• The Sun Ray underwater flying wing on display at Autonomous Warrior.
Julian Kerr
    The Sun Ray underwater flying wing on display at Autonomous Warrior. Julian Kerr

Autonomous Warrior 18, the largest autonomous systems exercise yet undertaken in Australia, kicked off on 5 November in the Jervis Bay area and will continue until 23 November.

Hosted by DSTG and the RAN, the exercise is demonstrating the benefits of autonomous systems in various warfare formats while providing industry with an opportunity to display its technologies in support of ADF operations in the maritime, littoral and land environments.

The exercise, centred on HMAS Creswell, involves 450 participants from 42 organisations, including strong US and UK representation, and builds on the outcomes across multiple warfare areas of Exercise Unmanned Warrior 16 held in Scotland.

The themes in the current exercise revolve around fleet base protection, counter-arms smuggling, and support to an army foot patrol.

The base protection element includes operations under routine surveillance conditions as well as dynamic response or re-tasking against coordinated attacks across multiple domains.

Counter-arms smuggling involves a scenario in which a suspect fishing vessel enters Jervis Bay, intelligence is gathered by air, surface and subsurface autonomous systems, the vessel throws arms overboard while being pursued (and captured) after which unmanned underwater vehicles locate and identify the dumped arms down to the level of their serial numbers, and a recovery operation is put in place. 

Army patrol support utilises both air and ground autonomous systems for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support.

Included as a component of the broader exercise, a ‘Wizard of Oz’ trial involving the Technical Cooperation Program (TTCP) of the Five Eyes nations (US, UK, Australia, Canada and NZ) will test the advanced Allied Impact (AIM) command and control system.

Combining technology developed by the five nations, this allows the control and operation of multiple vehicles by a single operator. Currently each unmanned vehicle generally has a low degree of autonomy and is controlled by multiple operators.

Anticipated outcomes include the force multiplier effect of small teams of human operators controlling a large unmanned fleet in a dynamic threat environment, an interoperability architecture for autonomous systems and command and control, integration of autonomous technologies across the Five Eyes community, and faster military decision cycles.

The RAN’s exercise lead, Commander Paul Hornby, said the scenarios would test the limits of current capabilities.

The 38 autonomous platforms on display at HMAS Creswell comprise 13 air vehicles, eight ground vehicles, 14 sea surface vehicles, and three underwater vehicles.  Of these, 26 Australian and international participants are providing live demonstrations of their technologies. 

Notable among the participants is the UK’s MAST (Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed) system, a 34-foot unmanned surface vessel based on the innovative bladerunner hull shape and capable of speeds of up to 48 knots. The MAST can be operated at various levels of autonomy from basic remote control up to fully autonomous navigation.

Unmanned air vehicles include the US Super-bat, Flamingo and Tempest, unmanned ground vehicles include an Israel Aerospace Industries 6x6 combat support vehicle with a three-tonne payload, while Sydney’s Ron Allum Deepsea Services provides a glimpse of the future with its prototype Sun Ray high performance autonomous glider for long-endurance undersea surveillance.

Developed with Defence funding, the Sun Ray is an underwater flying wing with a variable ballast engine that can be flooded or pumped out to change the vessel’s buoyancy.

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