The Ministry of Defence have outlined the Royal Navy’s autonomous mine-hunting capability programme.

The new systems could be operated from the shore or from any suitable Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary or commercial vessel.

In a submission to the Defence Committee, the Ministry of Defence state the following:

“The MHC programme is at the forefront of future maritime autonomous systems and is being developed in two blocks.  MHC Block 1 consists of three operational demonstrator systems, including the UK and French collaborative Maritime Mine Countermeasures (MCM) programme, and is aligned with the Sandown class drawdown between 2021-2025.

MHC Block 1 will deliver a total of three Mission Systems.  Two will operate in the UK at Her Majesty’s Naval Bases Clyde and Portsmouth, and one in the Gulf. A Mission System consists of:

  • a Portable Operation Centre;
  • an Autonomous Surface Vessel;
  • towed sonar;
  • Mine Neutralisation System;
  • Autonomous Underwater Vehicles, and;
  • an autonomous mine sweeping system.

MHC Mission Systems can be operated from the shore and from any suitable RN, Royal Fleet Auxiliary or commercial platform.  The systems are currently being developed, with deliveries due to commence by the end of 2022, and scheduled to enter service in 2023-24. Gulf assets will be operated from the in-theatre Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) but could be operated from shore with the agreement of the host nation.  When in service, the system will be deployable worldwide.

MHC Block 2 is the mainstay of the full replacement MCM capability; the investment decision point is planned for 2024, subject to cost profiling.  This agile and incremental approach allows the RN to adjust the procurement plan as it builds operational analysis and experience from allies and industry.

Initial MHC trials have outperformed existing mine counter measure vessels (MCMV) capabilities, assuring the programme pathway.  However, it is acknowledged that, while modernising, there is a degree of operational risk, as conventional capabilities come to the end of their service lives and new technology comes into service.  In mitigation, and to improve operational experience, Project Wilton will be conducting MCM survey operations on the Clyde in early 2022 and delivery of a Block 1 system has been accelerated, to be deployed into the Gulf region (Op KIPION) by the end of 2022.  A phased approach will evaluate MHC performance in the Gulf against MCMV capabilities, to inform the transition timeframe.”

Training has already started on these systems, you can read more on that below.

Sailors training to operating autonomous minehunters (ukdefencejournal.org.uk)

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James Fennell
James Fennell
1 month ago

These are the three systems developed by Thales and Harris under the joint UK-France programme. Project Wilton uses the Atlas Electronik platform. I think Block 2 will be a contest between Thales/Harris and AE/Raytheon.

eclipse
eclipse
1 month ago
Reply to  James Fennell

How many block 2 systems will be procured?

James Fennell
James Fennell
1 month ago
Reply to  eclipse

They don’t say – I guess they are working out what they can do. But I should imagine around 10 to replace MCMV?

James Fennell
James Fennell
1 month ago
Reply to  James Fennell

They also need to think about what platforms they operate from too.

Steve M
Steve M
1 month ago
Reply to  James Fennell

Yep, it’s great saying escort fleet will be increased but if they are then stuck being MCM mothership means losing 15mcm gaining 5 t-32 but all they do is mcm so net loss of 10hulls

Latch71
Latch71
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve M

I’d rather have 5 Type 32s than 15 minehunters – they’d be rather more flexible and useful.

Steve M
Steve M
1 month ago
Reply to  Latch71

agree t32’s more flexible just don’t like how few hulls we will have any loss means large capability drop 🙁 just look at E-7 only 3 lose 1 to maintenance and 1/3 of fleet gone could not even maintain 24/7 coverage anywhere

Bayboat queen
Bayboat queen
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve M

Firstly it can operate from an escort it doesn’t have to. You can operate multiple sets from one vessel if there’s space. The ship is able to do other evolutions while operating this kit at distance. One of the main reasons for the push to purchase the multirole support ships is to provide motherships for systems such as this. So no you are not turning 10 escorts into MCMs. This isn’t a cost saving forced on the MCM community to cut hulls. This is lead by the MCM community as it is the future of MCM operations and sadly manned… Read more »

James Fennell
James Fennell
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve M

I think the new MRSS can do it – will have a dock like Bays. In the interim they can charter a few offshore support vessels.

Steve M
Steve M
1 month ago
Reply to  James Fennell

Problem would be if you are having to use the MRSS to clear approach to a landing area you are then short of hulls to transport troops? get the MRSS to fill the amphibious/LRG duties turn the 2 LPD’s and 3 Bays into MCM motherships 🙂 with option to be used as surge transports

maurice10
maurice10
1 month ago

Brilliant concept and one that surely will be expanded to protect service people from so many dangerous scenarios.

Monkey spanker
Monkey spanker
1 month ago

Does the LHD in the gulf move around? Maybe a cheaper purpose built ship would be better? I’ve heard it’s a nice visit for other nations units in the gulf aswell. Maybe a ship with a dock, a Tesco’s etc

Gunbuster
Gunbuster
1 month ago
Reply to  Monkey spanker

Lyme Bay moves a lot as did Cardigan Bay before it.

They will be ideal ships for the equipment. A suitable dock, heavy duty crane, container deck with tie downs and power supplies. Lots of accommodation and a huffing big flight deck.
They also carry the MCM Force commander when the MCM Command Team go to sea to control MCM activities.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
1 month ago
Reply to  Gunbuster

I’d prefer another vessel take the role, may be a cheap OTS type.

With only 3 Bay, and one each allocated to LRG S and LRG N, that leaves one spare in reserve, refit, whatever.

If the Gulf Bay is doing MCM mother ship it Can not be doing LRG FCF role.

Too precious an asset to use for this IMO.

Bloody idiots selling the 4th for peanuts yearly savings.

James H
James H
1 month ago

I’m curious what are plans for the NATO standing mine countermeasures squadron will be now any ideas, if we have to borrow ships to deploy the new system?

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
1 month ago
Reply to  James H

Good question. Ended I guess. Maybe they allocate a mother ship to it?

Monkey spanker
Monkey spanker
1 month ago
Reply to  Gunbuster

That’s good to know. Maybe a mother ship design is already here. Flexibility seems key for the ships. So a dock, big flight deck, parking space, cranes and empty convertible space.
Can then be used for whatever is needed at the time

barry white
barry white
1 month ago

Clyde and Portsmouth and the Gulf
How come not Devonport ?

Gunbuster
Gunbuster
1 month ago
Reply to  barry white

All the MCM infrastructure is in Faslane and Pompie. Low Mag warehousing and the shore support organisation. The Mag Ranging facility at Portland will I suspect remain as is. All materials that are used on the MCM force are checked there and certified Low or None mag before being used or moved to warehousing.

Tommo
Tommo
1 month ago
Reply to  Gunbuster

Is the degaussing range in the Forth still up and operational or did that fold when Cochrane and the yard lower the ensign ?

Tommo
Tommo
1 month ago

I’m not going too teach anyone too suck eggs over the matter of Autonomous vehicles in theatre, just a little dit whenever we operated in the gulf and the yanks would be in the area regardless of either Balls and diamonds aloft or flag Alpha ,if they flashed up Aegis systems which they frequently did our ships Genes and electrics would trip if they can do this too a Hunt then what about unmanned vehicles? At least we could reset and restart PDQ

James Fennell
James Fennell
1 month ago
Reply to  Tommo

Because they are autonomous they don’t need a command link, so jamming is not a problem, so depends upon how well protected the computers are. You have to assume they have built in some sort of redundency with batteries that allows them to reboot? There are also new SEA workboats for the divers coming into service and the Project Wilton team has a crewed workboat attached (in the pic above) so assume that some poor sod will have the job of recovering them if something packs up?

Last edited 1 month ago by James Fennell
Tommo
Tommo
1 month ago
Reply to  James Fennell

So Autonomous should read Semi Autonomous

James Fennell
James Fennell
1 month ago
Reply to  Tommo

Fully autonomous surely (they would need a command link if sem-autonomous), but things break and that is a recovery job, even if its a crewed platform.

Tommo
Tommo
1 month ago
Reply to  James Fennell

Fingers crossed they never go breasts heavenly whilst in a laid mine field ,

James Fennell
James Fennell
1 month ago
Reply to  Tommo

Should not be a problem. We send GRP MCMVs into minefields now and both the USV and workboats are GRP. Floating contact mines are not so common, unless its an old minefield, an designed to be hit by a ship not a plastic boat.

donald_of_tokyo
donald_of_tokyo
1 month ago

A few comments 1: Looks like three MHC-1 kits are placing 5 Sandown class MCMVs. For example, one kit sent to Persian Gulf will replace 2 Sandowns. RN thinks the autonomous MCM kits are so efficient, I guess? 2: By the way, what is “an autonomous mine sweeping system.”? RN has already purchased 3 Atlas Mine Sweeping kits. 3: The numbers of the MHC-1 kit make me feel, MHC-2 kits to replace Hunt-class MCMVs could also be made of only 3 or 4 kits. If so, RN will be operating 6 or 7 Mine Hunting kits. Among them, at least… Read more »

Tommo
Tommo
1 month ago

Too crew or not too crew this is the dilemma , hope they can be tasked , whatever the temperature is

James H
James H
1 month ago

It’s replacement on the cheap, we dont have the numbers of support ships or escorts to deploy away from their main missions to do this.
Why do they not want to build 8 simple motherships, what will happen now with the NATO standing groups?
We also reduce the number of boats who can patrol now.

PeterS
PeterS
1 month ago
Reply to  James H

Completely agree. Netherlands and Belgium are buying 6 new 2000t motherships each and France plans to operate the systems from 6 dedicated platforms.that are even larger.So why are we not following suit? We have few enough surface vessels and tying any of them to an activity that will need persistence seems nonsensical.

James H
James H
1 month ago
Reply to  PeterS

As normal, it doesn’t consider if something unexpected happens and you need to deploy a system somewhere that we didnt plan for.
But yes it does seem a very uneconomical use of resources.

Quentin D63
Quentin D63
1 month ago
Reply to  PeterS

Maybe the Venari 85 concept vessel which seems to have been purposely designed for these systems?

Quentin D63
Quentin D63
1 month ago
Reply to  Quentin D63

The T32 might also have these systems integrated into their design. You’d think that a mothership of some sort would be needed to transport these systems when and where needed and even if they’re to be deployed as part of a CSG?

donald_of_tokyo
donald_of_tokyo
1 month ago
Reply to  James H

Save the Royal Navy article says there are plan for Mine Counter-measure Logistic Support Vessels.

Let’s see how it come out in the renewed NSbS.

see https://www.navylookout.com/a-big-future-for-uk-shipbuilding/

Mark
Mark
1 month ago

Got a few questions?
1. Do they have any anti submarine capabilities?
Says they have a towed sonar. So may be paired with the type 31s?
2. Do they have any offensive weapons IE depth charges and lightweight torpedoes?
3. How does a robotic rib get rid of mines? Does it drop a shaped charge in close proximity to mine and set off from a distance?

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark

That will be the job of a different, maybe similar, platform to do ASW.

It might be that the same platform can be reconfigured with different payloads.

The main thing is to keep these platforms simple but good so they are procured in numbers.

Combined with similar thinking for drones these should be force multipliers.

Mark
Mark
1 month ago

Yes these new naval drones could give the cheaper type 31/32 capabilities well beyond there budgets if we can get them up armed. Can’t see why lightweight torpedoes and venom/marlet missles can’t be added to them.

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark

I’m confused. Assuming we are talking about the ASW versions here with a towed array? How would adding lightweight torps help with ASW. The idea of a towed array isn’t to sit on top of the sub? That would be better delivered from a drone as was discussed on another thread. I don’t understand what venom/martlet would add to ASW roles – force role protection maybe? Surely you are not suggesting one of these tries to attack a warship – it’s naval gunnery would sink this bot. Uparming these things into Swiss Army knives is a recipe for budget blowout,… Read more »

Gunbuster
Gunbuster
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark

They have a remote underwater vehicle that swims down to the contact. It , unlike the current Seafox which is a one shot suicide system, has 3 charges on it. It attaches a charge to the target, retreats to a safe distance and the charge is remotely actuated by a coded sonar pulse. The same work boats are being looked at for various systems to be fitted to them. The sonar mentioned in the article is a mine hunting search sonar. There is also a trial being undertaken for a towed array sonar from one of the boats. This would… Read more »

Mark
Mark
1 month ago
Reply to  Gunbuster

Cheers gunbuster the use of drones which can be cheaply adapted for use by nearly all surface ships will be a great asset and 1 that’s is easily exported. Having cheap general purpose frigates with the ability to be mission specific with a change of iso containers at a local port will be great stuff.

Challenger
Challenger
1 month ago

Whilst it’s great to have the flexibility to deploy modern systems from the shore and a range of vessels I still think it’s a bit of a problem to have no dedicated platforms and to rely on the T32’s which are supposed to be expanding the escort fleet. I’d like to see the batch 2 River’s brought home once the T31’s are in service and forward based, with 6 or 8 3-4,000 ton support ships delivered to replace the older River’s, Echo’s and in part the MCMV’s. Simple platforms with small permanent crews and the space for modular/containerized survey, mine-warfare… Read more »

Klonkie
Klonkie
1 month ago
Reply to  Challenger

HI C. I’m pleased to say that myself and others expressed a similar view to your idea re the batch 2 Rivers. It does seem a sensible plan.

Joe16
Joe16
1 month ago
Reply to  Challenger

Broadly speaking, I think where the B2s are deployed currently works (except maybe the Caribbean, I think we should permanently base an auxiliary or one of those support ships you suggest out there- makes more sense for the disaster relief and devleopment stuff that we mainly do). What I would do is augment the two in the Indo Pacific with a T31/32, and move the Caribbean one to the gulf to augment the planned T31/32 and LSG(S). I’m not sure we need 5 B2 Rivers for home waters, it seems way too much to have 5 of these replace the… Read more »

Steven Alfred Rake
Steven Alfred Rake
1 month ago

Just a quick question to the boffins what are we going to do with the Sandown’s and Hunt’s. The Sandown’s have at least 25 years left in their hull life left, the Hunts a bit less. Why cant they be fitted out as mother vessels for the inshore work and the T32’s fitted out for the blue water work, Just a thought. In stead of then being sold off as cheap gifts.

Gunbuster
Gunbuster
1 month ago

The current MCMVs have more than 25 years of life in the hulls. Nobody has ever had these type of GRP vessels of this size before and the hull life keeps being extended because the hulls when looked after keep on going and going. Osmosis is a big thing for GRP but in the UK MCMVs who have regular hull maintenance( Surveys and painting) its not really been an issue. The current MCMV vessels are not suitable as motherships because of the weight of the boats and the cranage required to shift them . With them onboard its a top… Read more »

Steven Alfred Rake
Steven Alfred Rake
1 month ago
Reply to  Gunbuster

Thanks for the eye opener, I just feel there must be a way of keeping these boats, may be in a loyal wing man (sorry for the crab terminology) type scenario for inshore work. Places like the Clyde estuary were the Russians take a grate deal of interest, it needs 24/7 surveillance out through the Irish sea and into the deeper water of the Atlantic this in it self would take at least 4 MCMV’s with their wing men. then we have the Portsmouth and Plymouth that would need supervision and indeed the Channel area. If any of the areas… Read more »

CHARLES DUGUID
CHARLES DUGUID
1 month ago

Totally agree Alfred . Many times the Clyde Division R,N,R, Has chased ” fishing trawlers ” bristling with aeriels out the estuary and to be totally honest we never caugh up with one !!!!.Supervision of theses coastal areas is so very important ,

Steven Alfred Rake
Steven Alfred Rake
1 month ago
Reply to  CHARLES DUGUID

Hello Charles,
We seemed to have lost focus on our inshore waters, and to sell off/give away all our Sandown’s and Hunts makes no sense to me especially when they have at least 25 years service left in the hulls. What would also be very useful would be a small number of small SSK’s able to patrol around the shallow waters of the UK which would then free up the larger SSN’s allowing the small number we do have to do what they were designed to do.

IwanR
IwanR
1 month ago

Seems very similar to the system that Japan will install in their Mogami-class frigates. Any differences between a ship designed with this system in mind compared to others?

Graham Moore
Graham Moore
1 month ago

Excuse a basic question. What prompted the move to unmanned and autonomous minehunters? Has minehunting been proven to be a very dangerous activity for classic manned MCMVs. I have not heard of one being destroyed when on task.

Stuart
Stuart
1 month ago

Whilst I was working on MCMVs for the UK MoD the biggest problems we had was the MCMVs had to be the first in theatre to clear a path for a task force but they were by far the slowest vessels and operating against a hostile coast they had no real means of self protection. This proposal seems to go sum way to address these issues