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Dasa awards AI warship contracts

First wave of £4m funding aims to transform defence platforms and tackle issues such as information overload faced by crews

The UK’s Defence and Security Accelerator (Dasa) has announced the first wave of funding for projects that will use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the way warships make decisions and process data.

Under its Intelligent Ship – The Next Generation competition, Dasa selected nine projects, which will share the initial £1m wave of funding dedicated to the development of technology aimed at overcoming the increasing information overload faced by crews.

The competition has total funding of £4m over two phases, with the objective of finding ways to transform the way that Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force equipment platforms are designed, work together, are operated and manned.

“The astonishing pace at which global threats are evolving requires new approaches and fresh thinking to the way we develop our ideas and technology,” said defence minister James Heappey.

“The funding will research pioneering projects into how AI and automation can support our armed forces in their essential day-to-day work.”

According to Dasa, the ship competition is intended to find inventive approaches for human-AI and AI-AI teaming for defence platforms, such as warships, aircraft and land vehicles, that would be applicable over the next two decades and beyond.

On behalf of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), Dasa will seek to find exploitable technology to boost future defence platforms, in areas such as automation, autonomy, machine learning and AI. According to the accelerator, these areas of research are seen as ways to address complex and evolving threats to UK security.

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The programme will allow the definition of requirements and development of applications that can operate in an AI-driven environment, in warships and all defence equipment and military services.

“This Dasa competition has the potential to lead the transformation of our defence platforms, leading to a sea-change in the relationships between AI and human teams,” said Julia Tagg, technical lead at the DSTL. “This will ensure UK defence remains an effective, capable force for good in a rapidly changing technological landscape.”

In September 2019, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) set out key innovation priorities, with AI being one of the main areas of focus. As well as detailing its approach to identifying game-changing tools, the MoD also indicated its intention to have a “more sophisticated relationship” with the tech industry.

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