ARTIFICIAL intelligence and hi-tech augmented reality systems could be making their way onto the Royal Navy’s newest warships ‘sooner than you might think’.
That was the message from Steve Brown, the head of combat systems integration at BAE Systems.
He is charged with leading the team of experts and researchers at the hi-tech Maritime Integration and Support Centre (Misc) on Portsdown Hill.
They are at the cutting edge of designing and installing the fighting systems that will one day feature in the command centres of Britain’s future naval fleet.
And behind the doors of the secretive tech hub, scientists and engineers are working on how to install AI into the Royal Navy’s warships.
It’s hoped the new systems would make life easier for sailors, providing the best intelligence on possible threats – and reacting at super-fast speeds to imminent dangers.
On top of this, the centre is focusing on creating augmented reality systems that would have a host of benefits for crews, potentially providing real-time data and intelligence on other vessels nearby.
And while the technology sounds like something from a science-fiction movie, Mr Brown said: ‘This could be coming sooner than you might think. It’s not as futuristic as it all sounds.’
BAE Systems has already proven it is no stranger to using state-of-the-art cyber systems in developing warships – the firm has previously used virtual reality ‘suites’ to help engineers build and iron out design issues in the new offshore patrol ships and Type 26 frigates.
Shaped like a Type 45 destroyer, the Misc accurately replicates real-life ship conditions using the same combat system technology found across the Royal Navy’s surface fleet - including systems used to track threats, co-ordinate weapons and manage on-deck aircraft movements.
The centre enables engineers to develop and test key elements of combat systems before they are installed on ships and, once in service, provide them with through-life support.
And this work is set for a major boost after the hub received a £10m grant this year.
On top of the facility’s work on future systems, Mr Brown said BAE was also working on its own concept for the navy’s newest workhorse, the Type 31e general purpose frigate.
BAE hopes it will be able to secure the bulk of the work in partnership with Cammell Laird for the £1.25bn project, which is still up for grabs.
Mr Brown – who has previously spent 12 years on the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier programme – hinted that, if successful, the vessels could be armed with some of the latest technology on offer.
He said: ‘All the technology that we are researching and investing in at the Misc we would look to bring that research and investment through for future platforms.
‘AI is just one capability that we’re looking at. We’re doing some very basic stuff.
‘We hope that one day we will see that in one of our products.
‘With things moving so fast with technology and weapons, we have to make sure as a navy we can respond just as quickly.
‘It will help them keep ahead of the evolving threat.’
The Ministry of Defence hopes to have the first Type 31 entering service by 2023, in time for the retirement of the first, more complex Type 23 frigate.