5th Fleet in Focus - United Kingdom Royal Navy Commander Antony Crabb

By 5th Fleet Public Affairs - NAVCENT | February 11, 2022


This week, we feature United Kingdom Royal Navy Commander Antony Crabb, deputy commodore of Task Force X, a combined task force established for International Maritime Exercise/Cutlass Express (IMX/CE) 2022 to focus on unmanned systems and artificial intelligence integration. He recently shared his thoughts in a Q&A on the world’s largest unmanned maritime exercise that commenced Jan. 31.

Q: How have you worked with unmanned platforms in the past?
A: Yes, although in Royal Navy parlance we use the term “uncrewed” systems. I work with the Royal Navy’s autonomy and innovation group NavyX, charged with investigating, operating and experimenting with novel capabilities.

Q: Why is it important for international navies to work together on integrating unmanned technology?
A: Acting and working together is a force multiplier, sharing some of the burden whilst sharing the full result. The introduction of uncrewed capabilities should not be viewed differently. To maximize the benefit of national uncrewed systems, those systems need to be integrated, interoperable and interchangeable – data from one nation’s system available to the network of nations and the network of nations able to assign pre-agreed tasks and missions to the multi-national systems. Integrated together, the capabilities become greater than the sum of the parts.

Q: In five years, how do you imagine navies will operate unmanned systems with traditional ships?
A: Firstly, I think the idea of a “traditional” ship will be recast. We will see ships embarking uncrewed systems for missions as easily and seamlessly as embarking a helo or seaboat today, perhaps in addition to or perhaps instead of those crewed capabilities. Ships built yesterday may need some modification; ships built tomorrow will be designed around these uncrewed systems. In five years, we may also see blended task groups, with uncrewed systems in a virtual tether to a mothership. These systems could provide additional surveillance, logistics, decoys and other capabilities.

Q: What do you hope to learn from this exercise?
A: The vision for the use of uncrewed systems across the theatre is exciting. However, we are aware that delivery will hold its challenges. IMX/CE 22 offers us the opportunity to test and assess a number of capabilities in a number of tactical vignettes, and help us on the path to meeting the vision. Within TF X, we will learn where technology can deliver faster or where delivery must be achieved differently and what elements have not yet been considered.

Q: Do you have a favorite unmanned vessel?
A: It wouldn’t be fair to pick a favorite. The variety of systems is an essential strength to this operational experimentation.