Royal Navy’s Portsmouth minehunter fleet ‘won’t be cut’ due to new ‘robo-warships’, defence secretary Gavin Williamson vows

ROBOTS will be patrolling the Gulf destroying mines and defending the multi-billion trade route by 2022 thanks to a huge £75m investment in the Royal Navy.

Monday, 1st April 2019, 7:56 pm
Updated Monday, 1st April 2019, 8:01 pm
Defence secretary Gavin Williamson with Mark Atkinson discussing some of the state-of-art equipment that will be hopefully be used in the near future Picture: Habibur Rahman

The cash will be used to build two autonomous minehunters, equipped with space-age tech that can seek out, identify and help destroy underwater explosives.

Defence secretary Gavin Williamson revealed the revolutionary proposal during an event at defence firm QinetiQ’s Portsdown Technology Park, on Portsdown Hill.

It’s hoped the new kit will help speed up the process of dealing with underwater ordnance while reducing the risks faced by sailors.

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Defence secretary Gavin Williamson with representatives of the defence firms speaking about some of the technology Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘It sounds like science fiction, something that we could only read about or watch on TV. But this is a reality that we will make happen,’ Mr Williamson said.

‘We anticipate our revolutionary, robotic minehunters to be deployed on operations in the Arabian Gulf, operating outside of Bahrain in less than three years.’

However, the defence secretary insisted the robots would not replace the Senior Service’s traditional fleet of plastic-hulled minehunters, which are based in Portsmouth.

He said: ‘This isn’t about cutting minehunter numbers.

Pictured: Some of the high tech machinery on display at QinetiQ. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘This is about robots enhancing what humans can do, about bringing man and robot together to ensure that we are constantly leading in the world.

‘We are still going to need ships as platforms in order to be able to deploy this.

‘So certainly long-term and into the future we will still be needing those minehunters.’

As well as paying for the new autonomous minehunters, the cash injection will also fund a new military think-tank whose mission will be to build and design robots and drones to equip the Royal Navy with new gear at a pace never seen before.

Known as Navy X, the body of scientists, engineers and armed forces personnel will craft everything from autonomous scout ships to pocket-sized reconnaissance drones and robots capable of hunting out enemy submarines snooping in British waters.

The fund will help to ‘swiftly take ideas off the drawing table’ and put them ‘into production’ the defence secretary said.

‘But most importantly of all, it will put them into the hands of those who serve in the Royal Navy,’ Mr Williamson said

Commander Sean Trevethan, the navy’s fleet robotics officer, said the new tech would make the Royal Navy ‘a global leader’ in robotics, with equipment able to arrive on ships faster than ‘traditional procurement’ processes, which can take decades.

‘This is a signal of intent that we are willing to do things faster and take more risks,’ he added.

Royal Navy boss Admiral Sir Philip Jones, was confident the Senior Service could deliver the revolutionary tech.

He said: ‘From the invention of the steam catapult and aircraft carrier, to the first use of sonars and torpedoes, the Royal Navy has a strong pedigree in the development, testing and introduction of new technologies that help us keep our country safe.

‘Across the generations, our willingness to embrace innovation has kept us one step ahead of our adversaries, and to assure our continued success on operations into the future it is vital that the Royal Navy continues to be equipped with the latest cutting-edge capabilities we need to address the rapidly evolving challenges that pose a threat to our national interests around the globe.’

More than 50 of the world’s state-of-the-art autonomous vehicles, vessels and drones were displayed at Portsdown Technology Park.

As well as revealing the new robotics investment, Mr Williamson also said an ‘initial investment decision’ on buying two new littoral strike ships –capable of launching amphibious troops and boats – would be taken in September.