How drones make NATO’s mine-hunting more flexible

The Danish Navy recently contributed their new concept in counter-mine efforts to exercise Open Spirit in the Baltic Sea as part of Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1. The new system is flexible, scalable and utilizes drones to minimize danger to Sailors.

The system is called Mine Countermeasures Denmark (MCM DNK) and is a modular approach to mine countermeasures with a central control station and multiple drones to gather and interpret information about the ocean environment.

This month, the central control node for the system embarked aboard Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 flagship, German Navy FGS Donau (A 516), for exercise Open Spirit. This marked the second time MCM Denmark was hosted on another nation’s ship. In 2015 the system was deployed on board the Belgian ship, BNS Godetia (A 960). This interoperability strengthens the NATO Alliance through unified effort.

At its largest, the system consists of two shipping containers on a “mother ship” one of which holds an operations centre that functions as a command and control module for the drones. In the operations centre, a small team of Danish sailors conducts all planning, evaluation, communication and tasking of the drone ships.

The drone ships include up to two Holm-class ships (manned) which carry the Mine Demolition Vehicle and the Danish Mine Disposal Charge for destroying mines; and up to four MSF-class ships (manned or unmanned) used for towing the side scan sonar or sweeping equipment to locate the mines. Together this modular system can clear a sea lane or harbour while still keeping sailors at a safe distance.

Lithuania has hosted this year exercise Open Spirit which has received the use of this technology to identify and clear historical sea mines that still litter the Baltic Sea floor while practicing mine-clearance techniques and Allied interoperability among NATO naval forces at the same time.

SNMCMG1 is one of four multinational, integrated maritime groups composed of vessels from various allied countries. These vessels are permanently available to NATO to perform different tasks ranging from participation in exercises to operational missions. These groups provide NATO with a continuous maritime capability and help to establish Alliance presence, demonstrate solidarity, conduct routine diplomatic visits and enhance interoperability among Allied naval forces.