The UK and France will jointly develop autonomous mine-hunting systems that will help detect and neutralise sea mines around the world. This comes after the former announced a £184M investment in the joint Maritime Mine Counter Measure (MMCM) programme.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “This £184M (US$245.6M) contract offers a huge leap forward for the Royal Navy’s autonomous capabilities in the detection and defeat of sea mines. As the Armed Forces puts modernisation at the heart of its future strategy, these systems will protect vital shipping lanes, commercial traffic and our brave personnel from these deadly devices.”
The Royal Navy has been the world leader in MMCM, having been regularly called upon to deal with mines and other historic ordnance, left over from the Second World War, around the UK. In recent times, the UK has been involved in mine-hunting operations across the world, including the Gulf and off Libya. Sea trials conducted on the French and UK coasts this year have proved the autonomous vehicles’ capability to hunt sea mines.
Following the successful demonstration phase and trials completed in October 2020, the new contract will produce three sets of mine-hunting equipment, consisting of: an autonomous vessel, a towed sonar and a mine neutralisation system. The first sets will be delivered in late 2022.
“When used together, these three elements are known as the Primary System. This will allow us to deliver mine-hunting more effectively, more efficiently and more safely. The next-generation mine hunting capability is designed to potentially replace conventional crewed mine hunting vessels, such as the Royal Navy’s HUNT and SANDOWN class ships, with autonomous systems,” First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin said.
The signing of the agreement coincides the 10th anniversary of the historic Lancaster House treaties on defence, security and nuclear cooperation between the UK and France. The historic commitment has established a long-term partnership between the two countries and includes the fully operational Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) – a force able to rapidly deploy over 10,000 personnel in response to a crisis.
Both nations are deployed around the world in places such as the Middle East, combating Daesh, and in Estonia, as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence. In Mali, three RAF CHINOOKs and 100 UK personnel are deployed in a non-combat role in support of French counter-extremist operations.
This contract will support 215 jobs across the UK at Thales sites in Somerset and Plymouth, as well as in the wider supply chain, including L3 Harris in Portsmouth, Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire and Alba Ultrasound in Glasgow. The investment follows the substantial £16.5Bn settlement in the Spending Review for Defence over four years that will modernise the UK’s armed forces.
Look out for more this topic in the February 2021 edition of ESD: ‘Naval Mine Warfare Resources’.
J C Menon