UK Invests in AI Technology for Warships

File image courtesy Royal Navy

Published Jan 15, 2020 4:38 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK's Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) has announced contract awards worth a combined $1.3 million for AI projects that will help warships process data and give crews improved situational awareness.

As part of DASA’s Intelligent Ship competition, nine projects will share in the initial funding round to develop technology and solutions to overcome the increasing "information overload" faced by crews.

DASA, on behalf of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), is looking at how future defense platforms can benefit from current and future advances automation, autonomy, machine learning and AI. Intelligent Ship is focused on future human-AI and AI-AI teaming across multiple defense platforms, including warships, aircraft, and land vehicles, for long-timeframe development projects. The program is aiming at producing deliverable solutions by the 2040s. 

"The astonishing pace at which global threats are evolving requires new approaches and fresh-thinking to the way we develop our ideas and technology. The funding will research pioneering projects into how AI and automation can support our armed forces in their essential day-to-day work," said UK defense minister James Heappey in a statement. 

"Crews are already facing information overload with thousands of sources of data, intelligence, and information. By harnessing automation, autonomy, machine learning and artificial intelligence with the real-life skill and experience of our men and women, we can revolutionise the way future fleets are put together and operate to keep the UK safe," said Julia Tagg, the technical lead for the program at Dstl. 

The competition is backed by a total funding commitment of $5.2 million over two phases. Innovations developed in phase one of the competition could help determine the types, sizes and roles of future platforms - questions that the U.S. Navy is also actively considering. The program's products may also be adapted and integrated into the existing fleet.

Although titled Intelligent Ship, a warship is just the prototype demonstrator for this competition, DASA said. The project's outcomes could be used for all types of defense equipment and all branches of military service.