UK and France Partner on Development of Autonomous Minehunting Vessel

Image courtesy Thales

Published Nov 26, 2020 7:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK and France have announced a joint development program for autonomous minehunting systems that are intended to carry out the mine countermeasures mission while keeping personnel out of harm's way. 

At the Franco-British Council Defence Conference on Thursday, the UK announced a $250 million investment in the joint Maritime Mine Counter Measure (MMCM) program, which will create new high-tech systems to combat sea mines. The contract will support over 200 jobs across the UK.

"This [$250 million] contract offers a huge leap forward for the Royal Navy’s autonomous capabilities in the detection and defeat of sea mines," said Defence Secretary Ben Wallace in a statement. "As the Armed Forces puts modernization at the heart of its future strategy, these systems will protect vital shipping lanes, commercial traffic and our brave personnel from these deadly devices."

Following a successful demonstration phase and trials completed in October 2020, the new contract will produce three sets of minehunting equipment, consisting of:

  • Autonomous vessel – a boat controlled and operated from a mother ship or shore base.
  • Towed sonar – pulled behind the vessel to locate ordnance. 
  • Mine neutralization system – a remotely operated underwater vehicle which is used once the mine is located to neutralize the device and prevent its detonation.

When used together, these three elements are designed to potentially replace conventional crewed mine hunting vessels, such as the Royal Navy’s Hunt and Sandown class ships, with autonomous systems. The first equipment is due to be delivered in late 2022. It will begin operational evaluation before entering service with the Royal Navy.

"I am enormously excited by the potential of the future minehunting capability. This will allow us to deliver minehunting more effectively, more efficiently and more safely, and to integrate even more closely with our French counterparts in this important area," said First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin.

The investment follows from the $22 billion agreement in the UK's four-year defense spending review, which is intended to reinvest in the UK's armed forces and boost its shipbuilding industry.

The Royal Navy has also been experimenting with an autonomous vessel minesweeper prototype developed by Atlas Elektronik. The ARCIMS system is designed to tow an array of devices capable of triggering multiple types of mines, removing the threat while keeping personnel safe. The ARCIMS prototype was turned over to the Royal Navy for "live" military service in January.