Autonomous Naval Robots to Help Detect Threats: Defence Minister

August 30, 2020 Updated: August 30, 2020

Research in autonomous naval robots will be accelerated to assist Australian defence personnel with mine detection and clearance.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds announced on Aug. 25, that the government was investing $15 million, over a five-year period, into the research and development of technologies in mine clearing.

Researchers will develop, test, and evaluate various teams of Autonomous Underwater Vehicle swarms and Autonomous Surface Vessels.

The drones could be dispatched from a command platform to survey an at-risk area for potential threats, including sea mines, and once cleared, return to command.

“As announced in the 2020 Force Structure Plan, developing new systems for underwater mine detection and clearance are vital to protecting Australia’s maritime environment and advancing our interests,” Reynolds said.

Epoch Times Photo
Australian Mine Warfare Team 16, MCDGRP, and DSTG staff operating the Bluefin 9 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) from a Mine Countermeasure Support Boat (MCMSB) at Pittwater, NSW on Feb. 5, 2020. (Australian Department of Defence)

The new Force Structure Plan, along with the Strategic Update, was announced by Reynolds, along with Prime Minister Scott Morrison on July 1, in response to rising geopolitical issues in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Update will see the Australian Defence Force (ADF) receive a $270 billion funding commitment over a ten-year period and significant upgrades to military technology.

Minister Reynolds said developing key technologies in the fields of artificial intelligence, big data, connectivity, and cyber security would be a big part of the latest initiative. It will assist with bolstering Australia’s maritime capabilities, as well as environmental data collection.

“This will help to create a safer operating environment for ADF personnel,” she said.

Michael Shoebridge, defence director at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told The Epoch Times that the Strategic Update pointed to an urgent need to increase the ADF’s deterrent capabilities in the region.

“Autonomous and unmanned underwater systems that can identify and neutralise mines and other threats to ADF platforms are essential for this,” he said.

Epoch Times Photo
An Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) being prepared for a training exercise as part of AUV Summerfest at HMAS Creswell, Jervis Bay, ACT on Dec. 3, 2019. (Australian Department of Defence)

“Development of these kinds of systems also will allow the ADF to use very similar technologies for offensive purposes in the undersea domain,” he continued.

Shoebridge said the current potential threats that defence personnel face includes smart and conventional sea mines, submarines, as well as armed and unarmed underwater autonomous systems.

Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price said Australian businesses will play a vital role in the project.

“Our local business partners will be part of the team designing and developing a communication, simulation, and training solution for the new autonomous technologies,” she said.

“This will help us accelerate the development and deployment of autonomous systems and solutions in the area of mine countermeasures,” Price continued.

The project will involve a partnership between the Defence Department, Australia’s Trusted Autonomous Systems Defence Cooperative Research Centre, and weapons contractor Thales Australia.

Research partners include Flinders University, the University of Sydney, the University of Technology Sydney, and Western Sydney University who will design, develop, test, and evaluate various platforms.