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Royal New Zealand Navy to trial uncrewed, renewable-powered vessel

The Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) will soon take delivery of a 6.8-metre renewable-powered Uncrewed Surface Vessel (USV) to trial on a short-term lease.

04 December, 2023

USVs offer potential to undertake a wide variety of roles for the New Zealand Government. These could include fishery protection, border protection or providing meteorological data.

HMNZS Aotearoa is transporting the vessel from Sydney to Auckland and once operational it will be able to undertake maritime tasks at sea without fuel or personnel on a trial basis.

The Bluebottle is designed and manufactured by Sydney-based Ocius Technology, which has already sold a number of USVs to the Australian Defence Force and worked with Australian Border Force and other energy and scientific agencies.

The solar-, wind- or wave- powered vessel uses a retractable rigid sail to provide wind propulsion. Photo-electric cells on the sail can drive its motor.

In the absence of sunlight and wind, the Bluebottle has a unique flipper and rudder device to steer and propel itself. It has a top speed of five knots and the ability to operate at sea indefinitely in sea states up to 7 (wave heights of six to nine metres).

Sensors allow both safe and effective control of the system and identification of other vessels.  Sensors include radar, and electro-optic and infra-red cameras.  

The USV will be constantly monitored and operated from a control room at Devonport Naval Base. Communication with the control room is through mobile phone signal while close to shore or via high- and low- bandwidth satellite when further offshore.

A small black USV is craned onto a large grey ship at port in front of blue skies and scattered clouds.

The Bluebottle is transferred to the deck of HMNZS Aotearoa in Sydney before being transported to Devonport Naval Base.

A small black USV is craned onto a large grey ship as crew in high visibility vests and helmets guide it into position.

The Bluebottle is transferred to the deck of HMNZS Aotearoa in Sydney before being transported to Devonport Naval Base

The sheer size of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is one of the reasons the RNZN’s Maritime Component Commander, Commodore Garin Golding, is excited about the potential capability of the USV.

“Our EEZ is the fifth largest in the world at more than four million square kilometres. Coupled with the 30 million square kilometre search and rescue area that New Zealand has responsibility for, that is a lot of ocean to cover,” Commodore Golding said.

“The evidence we’ve seen from our partner militaries overseas is that uncrewed drone aircraft and vessels can provide real value in fulfilling some of these search and surveillance tasks.”

The RNZN’s Autonomous Systems Staff Officer, Commander Andy Bryant, is also looking forward to the USV demonstrating its potential.

“The Bluebottle has already undertaken a range of activities in support of the Australian Government for long periods of time without the need for refuelling, recharging or crew respite.

“I’m confident we will see similar benefits from the time we have with the vessel, particularly a better understanding of how to operate and sustain uncrewed vessels, and this will provide a great opportunity to share experiences on the new system with the Royal Australian Navy.”

The USV can be transported by trailer to almost anywhere in New Zealand where it can be launched and recovered from a boat ramp. It can also craned on and off a Navy ship to launch on operations while deployed overseas.