An autonomous minesweeper system has been handed over to the Royal Navy, Defence Minister Guto Bebb has announced.

Following a period of successful trials the demonstrator system could go on to be used by the Royal 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 which has sustained around 20 jobs and created 15 new jobs with the company say the MoD.

Defence Minister Guto Bebb said:

“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. We are investing millions in innovative technology now, to support our military of the future.”

The Royal Navy say that systems innovative and modernised 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. 

Image of the new Royal Navy autonomous minesweeper, seen here at Weymouth Bay, in Dorset.

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 Mine Countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability Combined Influence Minesweeping system is the Royal Navy’s first fully autonomous capability demonstrator and paves the way for the introduction of this technology across the full range of maritime capabilities. Combined Influence Minesweeping is a critical component of the Mine Countermeasures capability.  This autonomous system will restore the Royal Navy’s sweep capability, enabling it to tackle modern digital mines that may not otherwise be discovered in challenging minehunting conditions.

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.”

The handover of the system to the Royal Navy is 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.

Director Ships Support Neal Lawson, of the MOD’s procurement organisation, Defence Equipment and Support, said:

“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.

The system can offer greater flexibility and upgradability, allowing the Royal Navy to respond better to the sea-mine threat in the long-term and operate more effectively around the world and I’m therefore delighted to be back here at Bincleaves, where I started my MOD career 29 years ago, to mark the handover of this critical programme.”

The system will now undergo a series of more detailed trials with the Royal Navy.

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Chris
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Chris

Will they still need crew on board to actually make the mine safe and are only fully autonomous I’m regards to sailing or is everything they do fully autonomous?

Andy G
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Andy G

Detect and avoid strategy

Gunbuster
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Gunbuster

Sweeping doesn’t detect…These are the upto date version of the Combined influence sweeping system that was fitted to the HUNT Class MCMVs .It sets the mines off if the mine is a pressure, magnetic or acoustic mine.
If its a buoyant mine it will cut the mooring wire allowing the mine to float up to the surface to be dealt with with a 50cal.

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

How does this system actually deploy?

RFA? River? Frigate?

Steve10
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Steve10

RFA, River or BMT Introduces VENARI®-85 a Revolutionary MCM Concept Design
https://www.bmt.org › news › 2017/09

Paul.P
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Paul.P

I am guessing one of the major advantages is that it is not tied to a specific launch platform.

Lusty
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Lusty

I’m pretty sure I have seen senior officials state that these can be used with the RFAs, particularly with the Bay class – due to the Well Dock, and they can be used on/with the current minesweeping vessels. Can also be deployed from other assets, such as the future frigates – hence the emphasis on large mission bays.

Chris
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Chris

(Chris H) – the article says:
“Easily transported by road, sea and air”

Lusty
Guest
Lusty

Indeed.

Paul
Guest
Paul

I’m sure I once read that this programme was the first step towards replacing the entire MCMV fleet with systems like this and that first step included a USV in a mountable pod on the exisitng MCMV fleet. I don’t know whether plans have changed since though.

Jonathan
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Jonathan

I understand that the concept is that theses would ( along with other GRP autonomous systems) replace the need for expensive specialist boats with GRP hulls with systems that can be mounted on vessels with mission bays ect ( Type 26, 31 and OPVs) so effectively the hunts would be replaced with a set of autonomous systems for deployment on the steel hulled escort and OPV fleets.

It’s potentially one of the saving graces of out lovely new rivers ( there are some clever system wide thinkers in the MOD)

Thatguy
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Thatguy

I think the plan is to purchase ‘mothership’ minesweepers which will act as a hub for multiple autonomous platforms to replace the hunts and sandowns, like the BMT venari concept which by the looks of it was designed for the specifications, but I doubt we’ll get many!

Andy G
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Andy G

Im with you on this.

Paul.P
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Paul.P

Zooming in, the mast looks as though it might fold down.

Pacman27
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Pacman27

This is great news and is the start of a move to more multi mission ships (T31). These can be manned or unmanned and have the ability to locate and destroy mines with the right loads. A T31 with 2-4 of these in its mission bay is a step change and reduces the need for dedicated platforms, as they can be delivered from any of our RFA or RN ships. Of course divers will still be required, but this does do an awful lot of the leg work at a much reduced cost. 15 minehunters/sweepers can be replaced with 15… Read more »

Julian
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Julian

We do now seem to find ourselves needing to use our minehunters/sweepers (and our survey vessels for that matter) for roles other than their specialist roles so going this direction and being able to make the motherships more general purpose really does seem to be the way to go. Even if the extra motherships built to control these were “only” more River B2s those vessels would still be way more credible when deployed in non-core general policing roles (e.g. migrants/refugees, pirates, smugglers, general presence & flying the flag) than a Hunt or a Sandown given that a River B2 can… Read more »

Paul.P
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Paul.P

I like the thinking but one Type 31 crew numbers would need roughly 3 MCM crews. River 2 might be closer to one for one or maybe one for 2 MCM. Its beyond my pay grade but I’m sure the RN are working out what’s possible. Would be good not to have plastic MCMs doing OPV work as has happened in the past, as they are chocolate teapots in a fight.

Pacman27
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Pacman27

Good point Paul, but at the end of the day we all recognise that we need more people and for every T23/T45 you get 2 crews for a T26/T31, so I think some smoothing needs to occur. At the end of the day we need to have a better combat fleet that can defend itself and the carriers as we will need 2 carrier groups (as we have 2 carriers). I see systems like this and Taranis/Magma in the UCAV space being critical to the UK being a premium player, Add in the article on Apache and the cost of… Read more »

Julian
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Julian

A very good point on T31 crew numbers Paul. BMT describes the crew requirement of Venator 110 in its technical brief thus – “Even in the full combatant configuration, the core crew consists of 85 personnel, capable of maintaining 24 hour operations”. I’m not sure what that might drop to in a Venator-110 derived T31 that was in more of an OPV configuration which would probably be enough for extra vessels added primarily as mine hunter/clearance motherships vs Sandown’s 34 or Hunt’s 45. Maybe the crew requirements wouldn’t be massively adrift but your point is still well taken. Ultimately Pacman27… Read more »

Pacman27
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Pacman27

I think the Venari design is too late now, we need to create a standard fleet based around 6-8 major hull types and make them adaptable through the systems they carry For me we can get more effect out of 2 Carrier Battle Groups (Juno and Gold) and 4 Task Groupsfor the RN surface fleet(N,S,E,W) Each Carrier Group would consist of: 1 CVF 2 T26 Global Combat Ship (AAW capable – T45 initially) 4 T31 Global Mission Ship 2 FFT Tide 2 Joint Amphibious Logistic Ship (Karel Doorman Support and Helicopter ship) Each Task Group would consist of: 2 T26… Read more »

Steve
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Steve

Whilst i am sure they are only there for testing purpose, but it is funny that in all the pictures you can clearly see a crew on the boat. If this is what they mean by unmanned, then the vikings had that cover also 😉

What isn’t clear to me is whether this system is only for detecting mines or also for taking them out.

Pacman27
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Pacman27

It can take them out by sending a remote device down to explode it once found.

It’s a very comprehensive system, but as gunbusters will rightly point out, does have its limitations as everything does.

Think Defence has some good articles on this and the US have been using elements of this for several years (as have the UK ) . This is the first time an integrated solution has been brought together.

Jack
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Jack

A good and useful additional capability for the Royal Navy to operate along with the existing MCMV’s

Bloke down the pub
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Bloke down the pub

There already exist autonomous submersible systems able to deploy and place explosive charges to destroy mines once they’ve been detected so, no, there is no requirement to have a diver onboard.
BTW, is there a description of what we’re looking at in the bottom photo? Is it part of the sweep that is following the lead boat or are they independent vessels that are travelling in convoy?

Bloke down the pub
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Bloke down the pub
Nigel Collins
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Nigel Collins

It could prove to be an invaluable piece of hardware which we are clearly short of in many areas!

US Navy resurrects Second Fleet in Atlantic to counter Russia.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-44014761

Stephen G.
Guest
Stephen G.

Nice, shame it’s by a German company though, do we do anything?

Paul.P
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Paul.P

We do lots of great things….then sell them for a quick buck. I’m looking forward to seeing how much British engineering buys in the Cayman Islands.

Marcus
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Marcus

Thales is leading an Anglo-French team to produce a prototype unmanned minehunting system (the Atlas system is for mine sweeping.) Team members include BAE Systems, ASV and ECA supported by Saab and Kongsberg. ukdj has a number of articles on this, the prototypes are due for trials next year.

Sceptical Richard
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Sceptical Richard

So this is a sweeper, right? Not a mine hunter. So it’s an influence sweep, whether noise or magnetic? So it doesn’t find mines by sonar and then sends something like a Seafox to detonate them? It sounds as if it tricks a clever digital mine into thinking a real warship has passed over thus triggering an explosion? Hence the need for it to be unmanned and the need for sub-vehicles, all remotely controlled? So there is a real chance that some of these vehicles will be destroyed as part of the sweeping process? Or does it work by streaming… Read more »

AV
Guest
AV

Unmanned minesweepers….great.
Will work perfectly with our unmanned frigates…lol
Sorry couldn’t resist.

Julian
Guest
Julian

🙂

Paul.P
Guest
Paul.P

Can these boats and the USVs they launch detect lurking diesel subs? Just asking.

Gunbuster
Guest
Gunbuster

Right then time for a Mine Countermeasures lesson. The RN currently has Hunt and Sandown MCMVs. The Sandown is designed for deep water mine hunting using its VDS sonar to detect and kill mines one by one. Its a very slow but effective method of clearing mines. It would be almost impossible to detect and clear a field of mines using this method in say the Straits of Hormuz in anything less than months. The mines are destroyed by a remote vehicle or divers using explosives. HUNTS MCMVs originally where fitted with the Combined Influence Sweep system for use in… Read more »

AV
Guest
AV

Nice info, appreciated.

Sceptical Richard
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Sceptical Richard

Thanks Gunbuster. Useful stuff. Already knew most of it except for the bit that the Hunts had lost their sweeps, nor did I understand the comparative effectiveness of sweeping vs hunting – I just thought they were used for tackling different types of mines in different situations. In my book, the only way to do a proper job is to hunt and destroy, however long it takes. Looking forward to the Thales led remote hunting system for the RN that uses some of the very clever UUVs the Swedes have developed. So I guess what you’re saying is that this… Read more »

Julian
Guest
Julian

Fabulous info. Thanks. Whenever I get a “deep dive” (no pun intended) into some area of military tech I am amazed how sophisticated it has all become. It’s all a very long way from cannons, crossbows and swords.

I can definitely sympathise with your final comment. My instinctive reaction when you first mentioned the 4000+Amp towed wire was one of utter shock. Scary. Still, if you were nervous imagine what the fish must have been thinking 🙂

Gunbuster
Guest
Gunbuster

If it all went wrong when you pulled in all the wires, cables, otters, kites and floats you would get huge tangled mess to cut and hacksaw up to get it all onboard.
Anything that stops that has to be better.

Alan
Guest
Alan

Really good information Gunbuster. I spent 2 happy years Commanding an MCM Squadron and the key message I tried to get the Surface Units to understand was the direct correlation between time and risk. Minehunting and mine clearance takes time; the more sophisticated the threat, the greater amount of time is required to reduce the risk to levels acceptable for surface units to enter. Achieving clearance to nil risk is impossible. Remember, all ships can be minehunters at least once!

4thwatch
Guest
4thwatch

In January 1941 my 38ft launch was equipped with an early echo sounder and attached to the Clyde Minesweeping Squadron as Echo Sounding Boat. I think she was probably the first dedicated RN minehunter.

Sceptical Richard
Guest
Sceptical Richard

Centuries ago, as a young raw midshipman I remember joining Gavington and being told that I had to ride and help steer one of the otters. I didn’t fall for it but apparently the mid before me did! That must have been hilarious for the crew to watch. A real moral booster! Of course, nowadays Health and Safety and being nice to snowflakes would never allow such practices to take place. Those were the days….

Propellerman
Guest
Propellerman

modern mines are a true menace – most can be programmed to detect the acoustic signature of the propeller and the frequency band it operates at – so even if you slow the propeller speed down and try and fool it, it will detect the frequency ranger and compute that its still the same vessel

you don’t need to blow holes in ships to cripple, them – just create enough of a pressure pulse to wreck the shaft line or damage the CPP control rods and it’s game over as a fighting unit

David E Flandry
Guest
David E Flandry

So the boat is unmanned, but how many people are needed to keep it running? Maintenance, remote controllers, refueling, etc. Anyone know?