In a Historic First, an Autonomous Military Ship Fires Missile in Coordination With Drones

During a joint NATO exercise, Madfox launched a missile for the first time. 7 photos
Photo: Portuguese Navy
Brace yourself: they’re firing missiles from autonomous warships now, and these ships can coordinate with drones in order to launch an attack. What seemed like Sci-Fi just a few years ago is finally happening. Granted, crew members are still around, making decisions from command and control centers, but it’s still a huge step outside traditional combat scenarios.
NATO’s biggest autonomous war game, REPMUS, is bringing together more than 70 unmanned systems, 11 ships, and hundreds of military personnel. During one of the exercises that recently took place in Portugal, the Royal Navy marked a significant achievement: its autonomous vessel Madfox was deployed overseas for the first time and successfully completed its greatest challenge yet.

NavyX, a British Royal Navy department in charge of innovative technology, began testing Madfox earlier this year. Now, the crewless boat was at the center of a surveillance training operation. First, USNS Carson City launched a Puma drone, which gathered data about a potential target (another autonomous boat), and sent it to the land-based control center. Then, the coordinates were sent to Madfox, which successfully launched a missile to counteract the threat.

But that wasn’t all. The exercise then continued with amphibious operations at nighttime, when the Royal Navy’s autonomous ship tested its surveillance skills. It successfully monitored a target while remaining undetected and sent live footage to the control center. At the same time, drones were providing additional data to the assault forces. Using the coordinated information, operators in the control center then ordered an attack.

Madfox accomplished two main goals. On the one hand, in a historic first for the Royal Navy, an uncrewed surface vessel proved that it could carry out a lethal attack. On the other hand, the NATO operations showed that autonomous ships can work together with drones and a remote control center for unprecedented situational awareness. And this is just the beginning.
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About the author: Otilia Drăgan
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Otilia believes that if it’s eco, green, or groundbreaking, people should know about it (especially if it's got wheels or wings). Working in online media for over five years, she's gained a deeper perspective on how people everywhere can inspire each other.
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