Autonomous vessel Madfox controled remotely from land for first time

According to information published by the UK Navy on June 2, 2021, for the first time, the Navy has driven a fast stealth boat in the Solent, controlling it remotely from land. Commanded by a laptop, tablet, and two sailors in a tent overlooking the water at Browndown Beach in Gosport, the MADFOX autonomous boat was used to test the theory – and practice – of operating a boat from ashore, using it to monitor Solent shipping from afar.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001 Autonomous vessel MADFOX (Picture source: Royal Navy)

Up to now, MADFOX (MAritime Demonstrator For Operational eXperimentation) has been controlled from onboard by Commander Antony Crabb, in charge of NavyX – the specialist team charged with harnessing the latest tech for use by the Fleet.

But in a harbinger of future missions, sailors have now operated the vessel from range, taking on new skills and challenges.

The sailors were taught how to interpret the live feed from the vessel’s sensors and cameras – including a high-resolution zoom which can identify people on ships at a distance.

As a safety measure personnel were aboard MADFOX, but the boat’s movements, speed, and heading were controlled by personnel ashore.

The command node on land afforded an over-watch of the experimentation area. The simple set-up is itself a link to the future, where the node will be integrated into ships like the next-generation Type 26 and Type 31 frigates.

It is hoped the vessel, and other systems like it could deploy with Royal Navy ships in future operations, carrying out tasks from force protection to surveillance.

The investment in MADFOX comes as the Royal Navy and Royal Marines look to expand their use of crewless and autonomous equipment.

NavyX is the Royal Navy’s new Autonomy and Lethality Accelerator, which will rapidly develop, test, and trial cutting-edge equipment, with the aim of getting new technology off the drawing board and into the hands of our people on operations at a pace that has not been possible before. It will operate across all maritime environments - over water, on water, underwater, and littoral.

It is derived from technology firm L3Harris’ Mast-13 vessel which is similar to a water-borne drone. At 13 meters long, the boat maneuver around a naval task force, either autonomously or remotely controlled from a rig. It could be used to identify threats such as mines or collect intelligence on enemy ships, and then feed this information back to Navy ships.