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A.I. technology trialled against a supersonic missile threat

Abigail Taylor

For the first time, artificial intelligence (A.I) is being used by the Royal Navy at sea as part of exercise Formidable Shield, which is taking place off the coast of Scotland.

This operational experiment on the Type 45 Destroyer (HMS Dragon) and Type 23 Frigate (HMS Lancaster), is using the A.I. applications, Startle and Sycoiea, which were tested against a supersonic missile threat.

As part of the above water systems programme, led by Defence Science and Technology Laboratory scientists, the A.I. improves the early detection of lethal threat, accelerates engagement timelines and provides Royal Navy Commanders with a rapid hazard assessment to select the optimum weapon or measure to counter and destroy the target.

Defence Science and Technology Laboratory Programme Manager, Alasdair Gilchrist MBE said: “Dstl has invested heavily in the systems that are installed at the moment, but it’s imperative that we continue to invest to make sure that the Royal Navy remains relevant now and in the future.

Being able to bring A.I. onto the ships is a massive achievement, and while we can prove the A.I. works in the labs, actually getting Navy personnel hands on is brilliant.”

As outlined in the recent Defence Command Paper, the MOD is committed to investing in A.I. and increased automation to transform capabilities as the Armed Forces adapt to meet future threats, which will be supported by the £24bn uplift in defence spending over the next four years.

HMS Lancaster and HMS Dragon (pictured above) are currently trialling the use of A.I. as part of a glimpse into the future of air defence at sea.

Hebrides Range is set to host elements of the largest military exercise in Europe.

Next week a major UK-led multinational exercise will commence with the launch of Exercise Strike Warrior.

Strike Warrior 21, which incorporates Exercise Joint Warrior 21-1, will run from 8th May 2021 to 20th May 2021 , with many of the participating vessels operating off the North Coast of Scotland.

Joint Warrior 21-1 is integrated with Exercise Strike Warrior 21 as part of the final preparations for the first deployment of the UK’s Carrier Strike Group. HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy’s fleet flagship sits at the centre of the Carrier Strike Group, which will deploy shortly after the completion of Strike Warrior.

Ten nations, nine NATO and one non-NATO, will take part, bringing 31 warships, three submarines, 150 aircraft and around 13,400 military personnel including 1,500 ground troops to military ranges across the country, including Hebrides Range, and to maritime exercise areas off the west and north coasts of Scotland. 

NATO nations taking part are the UK, USA, Denmark, France, Germany, Latvia, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, with non-NATO member, Australia, also participating.

Joint Warrior, which takes place twice a year, and Strike Warrior are designed, planned and delivered by the Joint Tactical Exercise Planning Staff based at Northwood in London, some of which will deploy to HM Naval Base Clyde to coordinate events during the exercise. 

Exercise activity will include:

  • 34 naval units from Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Latvia, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the UK and the USA participating around the Scottish Coast.

  • Mine counter measures operations in areas around Campbelltown and Loch Ewe.

  • 150 aircraft will take part in the exercise with some of them operating from RAF Lossiemouth, Prestwick Airport and Stornoway Airport.

  • Joint firing activity will take place at Cape Wrath Weapons Range, Garvie Island and Hebrides range in the north of Scotland.

  • Exercise activity in the North Minch to the west of Ullapool involving fast small boats, both civilian and military.

  • GPS denial operations off the west coast of Scotland. Operations will be conducted at limited periods each day and the relevant authorities, especially maritime and aviation, have been involved in the planning process and relevant safeguards have been put in place.

Exercise Joint Warrior or Strike Warrior as it is known for this time only, is linked directly with the NATO Military Training Exercise Programme and brings together all three UK Armed Forces – the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force – along with the other participating countries, to provide high quality training opportunities and improve joint operations between the UK and its allies.

Participants will practice a wide range of capabilities across land, sea and air in coordinated joint operations with other allied nations, with the Carrier Strike Group being a key element on this occasion prior to the deployment of the HMS Queen Elizabeth Task Group.

The scenario of the exercise will mirror a broad range of crisis and conflict situations which could realistically be experienced in real-world operations. 

Over the fortnight of the exercise, participants will be faced with a period of increasing political and military tensions, along with a huge range of realistic military tasks such as intelligence gathering and reconnaissance, anti-smuggling and counter-terrorism operations, humanitarian assistance and evacuation operations. 

All units involved in the exercise will observe COVID-19 control measures, such as a general requirement for 14-day quarantine periods before personnel can embark on the ships of the UK Carrier Strike Group.  In addition, there will only be limited port visits by UK and allied units and then only for operational and logistical reasons.

Exercise planning staff have liaised with a wide variety of communities and organisations ahead of Strike Warrior in order to minimise the impact of military activity.  Organisations consulted include the Civil Aviation Authority, National Air Traffic Services, Highlands and Islands Airports Authority, Scottish and Northern Irish fishery organisations, and several environmental agencies and groups.