The Royal Navy’s new test and trials ship entered HM Naval Base Portsmouth for the first time on 27 July 2022. Named XV Patrick Blackett during a ceremony two days later, the vessel is due to begin its career as a platform for trials and autonomy development later in 2022.
Built by Damen Shipyards by its workboats business in Gorinchem in The Netherlands, XV Patrick Blackett is a modified Fast Crew Supplier (FCS) 4008 crewboat acquired by the Royal Navy to meet Navy Command’s need for a trials and experimentation vessel to support the NavyX experimental unit.
The Royal Navy will operate XV Patrick Blackett as a naval auxiliary rather than a warship. This has been done deliberately to avoid the constraints in bringing new equipment and systems on board a warship governed by strict hazard/safety standards (notably naval magazine and explosive regulations).
Managed by the Develop Directorate within Navy Command Headquarters, NavyX was established in 2019 as an experimental hub for autonomy and autonomous systems in the Royal Navy. It has now been reoriented to serve as an ‘accelerator’ for innovation, autonomy and lethality across the service: in this capacity, NavyX works with industry, small/medium enterprises, academia and other stakeholders in Defence to identify innovative technologies and novel concepts and evaluate their suitability for accelerated exploitation.
NavyX identified a requirement for a seagoing test and experimentation platform at its inception. While initial thinking assumed a chartered vessel, the Royal Navy subsequently decided to purchase a vessel outright on the grounds that this would offer greater flexibility with regard to crewing and operations.
An independent delivery study was commissioned through the Salvage and Marine Operations project team in Defence Equipment & Support to gauge the market and establish potential solutions that could be delivered in a short timeframe.
A £9.3 million contract was signed with Damen in February this year, with the vessel formally handed over at the end of March. As well as the FCS 4008 platform, the contract covered the embodiment of a number of costed modifications, and a three-year period of in-service support.
The intention is that XV Patrick Blackett will be used to support research and experimentation in areas such as autonomy, uncrewed systems, artificial intelligence/machine learning and payload modularity. The latter is expected to include prototype containers developed under the Royal Navy’s PODS (Persistent Operational Deployment System) programme.