An autonomous minesweeper system that can safely clear sea lanes of mines has been handed over to the Royal Navy, UK Defence Minister Guto Bebb has announced.
Following a period of successful trials, the demonstrator system could go on to be used by the navy in the future to defeat the threat of modern digital mines.
The system has been designed and manufactured by Atlas Elektronik UK in Dorset, under a £13 million contract with the Ministry of Defence.
“This autonomous minesweeper takes us a step closer to taking our crews out of danger and allowing us to safely clear sea lanes of explosives, whether that’s supporting trade in global waters and around the British coastline, or protecting our ships and shores. Easily transported by road, sea and air, the high-tech design means a small team could put the system to use within hours of it arriving in theatre,” Defence Minister Guto Bebb commented.
As explained, the system’s technology has the ability to defeat today’s digital sea mines which can detect and target military ships passing overhead. The sweeper system, which features a “sense and avoid” capability, could also work together with other similar autonomous systems for the common goal of making our waters safer.
The project also aims to demonstrate the viability of an unmanned system that can safely and successfully clear mines and which is designed to be operated from a land or ship-based control station and can be deployed from a suitable ship or port.
Over the last four months, the system has been put through its paces by Atlas Elektronik and Defence Equipment and Support team members and the Royal Navy’s Maritime Autonomous Systems Trials Team (MASTT). The system was tested against a number of performance requirements, for example, how well it cleared mines, whether the autonomous system could successfully avoid obstacles and the overall system performance.
“This autonomous sweep system represents a fundamental step in the navy’s transition to autonomous offboard systems to counter the threat posed to international shipping by the sea mine; we look forward to commencing demonstration of the associated minehunting system in 2019,” Brigadier Jim Morris Royal Marines – Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff in Maritime Capability, and Senior Responsible Officer for the Mine Counter Measures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC) programme said.
The handover of the system is said to be a significant milestone for the Mine Countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC) programme, which aims to de-risk maritime autonomous systems and introduce these new technologies into the Royal Navy.
“The autonomous minesweeper offers a commander the ability to defeat mines that cannot be countered by current hunting techniques and significantly reduces the risk to crew members in pressured and time-constrained operations,” Director Ships Support Neal Lawson, of the MOD’s procurement organisation, Defence Equipment and Support, said.
The system will now undergo a series of more detailed trials with the navy.