The RAN’s latest and definitely its fastest surface asset, the Devil Ray T38, made its autonomous debut on Jervis Bay as part of Exercise Autonomous Warrior 2022.
The catamaran-hulled 38ft Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV), powered by twin 300 hp diesel outboards, boasts a burst speed of more than 80 knots (148 kph), a payload capability of 2,041 kg, a range of more than 500 nautical miles at a cruise speed of 25 knots, and operates in conditions up to Sea State 7.
The T38 is capable of fully-autonomous, semi-autonomous and full operator control modes. Initially manned by a two-strong crew, autonomous operations began in Jervis Bay on 25 May, watched among others by a Special Forces group.
Developed and manufactured by Florida-based Maritime Tactical Systems (MARTAC), the T38 can be fitted with a wide range of sensors as well as being able to remotely launch and recover onboard USVs and Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) from an aft ramp, as well as operate as a tow vehicle.
Five of the type are in service with the UK Royal Navy and a number equip the US Navy’s Bahrain-based Task Force 59, established in September 2021 to rapidly integrate unmanned systems and artificial intelligence with maritime operations in the US 5th fleet’s area of operations covering the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean.
Autonomous Warrior 2022 began on 16 May and ended on 27 May, involving approximately 300 personnel from 40 organisations across Australia, the UK and the US testing leading-edge technologies designed to confront emerging maritime security challenges.
The simulated missions demonstrated capabilities including mine countermeasures; survey, surveillance, reconnaissance; undersea warfare; intelligence gathering; force protection; interoperability and interchangeability.
In addition to testing the capabilities of autonomous vessels, aircraft and vehicles, the exercise also tested sophisticated Command and Control (C2) technologies used to receive, process and present data inputs from multiple systems to inform command decisions and direct autonomous systems’ actions.
The RAN’s T38 was acquired for test and experimentation along with a MARTAC T12, an electrically-powered virtual double of the T38 but only 12ft long and able to ‘nest’ on the larger craft’s stern ramp while capable of deploying the same range of sensors.
The man-portable T12 offers 30 hours station-keeping time, payloads of up to 64kgs and a range of 64 nautical miles. While primarily designed for harbour-based and near-shore operations, it remains operational in conditions exceeding Sea State 4. During Autonomous Warrior 2022, a Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) T12 operated in tandem with the RAN USV.
Director General Warfare Innovation - Navy, Commodore Darron Kavanagh, told ADM the T38 had been acquired to leverage Task Force 59’s experience with the type.
“We also have the ability to put the T12 on the T38, launch it from there and try interesting things about how autonomous systems actually ‘nest’," he commented.
“The T38 has endurance so it can get you somewhere fast and then you might use the T12 for a stealth-type mission. It’s really about us exploring the opportunities that these sorts of things present to us.”