Whether the objective is to clear mines for safe passage of ships offshore or in support of a port opening or amphibious operation the equipment used is likely to be the same.
Minefield breaching on land seeks to reduce the risk of mines and IED’s to an acceptable level of risk. That acceptable level of risk is determined by the requirement for rapid manoeuvre and the protection levels afforded by equipment moving through the breach. Breaching a minefield on land when going through the breach is a Challenger 2 main battle tank is likely to be a task conducted under fire and at a high tempo. Clearance operations will reduce that risk even further, it is a slower process and seeks to provide confidence that the cleared operation is cleared of explosive hazards. Civilian clearance operations will likely seek to provide an even greater level of assurance.
Clearly, breaching and clearing are not the same things.
In a maritime context, all ships will be vulnerable and so the distinction between what might be termed combat breaching and assured clearance is rather academic. Some higher level of risk may be tolerated (San Carlos in 1982 for example) but in general, cleared safe lanes with a high level of confidence will be the main requirement.
There is also very little scope for equipment and training crossover, a minesweeper is not a great deal of use on land!
In an amphibious operation, in the intertidal or surf zone, or in a port, there does exist some capacity for equipment and technique re-use between domains.
Mines can be incredibly effective weapons, not only can they destroy shipping they can deny large areas of sea to all traffic, choke off ports, restrict the flow of traded goods and generally have impacts wholly disproportionate to their cost, a cost which is usually measured in peanuts.
In 1991 for example, an Italian made Manta mine laid by Iraqi forces that cost the princely sum of $25,000, put a billion Dollar US Navy Aegis destroyer, the USS Princeton, out of action.On the same day, the USS Tripoli was very nearly sunk by another. In the Iraq case study above, the delay caused by mines to making Umm Qasr operable was considerable.
The best method by far for countering mines is to make sure they don’t go into the water in the first place so all the usual intelligence, surveillance, situational awareness and combat capabilities would come into play but assuming there are mines, they will need detecting, classifying and if necessary, clearing.
The Royal Navy has traditionally placed a high value on its MCM capabilities, it is rightly considered as one of the leading organisations in the field, if not the leader. It is also easy to forget that the Royal Navy has maintained a permanent MCM presence in the Gulf with an RFA LSD(A) ship operating in a ‘mothership’ or MCM Command role for quite some time, doing their work with little fanfare or recognition. Minesweepers are an enduring image of the battle against mines but the last combined influence sweep system deployment was in 2005, the MCDOA provides a great look at this, click here to view. The Mine warfare and Clearance Diving Officers’ Association has a wealth of great information about the subject in general and you can lose many hours on their great website. There is also a great deal of expertise in mine countermeasures in other European naval forces, the legacy of two major conflicts means that even today, sea mines in European waters remain a very real threat to shipping and sailors, although of less relevance to this proposal.
Fundamentally, MCM has two mission definitions;[one_half]
Expeditionary Missions; mines are a basic sea denial weapon, their objective is not necessarily to sink ships but deny movement. Clearing Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) and supporting amphibious operations are the most common expeditionary MCM requirement. The objective may not always be the complete neutralisation or disposal of all mines but to provide assured access to an acceptable level of risk. Accurate surveys will be required for most expeditionary operations as well, especially amphibious and port operations.[/one_half][one_half_last]
National Missions; when We should not forget the legacy of old sea mines and other unexploded ordnance. Any new capability must still be able to counter these old-fashioned but no less deadly threats. In addition, harbour and port clearance are national missions. Accurate ‘charting’ is essential to safe navigation and operations for both surface and sub-surface equipment. This mission is carried out on a routine (the seabed is constantly changing) and reactive basis[/one_half_last]
For the purpose of this proposal, the focus will be on expeditionary capabilities.
The threat from mines is usually expressed in terms of their environment and type, the diagram below is from a US publication and provides a good overview.
What this diagram does not show however is the potential for mines in port areas and IED’s in and around port infrastructures such as quays, buoys, warehouses and slipways. Much of the effort for port clearance operations will be conducted in approach lanes, again, the Iraq 2003 case study showed the effort required away from Umm Qasr port area.
The current RN MCM fleet consists of the Sandown class with the variable depth multimode Thales Sonar 2093 which is designed to detect mines through the water column to a depth of 200m and the Hunt class fitted with the hull mounted wideband Thales Sonar 2193 which detects and classifies small mines up to 80m depth. Both have the NAUTIS 3 combat management system.[one_half]
- HMS Bangor
- HMS Blythe
- HMS Grimsby
- HMS Pembroke
- HMS Penzance
- HMS Ramsey
- HMS Shoreham
- HMS Quorn
- HMS Middleton
- HMS Ledbury
- HMS Hurworth
- HMS Chiddingfold
- HMS Cattistock
- HMS Brocklesby
- HMS Atherstone
Both classes can embark low magnetic Mine Clearance W525 Workboat that has been designed to comply STANAG 2985 that can also be used for general purpose ROV launch and recovery.[tabs] [tab title=”HMS Bangor – Sandown Class”]
This three-part documentary on HMS Brocklesby released in 2011 provides a good overview.[tabs] [tab title=”HMS Brocklesby 1″]
[/tab] [tab title=”HMS Brocklesby 2″]
[/tab] [tab title=”HMS Brocklesby 3″]
The Royal Navy can deploy a number of unmanned systems in support of the mine countermeasures mission.
Remus 100; After witnessing the Hydroid Remote Environmental Measuring UnitS (REMUS) 100 in Iraq the Royal Navy, via QinetiQ, obtained two in 2004 to enhance the then emerging research effort into very shallow water unmanned operations. The Royal Navy at the time had nothing that could operate in very shallow water, the existing ECA Robotics PAP 104 Mk 4 and 5 underwater vehicles being too large. [Click here for an amusing story of ‘one of our yellow submarines is missing’]
After a round of successful trials another 10 systems were purchased. The Remus 100 is very low cost, less than a quarter of a million pounds each, and was seen as a cheap de-risking stepping stone towards the future capability.
Hydroid are now owned by Kongsberg, click here for data sheets and further information.
The Royal Navy contracted with Kongsberg to upgrade the 12 in service REMUS100 systems to include a BlueView Technologies 3D MicroBathymetry system, Kongsberg Geoacoustics GeoSwath interferometric sonar, modular endcaps and digital ultra short baseline (USBL) acoustic positioning systems. Some were also fitted with an Inertial Navigation System. The Remus 100 is used for shallow water identification and search and most recently has also been upgraded with new sonar systems from Seebyte.[tabs] [tab title=”REMUS 100 1″]
[/tab] [tab title=”Video 2″]
[/tab] [tab title=”Video 3″]
Remus 600; The REMUS 600 (RECCE) Underwater Unmanned Vehicles (UUV) came into service in 2009, complimenting the smaller REMUS 100 UUV’s that entered service a few years early. REMUS 600 is generally used for larger volume search, detection and classification in waters between 30m and 200m.[tabs] [tab title=”REMUS 600″]
Seafox and COBRA; After the two REMUS vehicles have detected and classified the mine it is the job of the Seafox to get rid of it. The Seafox is a one shot mine neutralisation system, simply put, it swims to the mine and blow itself and the mine up. In 2003, to support operation in Iraq, the Royal Navy leased a handful of Seafox vehicles and supporting systems from Atlas Elektronik for use in Iraq with HMS Blyth and HMS Bangor modified to operate them.
Seafox has been continually developed by Atlas and now comes in two variants (plus a training version), Combat and Inspection. The Combat variant is armed with a 1.4kg shaped charge, the Inspection variant isn’t. They can be distinguished by colour, black = combat and orange = inspection. Launching is carried out using a crane attached cradle and recovery uses a basket, again attached to a crane.
It is a very simple, robust and effective system. The Mk II variant introduced a capability to destroy floating mines and the latest version has a safer fuse system if it needs to be recovered without being fired. The inspection variant has a 360-degree sonar and internal navigation system for autonomous operations.
Also in 2012, the COBRA neutralisation charge was introduced to service. COBRA is a demountable EOD disruption device designed to be placed in close proximity to a mine or unexploded munition and the launch vehicle withdrawn to a safe distance. A buoy is released with an RF receiver that receives the firing signal from an operator, up to 22km away. The charge is initiated by a number of other methods including shock tube and acoustic. The COBRA makes a lot of sense given the cost of the Seafox, instead of being a disposable one-shot system, Seafox is now capable of being reused, much cheaper to blow up a COBRA than a Seafox. Read more about COBRA at ECS Special Projects, the people who developed it.[tabs] [tab title=”Seafox”]
[/tab] [tab title=”COBRA Detonation”]
Clearance Divers; The unmanned systems are designed to reduce the need for clearance divers but they cannot be used for everything. Clearance divers use a range of specialist equipment from low metal fins to the ordnance recovery system, mostly supplied by Divex in Aberdeen, it is a highly specialised trade. Clearance divers can be from the Royal Engineers or Royal Navy. A relatively new system is the Clearance Diving Life Support Equipment (CDLSE), a closed circuit rebreather design.[tabs] [tab title=”Low Magnetic”]
Supporting NATO operations, amphibious operations, securing Sea Lines of Communication, providing harbour defence and clearing legacy munitions the current fleet (even accepting recent reductions) is highly effective. OPERATION KIPION replaced TELIC and CALASH and is the name for the broad range of East of Suez operations. Bahrain is the main operating location and the Royal Navy has four mine countermeasures vessels in the area supported by reasonably sized battle staff and a Bay Class LSD(A) acting as an Afloat Forward Staging Base.
The vessels have had a series of communications, protection and environmental upgrades applied before operating in the area and the two types of vessel/sonar complement each other in the high ambient water temperature and salinity of the Gulf.
This permanent presence started in 2006 and has progressed through a couple of operational phases, AINTREE and HECATE for example, and this latest deployment is called the UK MCM Force UKMCMFOR.
A regular mine countermeasures exercise is held every year in the Gulf that called IMCMEX has recently been broadened to include Maritime Security Operations (MSO) and Maritime Infrastructure Protection (MIP)[tabs] [tab title=”Cardigan Bay”] [/tab] [tab title=”IMCMEX 13″] [/tab] [tab title=”IMCMEX 12 Video”]
[/tab] [tab title=”ICMEX 14 Video”]
It would be remiss not to mention that the battle staff make use of ISO container based workspaces that can be transferred to the LSD(A) or operated from the shore!
Time does not stand still and the Royal Navy is involved with a number of research projects and development programmes to examine future concepts. The rise of unmanned systems to counter mines has come about for a number of reasons but primarily, the desire to remove sailors and divers from the mined environment as much as practicably possible and increase throughput against potential enemies that might make extensive use of decoys.
QinetiQ and ADI put together the SWIMS system in record time but obviously some refinement was needed. In 2007 QinetiQ, Atlas Elektronik and the EDO Corporation (Atlas Consortium) were awarded a £4.3m contract from the MoD to develop;
A mine counter measures (MCM) flexible agile sweeping technology (FAST) technology readiness demonstrator (TRD) that will ultimately enable MOD to put a combined influence sweep (CIS) replacement into service using FAST Technology. Key objectives for this programme include de-risking the key technologies for a unmanned surface vessel based MCM influence capability and the development of technology and system integration maturity, using a design and build TRD programme. Quantified mine sweeping performance and effectiveness against mine threats in a realistic scenario will be demonstrated along with deployment, recovery and capture of a FAST unmanned surface vessel from an MCM. The development of an open architecture approach to the FAST components and the transfer of MOD mine sweeping research knowledge to the UK industry supplier base are also important.
Shortly after contract award EDO Corporation was acquired by ITT, eventually the defence business was spun out to Exelis. Work continued but in 2009 QinetiQ sold its interests in this sector to Atlas Elektronik for £23.5m.
Hamilton Waterjets published a short summary of FAST in 2009 including a nice visualisation of a pair of FAST boats on the deck of an RN MCM Vessel. Hamilton Waterjets provided the propulsion systems for Combat Support Boats and it was a modified Combat Support called a Logistic Support Boat that formed the basis of the FAST boat. Similar information was also found in the June 2008 issue of Marine News, click here to view.
Atlas showed how FAST would fit within their wider systems approach
One of the most significant challenges with MCM systems ensuring they have sufficient fidelity to reject seabed debris and maintain recognition and disposal throughput. After the UOR enabled MCM operations in Iraq had concluded, a programme to look at the next stages of MCM was launched. The approach by the Royal Navy was (and is) one of sensible conservatism, existing systems like the REMUS and Seafox families would be developed incrementally and the MCM fleet maintained and updated as required, the recent engine replacement programme for example.
In parallel, more ambitious programmes would be advanced.
The Future Mine Countermeasures Capability (FMCMC) accurately predicted that the future of MCM would use portable, off board and dedicated systems, POD for short, able to carry out recce, hunting, sweeping and disposal tasks. This was aimed at addressing issues such as speed of deployment and cost where it was supposed to operate from the then proposed C3 class of vessels (Ocean Capable Patrol Vessel) in the Sustained Surface Combatant Capability (S2C2) / Future Surface Combatant programmes. It was intended that FMCMC would be demonstrated using existing MCM vessels and matured, before transitioning to the C3.
In 2009, The Future Mine Countermeasures Capability (FMCMC) was absorbed into another programme, Mine Countermeasures, Hydrographic, and Patrol Capability (MHPC).
2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) confirmed that the Mine Countermeasures, Hydrographic, and Patrol Capability (MHPC) would eventually replace the existing MCM and Survey vessels. Subsequent agreements with the French have also seen a commitment to a joint programme. It also became clear around this time, as the FMCMC had suggested, that mine countermeasures would be about removing the need for clearance divers as much as possible, reducing the need for dedicated platforms and increasing deployability. I think it also signalled the end for highly specialised, low magnetic, quiet and ultra-expensive MCM vessels, maybe not soon, but definitely on the horizon. These goals pointed to the compact deployable set of equipment that could be operated at standoff distances from any vessel or the shore.
Despite this, many commenters concentrated on the Patrol aspect of MHPC, suggesting small warships such as the Austal Multi-Role Vessel (MRV) and BMT Venator.[tabs] [tab title=”Austal MRC”]
[/tab] [tab title=”BMT Venator”]
Off-board and unmanned systems would be developed, proven and deployed from existing specialised MCM vessels whilst still retaining the capabilities of those specialist vessels, hull mounted sonars for example. If off-board systems could be proven as effective from any vessel then the platform from which they were operated from could be considered separately. It also recognised that no matter how unmanned and autonomous systems developed the skills of the clearance diver would still be needed in some circumstances and the tremendous advantages of the human eye/brain would take some time for a machine to best. Finally, MHPC recognised the convergence of MCM and Survey, much of the equipment used in MCM operations had been developed for offshore survey and engineering, the REMUS 100 being a very good example.
Further technology demonstrators that were being used to inform MHPC were Flexible Agile Sweeping Technology (FAST), Littoral Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (LUUV), a combined command system and the Tactical Maritime Unmanned Air System (TMUAS).
By 2011, Atlas had evolved the system into something called the Containerised Integrated Mine Countermeasures System (C-IMCMS)
The C-IMCMS (Containerised Integrated Mine Countermeasures System) consists of a port-able combat management system as well as the analysis software CLASSIPHI for post mis-sion analysis of side-scan sonar data, the unmanned surface vessel (USV) FAST, the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) SeaOtter Mk II and the mine disposal system (ROV) SeaFox. The system was deployed from the shore; operations on board various ship types are also possible.
Some components of C-IMCMS are already in service with the Royal Navy, Seafox and the Classiphi software, for example, others not, the Sea Otter.
Other systems considered included the Kockums Self Propelled Acoustic Magnetic Sweep system (SAMS), the Exelis Modular Advanced Remote Controlled Surface Sweep System and ADI (now Thales Australia) Advanced Minesweeping System, the latter being used as part of the SWIMS UOR in Iraq.[tabs] [tab title=”SAMS”]
[/tab] [tab title=”Excelis”] [/tab] [tab title=”Thales Australia AMAS”]
Underpinning these demonstrators and early work were studies into the provision of bandwidth, low-frequency ground penetrating sonar, command and control infrastructure and signature emulation.
Despite a number of technical and operational differences, the UK and France have similar requirements and following the 2010 Lancaster House Defence cooperation agreement the MoD and DGA began work on harmonising requirements in preparation for a joint programme.
In February 2012, at the next UK/French defence summit, an announcement was made;
19. Maritime Mine Countermeasures. We have aligned our plans for our future Maritime Mine Countermeasures capabilities. We agreed to take an incremental approach whose first major step will begin in 2013 with the development and realisation of a demonstrator/prototype of off board systems based on unmanned technologies. The Joint Project Office already established within OCCAR will begin a European competitive process in 2012 for a common assessment phase.
By the end of the year, OCCAR had established a joint programme office.
The OCCAR managed Maritime Mine Countermeasures programme has four defined phases.
- Stage 1 – Study: definition and design stage culminating with a successful Critical Design Review for the Primary System.
- Stage 2 – Manufacture: development, manufacture and testing of individual sub-systems progressively and iteratively.
- Stage 3 – Qualification: demonstration of capabilities in order to qualify the system using realistic operational scenarios.
- Stage 4 – 24 month Operational Evaluation: delivery of systems to both the Royal Navy and the Marine Nationale together with contractor support during extended at-sea evaluation and development of concepts for use.
October 2012 saw the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) announce five short listed candidate companies to enter the next stage of the harmonised UK/French maritime mines countermeasures programme.
The short listed companies entered the ‘invitation to participate in dialogue’ phase. These were Atlas Elektronik, Thales, ECA Robotics, QinetiQ and Ultra. DCNS, Thales and ECA had previously partnered to work on the SLAM-F programme and produced the Evaluation incrèmentale de Solutions Potentielles d’Automatìsatìon de Deminage pour les Opérations Navales (Espadon/Swordfish) demonstrator that made use of a 25 tonne 17m vessel called the Sterenn Du (Black Star) that could launch and recover three smaller ECA unmanned vessels, each with a specific role called ALISTER 9, 18 and 18-TWIN.
Bluebird Electric have very good coverage of the SLAM-F programme, click here to read more.
The two the year 2012 Rotary Wing Unmanned Air System (RWUAS) Capability Concept Demonstrator (CCD) replaced the Tactical Maritime Unmanned Air System CCD project that was cancelled in 2011
With the contract award to BAE for the new Offshore Patrol Vessels MHPC has now become MHC.
The Mine countermeasures, Hydrographic and Patrol Capability Programme (MHPC) has now been renamed the Mine countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC). The name was changed following the announcement of the Maritime Composite Option (MCO) deal between MoD and BAE on 6 November 2013, which included the purchase of 3 new Offshore Patrol Vessels and therefore delivered the ‘Patrol’ solution.
Work undertaken during the Concept Phase produced compelling evidence that unmanned, off-board systems (OBS), deployed from low-value steel ships, or from ashore, could deliver most elements of the capability. However, a solution based on like-for-like replacement of the current, low-signature Mine Countermeasures Vessels (MCMVs) and Survey Vessels (SVHOs) cannot yet be discounted.
The Programme passed ‘Initial Gate’ in July 2014 and was approved to proceed to the Assessment Phase with the associated funding. MHC has been designed as a transformational and incremental programme that will update and subsequently replace the full existing MCM and Hydrographic capabilities to provide assured maritime freedom of manoeuvre, delivering mine hunting, minesweeping and hydrographic mission systems (including remote controlled OBS) to legacy and future platforms.
Marine OBS are widely used in the commercial sector, but are not yet fully proven for naval operations. The Assessment Phase will aim to reduce the risks associated with the naval use of OBS and determine the cost-effectiveness through:
- Three advanced technology demonstrators.
- A controlled trials programme.
- Technical studies and programme analysis.
The Assessment Phase is now underway, albeit in its early stages
Since then, competing manufacturers demonstrated their entries for the programme.
The media below, from Thales, shows the general concept of operations for Halycon, operation from a shore location and using a Remotely Operated vehicle for inspection and disposal. The ROV shown is from Saab, the SeaEye Falcon, equipped with a multi-shot disposal system called the multimine neutralisation system, or MuMNS.[tabs] [tab title=”Thales/ASV Halcyon”]
ARCIMS, from Atlas Elektronik, has been developed over quite a long period from the various systems such as FAST and SeaFox. Atlas teamed up with the makers of the Bladerunner speedboat, ICE Marine, to create the Motorboat Hazard. The small unmanned ROV is the Ocean Modules V8 M500 Intervention, click here for the brochure.[tabs] [tab title=”ARCIMS 1″] [/tab] [tab title=”ARCIMS 2″]
In April 2014, a contract was let to Thales.
On behalf of France and the United Kingdom (UK), OCCAR has awarded the Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM) contract to Thales Underwater Systems, in collaboration with BAE Systems and their partners in France (ECA) and in the UK (ASV, Wood & Douglas, SAAB UK)
The €22m 15-month contract covered the first design and definition stage. It also secured an agreed fixed price for Stage and 3, manufacture and support respectively. The Thales led consortium includes Wood and Douglas (Ultra) for the telemetry and data link, ECA for autonomous underwater vehicles, BAE for mission management and simulation systems, SAAB for remotely operated vehicles (ROV) and Autonomous Surface Vehicles for the surface vessel.
Each system will comprise a USV (Unmanned Surface Vehicle) equipped with an autonomous navigation system, an obstacle detection and avoidance sonar, a threat identification and neutralisation capability based on ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles), a T-SAS (Towed Synthetic Aperture Sonar) and AUVs (Autonomous Underwater Vehicles). The geolocated AUVs will use the latest-generation synthetic aperture sonar SAMDIS with multi-aspect functionality for improved classification. They will perform their tasks autonomously with control from a host ship or shore-based station via high-data-rate communication links.
Thales will develop a containerised portable operations centre (POC).
The image below shows the operating concept.
The ECA component will be developed from its A27-M, the largest in its portfolio, and will include the Thales Synthetic aperture Sidescan Sonar (SAMDIS) sonar.
One of the main outcomes from operational use of autonomous and other mine detection, classification and neutralisation systems was the realisation that they are slow. if the enemy were to deploy visually similar decoys in large numbers, or simply large numbers of actual mines, the clearance operation would simply be overwhelmed uness there were many systems working in parallel. Detection, identification and classification speeds are therefore key considerations.
The Thales Synthetic aperture Sidescan Sonar (SAMDIS) sonar has developed from the ESPADON work and uses three beams to increase coverage and speeds.
ECA will also be responsible for the launch and recovery system (LARS) which will enable non-specialised craft to operate the system in challenging sea conditions.
In addition to the joint UK/French mine hunting programmes the Royal Navy, with its positive experience from Iraq and SWIMS, has maintained and shown a renewed interest in combined influence sweep systems.
At the sime time as the MMCM contract another was announced, this one to Atlas Elektronik for the continued development of their FAST/ARCIMS system. The £12.6m 3-year contract will lead to the full development of the solution that can be deployed from Hunt Class MCM vessels. Block 1 calls for the development of the prototype, Block 2, integration with the Hunt Class and Block 3, manufacture of a system developed as a result of trials activity. Jane’s reported that the final configuration is likely to include 4 unmanned systems housed in a Reconnaissance Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Hangar (RUUVH) on board.
Jane’s also reported;
Towing speed is typically 8 kt. The ARCIMS sweep mission module payload set comprises a power generation module, and towed sweeps for acoustic, electric, and magnetic influences.
When Atlas delivered the two ARCIMS launches to the Royal Navy they delivered them in two configurations, the first was in the form of the RN Motorboat Hazard, pictured above, and the second, with equipment for the combined influence sweep system.
In 2014, the MoD ordered three UUVs equipped with SeeByte’s SeeTrack Neptune software.
At the DSEi exhibition, a number of additional contracts were announced.
Thales were awarded a £33.5 million contract under the Sonar 2093 Capability Sustainment Programme. The existing 7 variable depth sonar systems on the Sandown class MCM vessels will be upgraded from 2018 and the contract also includes shore-based training systems. The towed transducer will be changed to a new wideband device with fibre optic telemetry. In addition, a new data processing system and operator console will be installed. Operating depths range from 0-200m and the upgrade will enhance detection capabilities against low signature mines.
Saab announced a contract with BAE for the final design and development of their Multi-Shot Mine Neutralisation System (MuMNS), based on a new Saab remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV).
ASV showcased the Halcyon II that will provide greater stability and payload as part of the MMCM programme.
In Novembebr 2015, the MoD awarded a £4.2m contract to QinetiQ. The contract was for the development of a command and control demonstrator for the co-ordination of multiple unmanned vehicles.
Leading a team comprising BAE Systems, Thales and Seebyte, QinetiQ will develop a transportable solution capable of integrating unmanned systems from multiple suppliers. The objective is to minimise the number of screens and controls needed to conduct missions, improving efficiency and mitigating the risk of human error by reducing the burden on operators.
The system is intended for deployment at sea during the Royal Navy’s Unmanned Warrior showcase, where it will support a series of demonstrations, including a comparison of mine countermeasures carried out by manned and unmanned craft. Unmanned Warrior will take place alongside the Joint Warrior exercise in October 2016, with many of the key elements undertaken on or using range facilities operated by QinetiQ on behalf of the UK Ministry of Defence.
The Royal Navy has therefore embarked on a four-legged strategy to the subject of naval mines.
1. Maintain and develop existing systems on traditional MCM vessels,
2. Work with France and industry to create an advanced offboard mine detection, classification and neutralisation system,
3. Develop a combined influence sweep system in conjunction with Atlas Elektronik,
4. Invest in a number of supporting research strands such as systems autonomy and signature emulation.
Reading the tea leaves, it looks though the Royal Navy will potentially be using two unmanned surface vessels, the Atlas ARCIMS for sweeping and the Thales/ASV Halcyon for AUV operation, which hardly seems like a logistically efficient solution given they are very similar.
It is also uncertain what will happen to the existing REMUS and Seafox equipment.
However, the Royal Navy is evolving a very carefully balanced and well thought through roadmap that is conservative and ensures the little-discussed enablers like bandwidth are managed effectively but takes advantage of modern off-board, unmanned and autonomous systems to increase speeds whilst keeping clearance divers and MCM vessels out of the danger zone.
Contrast this with the USN and the difference is clear, the Royal Navy clearly places great value on mine countermeasures and is doing an exemplary job of capability husbandry.
As the programmes develop I think there is a high probability they will be operated from existing MCM vessels, vessels of opportunity, the shore and even this;
In May 2016, the MoD awarded a £1m contract to QinetiQ demonstrate the integration of unmanned systems within the Royal Navy, from ADS
Under the contract with the Mine countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC) team in the MOD’s Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), QinetiQ will provide a demonstration system to explore the integration of unmanned surface and underwater vehicles into Royal Navy operations. The system includes displays, software and computing infrastructure; it is fully transportable and capable of integrating unmanned systems from multiple suppliers.
The demonstrator will play a central role in the mine warfare themed aspects of Unmanned Warrior, the Royal Navy’s showcase of unmanned systems due to be held in October 2016. The activity will take place around the BUTEC facility in Scotland, operated by QinetiQ on behalf of the MoD under the Long Term Partnering Agreement (LTPA)
After the Unmanned Warrior exercise, the command and control system will be operated by the Royal Navy’s Maritime Autonomous Systems Trials Team (MASTT) as part of their suite of systems under evaluation and trials.
The new project follows a £4.2m contract with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), announced in November 2015, to deliver a similar command and control demonstration system for the coordination of multiple unmanned vehicles. It gives the MHC programme the means to fully understand the technology risks and performance boundaries for unmanned systems and to explore how to integrate equipment into an overall capability. As such, it complements work on the UK-French Maritime Mine Counter Measures programme and the UK Sweep capability demonstrator as the newest of the MHC demonstrators.
The objective of the overall programme is to minimise the number of bespoke screens and controls needed to conduct missions and improve efficiency through increased levels of system-to-system communication, minimising the risk of human error by reducing the burden on operators.
Both projects will be delivered by QinetiQ leading a team comprising BAE Systems, Thales, Seebyte and Atlas Elektronik UK.
The Royal Navy also released a teaser video for Unmanned Warrior
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