The trial off the coasts of Scotland and Norway is testing two AI applications — Startle and Sycoiea.

The UK’s Royal Navy is testing the accuracy and effectiveness of artificial intelligence (AI) to defeat missile attacks for the first time at sea. The test of the leading-edge software is being done against supersonic, ballistic, as well as cruise missiles during the largest exercise of its kind off the coasts of Scotland and Norway, the navy said. The trial, that offers a glimpse of the future of air defence at sea, is part of NATO’s Formidable Shield exercise and involves three British warships — destroyer HMS Dragon and two frigates HMS Lancaster and HMS Argyll .

The trial, being led by Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) scientists, is testing two AI applications — Startle and Sycoiea, the Royal Navy said in a statement published in its official online news outlet.

The Startle application provides real-time recommendations and alerts to sailors monitoring the “air picture” from the operations room. It is designed to help “ease the load” on sailors. And the Sycoiea builds on these alerts to help sailors identify the threat and advise the best weapon to deal with it quickly “than even the most experienced operator.”

During the trial Seaman Sean Brooks aboard HMS Lancaster said he was impressed by the cutting-edge software. “I was able to identify missile threats more quickly than usual and even outwit the operations room,” he said.

Experiments with AI have been conducted before, but it’s the first time the system is being tested against live missiles, said Lancaster’s Weapon Engineer Officer Lieutenant Commander Adam Leveridge. “A glimpse into our highly autonomous future.”

The navy is testing these AI-based applications to be able to harmonise their response and look for improvements needed to ensure they work alongside existing radar and other systems.

Lancaster’s Commanding Officer Will Blackett said the scale of the naval exercise and the assets and technology involved made it a hugely beneficial experience for all.