowing operations room teams to identify incoming missiles and advise on the best weapon to deal with them more quickly than even the most experienced operator.

Above Water Tactician Leading Seaman Sean Brooks aboard HMS Lancaster is among those who was impressed by the software.

‘I was able identify missile threats more quickly than usual and even outwit the operations room,’ he said.

Although experiments with AI have been conducted before, this is the first time it’s been tested against live missiles, said Lancaster’s weapon engineer officer Lieutenant Commander Adam Leveridge.

‘Observing Startle and Sycoiea augment the human warfighter in real time against a live supersonic missile threat was truly impressive – a glimpse into our highly-autonomous future,’ he added.

Alasdair Gilchrist, programme manager for Dstl said it was ‘imperative’ that Britain continued to invest in the combat systems installed on Royal Navy warships to ensure they meet present and future challenges.

‘Being able to bring get the AI onto the ships is a massive achievement, and while we can prove the AI works in the labs, actually getting Navy personnel hands on is brilliant,’ he said.

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