Under a partnership between international defence company L3Harris and Tasmania-based Sentinel boats, the latter’s Sentinel 1100 boat demonstrated its autonomous capabilities at the Indo-Pacific Maritime exhibition in Sydney on 8 November 2023.
The companies have been working together for almost a year and have developing the autonomous solution over the past few months. L3Harris is providing the sensor and control suite for the Sentinel 1100.
The Sentinel 1100 was tasked with autonomously following a series of waypoints around Sydney Harbour and provide TV and radar data back to a desktop control station portside. Two operators in the control station maintained communications and had the ability to control the vessel, which also had personnel on board as a safety backstop.
A spokesperson for L3Harris told ADM that the advantage of working with Sentinel was the High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) material its boats are made from offer a higher level of durability and robustness, which fits well with autonomous operations that can operate in tougher conditions without a crew. At sea in autonomous mode the Sentinel 1100 has been tested at 40+ knots.
“In the space of 10 days we have gone from a simple crewed RHIB into an autonomous asset,” the spokesperson said, “It is a demonstration, but very quickly we can this into the hands of a customer and say, ‘here you go, here is your next generation uncrewed surface vessels (USV)’.”
“It is more than a remote-control capability; it is a level 3 autonomy with a mission planning capability. A collision-avoidance capability is expected to be added so that it can transit by itself between a start and end location.”
In its existing roles the Sentinel would be used for port protection or used as a scout loitering around an area of interest and using EW technology and Wescam Infra-Red TV sensors to send back data to mothership or shore station. “Having a boat out there for five days instead of six hours represents a significant opportunity for a navy,” the spokesperson said.
L3Harris is able to offer the autonomous Sentinel 1100 solution to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) immediately. The spokesperson explained that whilst there have been numerous experiments within industry on maritime autonomy. “Fleets around the world are struggling with mass,” the spokesperson said, “it gives navies the capability they need to monitor the environment and protect key strategic areas without having to put sailors at risk.”
Both L3Harris and Sentinel are going to expand the relationship further to develop their product and are in the final stages of confirming an official teaming agreement. The companies are able to deliver the full training package, the control suites, logistics, operational procedures. Future applications include mine countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare.
The spokesperson added that a number of tenders in the region looking to procure small boats “while not having autonomy as part of the base case, will request it as a potential future upgrade, so we are working with Sentinel to see how that would look.”
An Australian Defence Force ‘Family of Sea Boats Acquisition’ competition is underway that has an autonomy upgrade as part of its tender request. It is not clear when further information about the project is due to be released. Meanwhile Sentinel is providing three Sentinel 1250 boats to the Royal
New Zealand Navy under the Littoral Manoeuvre Craft (LMC) project that has a future autonomy capability option included.
The company already operates autonomous boats in 12 countries with about 60-70 per cent military with mainly naval customers. Its flagship project is the US Navy Ghost Fleet program, under which L3Harris has provided two USVs Mariner and Ranger – technology demonstrators for its Large USV (LUSV) program.