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Royal Navy and US Navy evolve joint AI and ML work

The teams are working on improving interoperability and interchangeability of technology between the US and UK

The Royal Navy and the US Navy are working on ways to establish links between their digital delivery teams, test methods for international collaboration and develop deeper technical collaboration around artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

The work, which started in August 2020, is part of a wider initiative to establish better technology cooperations between the US and the UK. It follows a mandate from senior leaders in digital and AI at both organisations, with the objective to “aggressively explore, develop and demonstrate” how the two countries make applications work together in an interoperable way, and how they can interchangeably use each other’s technology.

A shared long-term vision is that US-UK development squadrons will be created, to develop AI and ML to support fleet operations centres to tactical-level units, and interoperability with joint service partners. Under that mandate, a collaboration plan was devised by Royal Navy Digital Services and the US Navy to look at specific pieces of technology and the methods the organisations use to research, design and build software.

According to a blog post by systems engineer Layna Nelson, a US Navy secondee, effective foreign collaboration is considered important in improving a country’s capabilities and those of allies while bringing different perspectives into digital teams. However, that can be challenging due to factors such as bureaucracy and different time zones. The pandemic adds to those hurdles with the impossibility of quality face-to-face interactions, she said.

To tackle those obstacles, the Navies used a two-day virtual workshop format to start sharing best practice in digital delivery and collaborating on research and development. Two teams were involved in the event: one working on an application to support maritime sustainment planning for the Royal Navy, the other delivering an application to enable digital maritime manoeuvre planning for the US Navy.

In the workshop, the idea was to create a “relaxed environment, facilitate information exchanges and developed a clear plan for further work”, according to Nelson. Among other activities, there were live demonstrations of the teams’ working software, and the teams agreed on a common set of secure online collaboration tools.

In terms of next steps, the session generated 12 areas for follow-on collaboration, which are being finalised between the Navies. These include demonstrating US and UK application interoperability using modern application programming interfaces (API), as well as exploring and understanding software development and deployment processes needed to allow the exchange of applications.

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In addition, the Royal Navy User Interface Design System will be tested with US Navy applications, and user-centred design practices will be shared.

According to Nelson, international agreements will be taking place, as well as steps to establish collaborative software development environments in the coming months. “Throughout this pathfinding process, we’ll be learning and evolving with the goal of developing better digital and intelligent capabilities and teams to make our Navies stronger,” said Nelson.

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