Royal Navy’s future robotic minehunter is spotted in Portsmouth


WITH its sleek grey hull slicing gracefully through the water, it looks like any other boat entering Portsmouth Harbour.

Friday, 13th March 2020, 12:24 pm

But this sophisticated vessel is part of a new fleet of ‘robo-boats’ being developed to prowl the seas of the globe in hunt of deadly explosives.

Known as the Apollo, the space-aged piece of seafaring kit is capable of navigating waterways and dodging other ships – without the need of a human pilot at the helm.

The boat, which is still in the development stage, is now being put through its paces in the latest bout of tests in the Solent by engineers from defence firm Thales.

Frst glance of the Royal Navys new Autonomuos Boat Apollo unmanned mine operation unit at Southsea. Picture: Mark Cox Copyright: Other 3rd Party

The vessel, which is slightly larger than navy’s fleet of high-speed Pacific 24 MKIV rigid inflatable boats, was revealed to the navy last year during a test phase in Devon.

Once deployed, Apollo’s state-of-the-art system can take charge and carry out missions to hunt out and destroy underwater bombs – without the need for human navigators and specialists.

John Hunnibell, a former Royal Navy mine warfare and clearance diving officer, has been involved in the trials of the new boat.

He said: ‘Thales Maritime Mine Countermeasures is the first of kind system of systems capable of detecting, classifying and disposing of mines and bombs at sea, without ever having a human operator anywhere within a naval minefield.

‘The vessel can be programmed to conduct these search and dispose missions completely autonomously, whilst avoiding navigational obstacles such as other vessels.’

So far, tests have seen Apollo working towards integrating a towed mine-hunting sonar.

It’s the latest in a series of unmanned, autonomous boats being tested for the navy.

Previous technology included the Atlas Elektronik UK’s £13m unmanned minesweeper.

The autonomous vessel could pull three coil auxiliary boats behind it, with each of the towed boats emitting magnet, electric and acoustic signals that can detonate a variety of mines, including some of the latest models.

Portsmouth is the home port to most of the Royal Navy’s fleet of minehunters, with eight vessels based here.