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The Royal Navy Has Been Pitting AI Software Against Supersonic Missiles

Ross Kelly

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Royal Navy
Experiments with AI have been conducted before. However, this marks the first time AI applications have been tested against live missiles.

The Royal Navy has revealed its first use of artificial intelligence technology during operations off the coast of Scotland.

During a NATO training exercise off the country’s west coast, a Royal Navy destroyer, HMS Dragon, tested AI known as Startle and Sycoiea against a supersonic missile threat.

Similar exercises with the AI applications were also conducted by HMS Lancaster, a Type 23 Frigate.

The Startle AI system is designed to help “ease the load” on sailors monitoring airborne targets from a vessel’s operations room, and provides live recommendations and alerts.

Meanwhile, the Sycoiea system supports and builds on this system, identifying threats and assigning weapons best designed to deal with it.

The use of AI systems provides a glimpse into the future of air defence at sea, according to Lieutenant Commander Adam Leveridge, HMS Lancaster’s Weapon Engineer Officer.

Experiments with AI have been conducted before. However, this is the first time it has been tested against live missiles.

“Observing Startle and Sycoiea augment the human warfighter in real time against a live supersonic missile threat was truly impressive,” he said. “A glimpse into our highly-autonomous future.”

Scottish Secretary, Alister Jack, hailed the trial as a major development which could herald the beginning of a new, AI-powered age in British defence.

“It’s vital that our brave and highly skilled Armed Forces stay ahead of the game for the security of the United Kingdom and our allies,” he said.

“The Royal Navy’s use of AI for the first time at sea is an important development in ensuring readiness to tackle threats we may face. I’m proud to see that two Scottish-built Royal Navy vessels are at the heart of this exercise in the waters off the Hebrides.”


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These tests have been led by scientists from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) as part of the Above Water Systems programme.

Dstl has worked closely with Roke (Startle), CGI (Sycoiea) and BAE Systems to ensure the new applications work alongside existing radar and combat management systems.

“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,” said Dstl programme manager, Alasdair Gilchrist MBE.

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

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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