Royal Navy Will Use AI To Detect Threats In Maritime Combat


Smart systems will have a role in the future of warfare on the high seas

The Royal Navy will put artificial intelligence (AI) systems on board its ships in order to better detect incoming threats and assess combat scenarios.

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the Ministry of Defence’s executive agency, has created an AI platform with aid of Roke Manor Research called Startle, which aims to provide situation awareness for ships in combat zones.

It does this through a combination of AI techniques, inspired by how the human brain works and the conditioned-fear response mechanism mammals have.

AI on the high seas

Royal Navy Type 45 Destroyer HMS DaringAfter two initial phases of testing, Startle will now be integrated by Roke into a maritime combat system demonstrator to see how the system works in action in replicated maritime combat scenarios, courtesy of the Open Architecture Combat System Dstl has.

The idea is the system will use its AI smarts to augment a battleship’s existing detection systems and make informed decisions based on a wealth of sensor data, such as cuing other systems to assess and confirm potential threats, which it can feedback to the officers on the ship in charge of battle operations.

With this information a command team can make decisions faster, potentially turning the tide of battle from failure into success.

Rather than replace the sailors in charge of battle operations, Startle has been designed to augment their situational awareness in response to combat environments getting increasingly complex.

“Traditional methods of processing data can be inefficient so we have looked at the human brain’s tried and tested means of detecting and assessing threats to help us design a better way to do it. The techniques have the potential to benefit the Royal Navy,” said Mike Hook, lead software architect on Startle at Roke.

“The first two phases of the project have proven that we’ve been able to successfully apply these techniques to real data from complex scenarios. The clever part comes in the way these potential threats are detected and the way our software redistributes resources to decide if they are real – all in the blink of an eye.”

Roke noted there is potential for Startle and its situational awareness capabilities to find use in autonomous vehicles, health monitoring, and computer network defence.

The spread of AI into all manner of machinery and systems seems unstoppable, with smart systems playing a major role in the development of driverless cars and AI even finding its way into smartphones. In the near future, it is likely basic AIs will find their way into regular if not everyday use, which may require the government to assess the impact such intelligent machines and service will have on society and the economy.

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