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Estonian firm BWB leading EU autonomous warship prototype development

Artist's rendition of the BWB-led semi-autonomous warship.
Artist's rendition of the BWB-led semi-autonomous warship. Source: Baltic Workboats/ERR

Estonian firm Baltic Workboats (BWB) is to lead the development of a prototype semi-autonomous warship platform, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Sunday.

BWB is based on Saaremaa.

The company's development manager, Ahto Pärl, said: "The plan is for a semi-autonomous vessel, with a scaled-down crew, plus the capability of being remotely controlled from a control station."

"BWB will also be the developers and builders of this control station," Pärl continued.

The four-year project is a pan-European effort led by Estonia and joined by eight other nations: Belgium, Denmark, France, Poland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden.

Some of these nations may also purchase the finished product for their navies.

The European Commission as customer is required to give its approval to the BWB prototype. If this happens, the plan is to start production, AK reported.

Ats Janno, head of the project office at the Defense Investment Center. (RKIK) told AK that: "Since these states are here from the customer's side and as generators of interest, clearly they can see an opportunity to develop a product which they can later market to navies."

The entire project costs €95 million €30 million of which will come from the countries involved and the private sector firms taking part.

The remainder of the funding derives from the European Commission's EUROGUARD project, under the auspices of the European Defense Fund.

Janno said that the project's opening stages, from the industry perspective, took place this month, and following these initial steps, "now we can genuinely say that the project is underway."

Ahto Pärl said that "Usually, European Defense Fund projects just stay on paper," adding that in this case there will be a physically product arising from a unique R&D project.

BWB will start work on the 40-meter long EUROGUARD prototype by fall 2027, at its production plant in Nasva, just outside Kuressaare, Saaremaa's capital. Testing is due by late November.

The vessel will be hybrid (diesel-electric) powered.

Other countries, for instance Turkey, which has unveiled its prototype already, are also developing modular and semi-autonomous surface vessel platforms.

EUROGUARD aims to develop a modular and semi-autonomous surface vessel platform with a remote control system which could be used across European waters, BWB says on its website.

Commander of the Estonian Navy (Merevägi) Cdre Jüri Saska said of the project that: "The Navy is closely monitoring the project's development and is ready to support and eventually utilize it. The combined use of unmanned and manned systems is something that all armed forces are moving towards, including us."

Kusti Salm, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defense, said that: "Developing and enhancing defense capabilities are of great importance to us. The EUROGUARD project is extremely important for Estonia — it brings the revolution of autonomy and modularity to the maritime field."

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera,' reporter Vahur Lauri.

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