Formula 1 know-how set to give Royal Navy a steer on crowded seas

HMS Westminster - PA
HMS Westminster - PA

Formula 1 has inspired a digital tool that could help the Royal Navy navigate increasingly crowded seas.

Created by Improbable Defence (ID), the Operational Decision Support Maritime tool (ODSM) will work to assist sailors in making better, more informed, decisions when out at sea by providing a digital twin of their maritime environment.

Inspired by the way Formula 1 provided insights into the car’s performance and race strategy through simulation, the tech company hired a number of former F1 employees with simulation backgrounds to build the tool so that they can best provide realistic training environments.

The quest to create such a tool came five years ago when the Ministry of Defence expressed an interest in how to counter an ever-expanding and more complicated maritime domain. It is understood that the Navy was prompted to explore the technology available after seeing how the army used an Operational Decision Support Tool to digitise different scenarios on the battlefield.

Virtual worlds help ‘make the right call’

Joe Robinson, Improbable Defence’s CEO, said: “The complex threats we are now facing on land, at sea, in the air, combined with the volumes of data and the fast pace of the fight means that decision makers need help to make the right call. Virtual worlds do exactly that, and the technology is now here to provide planners, commanders and troops with the tools they need to choose the course of action most likely to deliver a good outcome.”

The ODSM works by presenting all of the variables a carrier strike group may encounter while at sea. These variables range from potential routes to enemy intelligence gathering.

Daniel Tarshish of Improbable Defence said the tool, which the Navy is currently considering as a potential capability, “helps you get your head around the complexities of modern warfare”.

“There is too much data with too many layers for people to manually process,” he added.

Commodores still have final say

Mr Tarshish stressed that this technology was not an attempt to replace humans, stating that while a computer can aid with decision making, it will still be down to a commodore steering the ship to make the final call.

He likened the programme to “driving from A to B as opposed to walking”. “Someone is still in the driving seat but you can cover a greater distance,” he said.

“The programme is not steering the ship by itself. It’s helping people ride the waves of complexities rather than being drowned by it.”

While the concept is still in its early stages, Improbable Defence said it hopes that once it has become a mature capability it will deploy in any maritime environment in times of war, from piracy to peacetime and disaster relief.

It came as the First Sea Lord admitted that sexual harassment is an “unwelcome part” of life in the Navy.

Admiral Sir Ben Key pledged to “drive out unacceptable behaviour wherever we find it” in his first intervention over the sacking of one of his captains.

Speaking to The Telegraph on board HMS Queen Elizabeth in New York, the First Sea Lord made the comments after Captain Steve Higham was removed from post after he was found to have inappropriately invited female sailors for lone mentoring sessions while commanding its newest aircraft carrier.

Admiral Sir Ben Key - Jamie Lorriman
Admiral Sir Ben Key - Jamie Lorriman

Captain Higham, a former adviser to Boris Johnson who until recently was in command of HMS Prince of Wales, the aircraft carrier’s sister ship that was due to be in New York before its right propeller shaft was damaged, was said to have left female sailors on board the ship feeling “uncomfortable” after he invited them for the sessions. Complaints were raised about his behaviour in May this year after he handed over command of the vessel.

However, he was not found to have done anything illegal and will leave the service with his full pension. He was handed “administrative dismissal” last week.

Sir Ben Key said that his force was “very clear that we have an obligation to every person who serves in the Royal Navy to be able to bring all of themselves to work, free of harassment of any sort”.

“We are absolutely committed to that and I am absolutely clear that people who choose to behave in a manner that is not consistent with that, then [a] zero-tolerance policy applies.”