A Thales-led consortium has signed a deal with the British and French governments to design an unmanned system to defeat underwater mines. The contract is the first phase of what could become a multi-year program to build and operationally evaluate a mine hunting demonstrator for the British and French navies .
The £17 million deal (US $25.3 million), funded equally between the two countries, is part of the effort to increase industrial and military cooperation between Britain and France stemming from a defense treaty signed in 2010. Until now, most progress on the industrial front of the treaty has been in the missile, unmanned air combat vehicle and nuclear weapon testing sectors.
The Thales Underwater System-led consortium includes BAE Systems, the French company's UK arm and a clutch of subcontractors. The winning contractor beat out a bid from French firm iXBlue and the UK arm of German maritime systems specialist Atlas Elektronik. On the French side iXBlue, a specialist in undersea technology, has switched consortia and is now also part of Thales team, a DGA spokesman said.
Thales itself is set to deliver the integrated portable operations center and some command and controls systems. ECA, a builder of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV), is among the subcontractors in the consortium, Direction Générale de l'Armement, the procurement office, said in a statement. DCNS is no longer not part of the Thales-led consortium, an industry source said. A second source said the French naval shipbuilder had decided to pull out of the deal. In the UK, BAE is partnered with ASV, Wood & Douglas and SAAB, Thales said in a statement.
BAE is to provide the mission management system responsible for managing the command and information systems. ASV will supply the surface vehicle, ECA the underwater unmanned vehicles, SAAB the remotely operated vehicles and Wood & Douglas will supply communications.
The British Ministry of Defence said in a March 27 statement that the 18 month project will involve the "design of a maritime mine counter measures (MMCM) demonstrator, which includes an unmanned surface vehicle with sonar and an unmanned underwater vehicle."
An MoD spokeswoman said that for the moment the nations are only committed to the design phase but a decision to move beyond that is likely by the first quarter of 2017 "The contract commits the UK to Stage 1, the design stage, of the MMCM demonstrator. Over a period of 18 months, related studies, design and definition of the primary system will be carried out," she said. "Although there is no commitment by either nation beyond the design stage, the joint contract includes an option to extend the work to cover an approximate 24 month manufacture and qualification period and for progressing into a further 24 month period of support for independent operational evaluation by the French and UK navies," she said. A joint French/UK decision on further collaboration beyond the design stage into demonstrator production will need to be made in the financial year 2016/17 she said.
Each system is expected to include an unmanned surface vehicle, a threat identification and neutralization capability based on a remotely piloted vehicle, a towed synthetic aperture sonar and autonomous underwater vehicles. The mine hunting system will have the ability to be controlled from a mother ship or a shore-based station via a high-date-rate communications link.
The deal was signed by OCCAR, the European program management organisation, on behalf of the two nations and the Thales consortium.
|Author:||Andrew Chuter and Pierre Tran|