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Royal Navy welcomes new experimental vessel XV Patrick Blackett

XV Patrick Blackett NavyX experimentation ship
Photo: Rear Admiral James Parkin/Twitter

The Royal Navy’s newest trials and experimentation vessel has arrived in Portsmouth ahead of its official commissioning on Friday.

Named after a Royal Navy veteran and Nobel Prize winner, XV Patrick Blackett will be joining the fleet as part of the NavyX unmanned systems experimentation unit.

NavyX is the Royal Navy’s new autonomy and lethality accelerator, which was established to rapidly develop, test and trial equipment for operations across all maritime environments.

It should be noted that the vessel will not be a commissioned Royal Navy vessel but will sail under the Blue Ensign as it will not be armed in any way, simplifying its operation.

The vessel was delivered a little under a year after the project was launched in August 2021. The UK defense ministry signed a 9.3 million euro contract with Dutch shipbuilder Damen for the delivery of the ship in February this year. The ship was delivered within six months of the contract signing as one of the requirements stated in the UK defense ministry tender was that the vessel must be already built, but not previously owned.

Other requirements included the capability to carry at least two TEU containers, attain a speed of 20 knots and measure less than 48 meters in length. Damen identified a fast crew supplier vessel based on its FCS 4008 design as a suitable candidate. According to the shipbuilder’s specifications, the vessel has a top speed of 25 knots and a range of 1200 nautical miles, with 140 m2 of cargo deck.

The ship, with a crew of five Royal Navy personnel, will have a “plug and play” element to support the navy’s new PODS (Persistently Operationally Deployed Systems) concept which means it can be adapted to the specific trials or experiments it’s carrying out including testing drones and autonomous vessels and AI decision-making.

It will also have container secure points on the work deck so a range of payloads can be embarked, offering flexibility and a modern approach to testing.

In the future, XV Patrick Blackett will take part in Royal Navy and NATO exercises, with the possibility of it being upgraded with autonomous technology, the Royal Navy said.

Colonel Tom Ryall, Head of NavyX, said: “The arrival of this vessel is a pivotal moment for NavyX’s ability to deliver output for the Royal Navy.

“She will give us greater flexibility to experiment with novel military capabilities, and accelerate new technology, kit and concepts to the frontline.”

Commenting on the delivery of the ship, Rear Admiral James Parkin, the Royal Navy’s director of development said the XV Patrick Blackett would be officially named on Friday, after which a process would take place to train her new crew, and transfer her to the Defense Shipping Register.

The ship is expected to officially set sail as a dedicated experimentation ship in the autumn.

“Although not a household name today, Patrick Blackett has a crater on the moon named after him, as well as a lecture theater and hall at Manchester University and a laboratory at Imperial College, and a blue plaque was unveiled at his home in 2016.

“However, the Royal Navy has not yet found a fitting way to honor a man who has done so much for his nation and the world. So I’m thrilled that the ‘Experimental Vessel (XV) Patrick Blackett will be arriving at HMNB Portsmouth.”