French robotics group ECA is positioning itself to meet emerging regional requirements for offboard mine countermeasures (MCM) systems based on autonomous maritime vehicles.
The company is part of a French/UK industry team developing a new-generation Maritime Mine Countermeasures (MMCM) ‘system of systems’ under contract to the French and UK ministries of defence. Separately, ECA is working with French aluminium shipbuilder OCEA and training facilitator DCI to offer an end-to-end, stand-off MCM suite for export applications.
Historically, navies have used specialist low-signature mine hunters, equipped with high-resolution sonar systems, to go into a minefield to detect, classify and localise mine-like objects for investigation and, where necessary, neutralisation. However, this approach is expensive, relatively slow, and carries risks for the vessels and their crews.
Offboard MCM systems take a different byapproach, using autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and/or unmanned surface vessels (USVs) fitted with high-resolution sonars. These vehicles can swim ahead into the mine danger area, enabling the mother ship to remain at a safe ‘stand-off’ distance.
Under the MMCM programme, being managed by OCCAR on behalf of the French and UK governments, ECA is part of a Thales/BAE Systems team that was recently given the green light to manufacture two prototype MMCM systems. Having already participated in the earlier design definition stage, ECA will during this next phase supply a total of six AUVs derived from its generic A27-M AUV product.
For the purposes of the MMCM programme, the A27-M vehicles will be equipped with the Thales SAMDIS multi-aspect synthetic aperture sonar for detection, classification and localisation of mines. Each of the two prototype MMCM suites will have three vehicles, which will be capable of deployment individually, or in a ‘pack’ mode.
ECA will also supply a launch and recovery system (LARS) used to deploy and recover these AUVs. The LARS features a unique, patented system designed to reduce the need for human intervention.
Meanwhile, ECA, OCEA and DCI have begun jointly marketing a stand-off MCM solution under a co-development and marketing agreement signed in October. The concept being proposed by the three companies marries an MCM mother ship variant of OCEA’s OSV 190 survey vessel with an offboard MCM suite – including an Inspector Mk 2 USV, AUVs and a mission management system – developed by ECA. DCI’s role is to provide MCM operational training and technical assistance, providing knowledge transfer from the French Navy.Earlier this year, ECA delivered remote MCM suites to two navies, one of which was subsequently identified as Kazakhstan.