back to article Royal Navy seeks missile-moving robots for dockyard drudgery

The Royal Navy's (RN) tech innovation tentacle wants clever folk to come up with entirely autonomous ways of dropping new missiles into its warships' hungry silos. NavyX is set to kick off its latest industrial challenge, named the Maritime Autonomous Systems competition. Top of its agenda is finding "solutions that …

  1. AceRimmer1980
    Pint

    Missile Loading?

    Can we have powered walking exoskeletons instead?

  2. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    Our aircraft carrier requires ammunition? Thought the entire thing was wrapped in cotton wool and only uncovered for polishing ...

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      It has seven chain guns and at least a hangar's worth of storage space, enough for a full service lifetime's requirement of 20mm/30mm ammunition. The robots only have to fill it up once and they'd make themselves redundant.

    2. Dabooka Silver badge
      Mushroom

      You're not thinking straight

      The ammunition is not just for the ship itself, it's also for the planes that fly off the aircraft carri...

      oh.

  3. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Is it possible?

    No it's not. Even in that documentary movie "Aliens" they had to move and load the missiles using human operated exo suits.

    1. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: Is it possible?

      They could skip the step of ships and munitions and go full on Screamers! That way everything is automated. 'Can I come with you?'

      1. the Jim bloke Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Is it possible?

        Screamers and Firestarter (Drew Barrymores best movie) are about the only two movies containing children that I actually liked,

  4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    mousetrap

    Switch back to round cannon balls and have a series of increasingly elaborate ramps, drops, tubes etc

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: mousetrap

      Flagship of the First Sea Lord is already outfitted with cannons

      https://www.hms-victory.com/

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: mousetrap

        Yes. But the Victories cannons are made out of fiberglass to reduce the strain on the decks that are older than the USA, and rather non-functional. (A real 32 pound cannon weighs something like 3.5 tons, I've got pictures of friends carrying one of those fiberglass guns over their shoulder)

        1. hoofie

          Re: mousetrap

          Fibreglass cannons? What will we do if the French Fleet hove into view outside Portsmouth Harbour ?

          1. hplasm Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: mousetrap

            "Fibreglass cannons? What will we do if the French Fleet hove into view outside Portsmouth Harbour ?"

            Break out the fibreglass bowls!

          2. AceRimmer1980
            Headmaster

            Re: mousetrap

            Ultima Ratio Resin

        2. NathanD

          Re: mousetrap

          There are 13 real ones though, they have proof marks on them! The copies don't. And one was supposedly at Trafalgar too according to one guide. Look at the 32 pounders on the lower deck...

        3. Cuddles Silver badge

          Re: mousetrap

          "But the Victories cannons are made out of fiberglass to reduce the strain on the decks that are older than the USA, and rather non-functional."

          Are they truly non-functional, or just single-use?

          1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

            Re: mousetrap

            Not sure about those particular cannons, but I've worked with some that were fiberglass but had a tube wedged inside for detonating pyrotechnic shells. When the thing goes off, it creates a huge bang and a plume of smoke. Along the bottom was some pneumatic cylinders to push the whole thing back rapidly when 'fired'.

  5. Caff

    Railguns

    They'll finish it in 30 years overbudget and behind schedule, just in time for them to say goodbye to explosive munitions for inert railgun fired ones...

  6. Dave 32
    Coat

    I, for one, welcome our new robotic, missile-armed overlords.

    1. Flywheel Silver badge
      Stop

      Oops!

      Obligatory XKCD link for the robot loaders software..

  7. Dobdo99

    Cart b4 horse

    The ships design should have started with plug in weapons pre designed, wrong question. Or as an alternative, rail guns, and laser weapons. No need to load

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Cart b4 horse

      laser weapons. No need to load

      Most high-energy lasers are chemically-powered. The spent cartridges and waste products are viciously toxic.

      1. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: Cart b4 horse

        "Most high-energy lasers are chemically-powered. The spent cartridges and waste products are viciously toxic."

        It's a problem that solves itself. Shoot enemies with laser; throw cartridges at survivors. Some kind of catapult may be in order. Ideally one with an automated loading system.

    2. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: Cart b4 horse

      To a certain extent they do, you just slot missiles into the vertical launch silos and forget about them. However they're not the only weapons, and for some reason they've made loading the silos more complicated than you'd have thought necessary.

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Cart b4 horse

        However they're not the only weapons, and for some reason they've made loading the silos more complicated than you'd have thought necessary.

        I'm guessing size/space constraints, plus a bit of 'elf & safety. So NATO-standardise* around Mk41/57 VLS and supply ammunition in convenient quad-packs. Except those packs are rather large, heavy and awkward, ie almost 8m deep. So how to get those Mk25 packs from supply ship's magazines to the warship.

        I guess it's a bit like reactor refueling systems, ie a machine that can squat over a hole and insert a fuel rod. Except that means adding infrastructure to a crowded warship deck that can work in heavy seas, and there's not a lot of space-

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_41_Vertical_Launching_System#/media/File:USS_Chosin_(CG-65)_Mark_41_Vertical_Launching_System.jpg

        Guessing one option could be to add rails along the sides and centre so a gantry crane can trundle along, but first find your gantry crane and assemble it for re-arming. It's an interesting challenge, not helped by having something you may want to store horizontally, but use vertically.. and getting from X-Y means enough space to rotate it. Or perhaps moving away from that kind of VLS to something that might be easier to reload, ie fewer launch cells, but a shorter reload time. But that would make it harder to launch salvos that could overwhelm enemy defences.

        *Except France. Hi, Ho Sylver and all that..

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why don't they just build a high dock wall and drive the munitions onto the boats? Who needs robots?

    1. Malcolm Weir Silver badge

      That might solve the ship/shore problem, but does nothing for the ship/ship one.

    2. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Different ship heights and of course tides and that ships go up and down as you load/unload them.

      RoRo ships loaded via ramps are available but are usually incompatible with warfighting. Those modern destroyers for eg are too narrow for RoRo. IOW there would not be room.

      Rearming sites are already prime targets. If they have to be highly specialised with tiered wharves sized for all the ships they would become even more valuable targets. There are mobile cranes big enough to replace dock cranes so the current system is repairable.

      Back in the day it was well known that Auckland was a target for Russian and possibly Chinese nukes. This is because it has a naval base and naval dockyard at Devonport right across the harbour from Downtown. In an On The Beach scenario it could refuel and rearm ANZUS vessels and perhaps repair them as well. Thus a valid target.

      In WWI NZ invaded German Samoa to deny the German Pacific Fleet’s use of it as a base. It also had a very tall radio mast so was a communications hub. After they arrived the German Fleet did, observed them then sailed off.

      The Australians took German New Guinea and our allies the Japanese took out the German cantonment on the Chinese coast. Thus denying those ships any bases. Nukes do the same job for the same strategic reasons.

  9. F111F
    Boffin

    Not Quite That Easy

    Quote: "...shift munitions from storage magazines to the hangar and flight deck, ready to be loaded onto helicopters and fighter jets."

    Nope. Will still require munitions types configuring the bomb bodies with tail fins, guidance kits, fuses, arming wire, testing, etc. for the particular mission. Even AA missiles need fins added from storage, ASM (Air to Surface Missiles) require testing to ensure the electronics are working properly. Nothing "ready" about it. Torpedoes I'm not sure about, though, they may come as an all-up round in their coffin.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Not Quite That Easy

      I see you missed the obvious omission, given the context of the article. The system was designed so that "Munitions can be delivered, in bulk, to the point of use at rates that could not be achieved manually", no mention of actually being able to load up the storage magazines in the first place.

      So suspect in typical British procurement style the system will need to be able to negotiate several flights of stairs and other access portals designed for human operatives...

      1. Nolveys Silver badge

        Re: Not Quite That Easy

        Munitions can be delivered, in bulk...

        So, missiles and other munitions are delivered in massive barrels and are transferred onto ships using huge robot arms grasping big plastic scoops?

      2. Cxwf

        Re: Not Quite That Easy

        [Quote]

        So suspect in typical British procurement style the system will need to be able to negotiate several flights of stairs and other access portals designed for human operatives...[/quote]

        Don’t go messing with our Dalek defense measures now!

      3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Not Quite That Easy

        system will need to be able to negotiate several flights of stairs and other access portals

        And leave all the fire doors open to make the process quicker. Like the RN did at the Battle of Rutland - which directly caused the loss of several very large ships.

  10. Korev Silver badge
    Coat

    >NavyX is the RN's "Autonomy and Lethality Accelerator",

    You mean putting technology in the Faslane?

  11. Christoph Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Is anyone else reminded of that short Minions film with the trainee minions moving missiles?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The silos would have some markers on them to guide sensors on the crane.

    Why not design the whole ship for fully autonomous or remote operation, then you can ignore safety. Without humans, the ship can loiter anywhere until it needs servicing.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge
      Pint

      >Why not design the whole ship for fully autonomous or remote operation

      Bet the refueling/munitions load hatches/docking ports will use the same password; across all ships...

      I won't disclose it here but I'm sure most of you will know what it is...

      1. Glen 1 Bronze badge

        The kind of password that an idiot will have on their Luggage?

        1. Martin Summers Silver badge

          Wouldn't dare trying to scratch anything on to the luggage...

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Elon Musk's factory was designed to be more automated - and thus save space otherwise required for humans - than traditional factories, but the tech wasn't reliable enough. He described it as an 'alien spaceship'.

  13. Winkypop Silver badge
    Alert

    Ask the Post Office

    Their staff can sink a parcel into a bag from 20 feet.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Drones

    Yes, drones. Totally the answer. Can't possibly see how anything could possibly go wrong then...

  15. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

    Can they? Yes. But should they?

    Just because you can automate something doesn't mean that you should. And something like missiles seems like something you want regular flesh-and-blood humans to do. I've seen industrial robots trying to move boxes that aren't there, or trying to shove objects into containers despite the container already being full. Or pick-and-place machines that got miscalculated and are trying to place a capacitor into a space that is currently occupied occupied by the PCB.

    I am worried that we'll get a bomb loading robot that mistakes a bulkhead for a bomb rack and attempts to smash a 1000-pound bomb into it . Or drops a nuclear warhead into the ocean because it doesn't realize the ship departed an hour ago. Or a broken sensor causes a torpedo loading robot to not realize the torpedo tube is closed and instead smashes an armed torpedo into the tube's closed breech.

  16. ukgnome

    What it needs is a Silo Helping Integrated Track and Task Expanding Robot

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