The Royal Navy has officially welcomed a new autonomous vessel into the fleet.

The vessel is operated by ‘NavyX’, the Royal Navy’s experimentation group.

According to a Royal Navy news release.

“Named Madfox (Maritime Demonstrator For Operational eXperimentation), it is derived from technology firm L3Harris’ Mast-13 vessel, which for the past 18 months has been operated by Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) on a series of trials with the Royal Navy. Since being delivered, NavyX has been working hard to get Madfox to sea and ready to begin a demanding year of testing.”

Over the next few months, the Royal Navy say that NavyX will carry on its work with the Uncrewed Surface Vessel, while also examining how these vessels can deliver across the range of military operations including surveillance and force protection.

Commander Antony Crabb, NavyX team leader, was quoted as saying:

“With Madfox now directly in the hands of NavyX, the team will be able to explore a multitude of issues such as safety, regulatory compliance, new missions, new payloads and the role that a USV can play in complex operations and within the future fleet.”

You can read more here.

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James Fennell

Looks like a lot of fun. Great for patrolling the Straits of Hormuz and chasing Somali pirates, or making sure terrorists don’t approach QE in harbour. Useful for covert surveillance of Crimea or North Korean coastline as well I guess?

Supportive Bloke

The issue with all drone stuff is that they are uncrewed. OK that is an oxymoron.

Therefore taking them out is much more likely.

Dones in a strange way actually make the grey -> little green men situations more likely.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m pro drone but it isn’t as simple as replacing platform a) manned with platform b) unmanned and expecting nothing else to change.

Last edited 13 days ago by Supportive Bloke

Yes that’s a very important point when considering these matters I think. It can give a lower threshold for initiating an escalating confrontation if not operated sensibly, particularly when you are dealing with less sane opponents even if using them in such environments equally offers big advantages too.


Based on it being a remote control hull and nothing else currently, its pretty useless for anything, other than being a PR stunt.

In order to start being useful as a force multiplier, it either needs a decent sized radar able to track missiles/jets or it needs weapons to be able to counter pirates.


I’d agree, Iran has taken out a few US drones without reprisals. OK they’ve claimed it was in their airspace of course this is denied but I doubt they would take out a manned system, more like to warn them and chase them off. There’s clearly ambiguity and blurred lines on unmanned systems. So unless we’re clear that taking out or capturing an unmanned system is an act of war, something which would be difficult discussion. then imo drones lack the impact of manned systems, particularly in piece time. However once things turn ugly you’d rather send in an unmanned… Read more »


The only problem with drones is they are a bit all or nothing. Is the same sort of argument around missiles meaning you don’t need a medium cal navel gun. the Drone can do surveillance, but then what does it do ? It can many be deploy a limited payload which means it can kill something, that’s not so good in 99% of things navy’s do. You need a credible threat, which means a ship full of persons pointing the correctly sized gun at you, maybe with a pointed shot in your direction. Missiles don’t do threat, shot across the… Read more »

Last edited 13 days ago by Jonathan
James Fennell

They expand the envelope so your manned assets don’t need to be spread too thinly. Thus they are force multipliers – making your other assets much more targeted and efficient. That’s how automation works in every domain.


Yes, but you must always remember there is only so much money in any system so it’s never a case of “as well as” it’s always a case of instead of”. so your 44 foot, Shannon class life boat built by Berthon will cost the RNLI £2.1 million ( about 1.5% of the RNLI budget) If you had to you can rescue will over 60 people at one time with it ( it does not self right at that point). So if you spend that money on drones you don’t spend it on the boat. The problem arises when your… Read more »

The Big Man

Just a tiny correction. Berthon built the first 12 and then production moved in house so that the RNLI have now had 17 of their own build enter the fleet. Impressively it can take 70 survivors in non self righting capacity.


Yes if I remember rightly cosandra was built at pool, but our local ALB was Built by Berthon, so I always think of them as Berthon boats. They are potentially able to take 79 survivors. But that’s not really real life, I suppose you could board 70+ plus “survivors” from a harbour jetty in a low sea state as long as they were all fit, thin and health.The reality is most of your survivors will be in a state of collapse, hypothermia and be a bit or lot dented so will need some space. Anyone I generally got from a… Read more »


Mind you drones are operated in that environment you refer to both by the US and Iran as has been shown by both losing at least one. No idea how often they are used there mind, we only hear usually when information from or about them is infrequently released for greater purposes.

Andy P

Could this be the end of the Steward branch in the RN ???

Lee H

Morning All Another technology that was demonstrated at DSEI in 2019 and trialled with the Littoral Strike Group (Experimental) in 2020. Its seems as though the RN have developed a pipeline where they can take ideas, demonstrate them and accept them into service within a relatively short period of time. This can only be good for the RN, do not just think of drones but of the wider concepts that are being developed. The RN, through their industry MEPG programme are asking industry to come up with solutions to the problems and challenges they face going forward – they are… Read more »


The RN Transformation Program is literally a step change away from the way the RN used to do its business.

Lee H

The RN seem to be sorting their admin out, there are still teething problems – it’s still a challenge to engage if your an SME and haven’t got floor plate access like the major primes (who also have direct access to the desk officer). I know RN Commercial are working on it so am hopeful for the future.
The DCO seems an improvement as well – some guidance for an SME would be useful.

Hopeful for the future, wouldn’t have imagined saying that 2 years ago.

Army Innovation and RAF RCO catching up (same problem with SME’s and primes though).

Daniele Mandelli

Navy X, anyone know where are they located and under who?

I assume part of the RN and not DSTL.

Pompey or Portsdown LBTS?

Lee H

Hi Daniele
They are part of the Royal Navy and fall under OCTO (Office of the CTO).
Marworks, Navy X and Nelson are the three “workstreams” developing proof of concept and minimum viable product solutions working very closely with industry.

Daniele Mandelli

Right, thanks Lee. Just so I can place them in the wider scheme of things.

Lee H

No worries
Also worth noting that the RN are looking to spend about 1% of annual budget on innovation. 1% doesn’t sound big but when your annual budget is about £6bn+ it puts it into perspective. Army and RAF doing the same, RN just ahead of the game – with more to follow ??


You have to smile at the name of the Commander – I hope there is some heritage there – because if so, that man will be trying to make things happen.


Just a thought but remotely piloted vessels seem to be useful in a war fighting or defensive role but pretty limited in rescue or life saving mode when a pair of arms attached to a Matelot is required to lift someone out of the water . Can’t see RNLI using them.

James Fennell

Coastguard are getting UAVs. They are great at surveillance so can alert you quickly and then vector in helicopters and rescue craft. Think of them as maintaining permanent patrols which would be prohibative to sustain with manned vessels. Also can intervene in high threat situations with no risk to life – e.g. enter minefields, or get up close and personal with suspicious vessels that might be suicide bombers.

Last edited 12 days ago by James Fennell
David Flandry

These autonomous vessels should be called un-crewed vessels or something. They require monitoring, maintenance, and programming updates, which takes manpower.

Ian M.

Although the headline is: “Autonomous vessel ‘Madfox’”, in the text it’s called an “Uncrewed Surface Vessel”. Bit confusing.