Highlands & Islands

Royal Navy's first 'robot wars' exercise begins

Unmanned military boat on Thames Image copyright PA
Image caption An unmanned boat called Mast will be one of the vessels taking part in the exercise

Unmanned Warrior - the Royal Navy's first major training exercise using drones - has begun off the Welsh coast.

A reconnaissance craft called Watchkeeper is observing Nato forces arriving for another exercise, Joint Warrior.

Next week, the training will switch to the Western Isles.

Unmanned Warrior involves aerial and maritime technology operated by the military and civilian contractors, including QinetiQ.

Lt Cdr Clive Langmead, of the Royal Navy, said: "In Scotland, QinetiQ, as part of its long term partnership agreement with MoD have prepared the flying and underwater ranges which it runs in Benbecula, Stornoway, Applecross and the Kyle of Lochalsh, including erecting hangars and laying a dummy mine field for the robots to try and find.

"Several Royal Navy mine hunters will also be trying to do the same. So this will be a very direct test of new systems against old.

"The mine hunters already use remotely piloted submarines in their work, but Unmanned Warrior is hoping to show things can be taken a stage further."

Unmanned Warrior is being run at the same time as Joint Warrior, one of Nato's largest exercises and held twice a year, in April and October.

Large parts of the training takes place in Scotland.

QinetiQ runs the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) Hebrides Range from sites on Benbecula.

The range is used for testing weapons systems and training military personnel.

Seven years ago, after concerns that jobs were to be lost at the range, campaign group Hebrides Range Taskforce suggested that the range and its facilities could be used for testing unmanned vehicles.

QinetiQ also runs the Raasay submarine test range from a site in Kyle of Lochalsh on behalf of the MoD.

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