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Royal Navy trials AI during exercise in Scotland

The Royal Navy is testing two different artificial intelligence systems to see how they would perform against a supersonic missile threat

The Royal Navy is using artificial intelligence (AI) for the first time, trialling two different applications during an exercise in the Scottish Hebrides.

The AI applications are being tested against a supersonic missile threat, aiming to improve early detection of lethal forces.

The Navy has worked with industry and researchers, including Roke, CGI and BAE Systems, to ensure the AI technology is working together with radar and combat management systems.

Scottish secretary Alister Jack said it is vital that the armed forces stay “ahead of the game for the security of the UK and our allies”.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

The Navy is using an AI system called Startle, aiming to ease the load on sailors monitoring the air in the operations room through live recommendations and alerts, depending on what it picks up, as well as the Sycoiea system, which evaluates threats and weapon assignment through identifying the nearest threat and how best to deal with it.

The AI trials are part of the Above Water Systems programme led by the Defence Science and technology Laboratory (Dstl).

Dstl programme manager Alasdair Gilchrist said the laboratory has invested heavily in the systems, but that it’s “imperative that we continue to invest to make sure that the Royal Navy remains relevant now and in the future”.

“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,” he said.

In 2019, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) set out its key innovation priorities for the coming years, with AI being one of the key areas of focus.

Its recent Defence command paper also highlighted the need for investment in AI and increased automation to ensure the country’s armed forces adapt to meet future threats.

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