Unmanned minehunting vessels will enter frontline service in March, say the Royal Navy.

Specialist autonomous kit, branded under the name ARCIMS, has now been handed over into military service and will be on live operations from March, according to this Royal Navy news release.

“Sailors trained in this of type mission will be stationed at HMNB Clyde, where the remotely operated kit, including submersibles and boats designed to hunt down mines but also analyse the oceans and sea floor, will be deployed from.

Initial operations are now being carried out by Project Wilton, the name for the Royal Navy’s unmanned mine hunting and survey endeavours. Wilton currently have three boats – two remote controlled and the other manned – as well as multiple underwater vehicles.”

According to an MoD statement:

“Collectively, they can search for, hunt and finally destroy mines faster than the Royal Navy’s Sandown and Hunt class ships, and they also have the added benefit of keeping the sailors required to operate them out of harm’s way. Modified versions of the same systems are also being looked at to carry out survey operations such as those performed by HMS Echo.”

The craft are not replacing currently in service vessels but are instead complementing them.

In 2016, ARCIMS took part in Exercise Unmanned Warrior in Scotland, when the Royal Navy invited Atlas Electronic UK to demonstrate its capabilities with more than 50 participants from the MoD, industry and academia.

ARCIMS reportedly demonstrated robust operations in varying sea states in several high-speed missions—acquiring and transmitting real-time towed sonar data to the command & control station for what’s called ‘in mission’ analysis. To date 10 vessels are in service or under contract say the manufacturer.

Back in 2018, the new system was tested again, this time 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. 

Commodore Mike Knott, assistant chief of staff Maritime Capability, said in the news release:

“With equipment and personnel now operating on the Clyde, the transition to widespread use of autonomous systems in mine counter measures (MCM) is becoming a reality and places the Royal Navy MCM community at the cutting edge.”

The US Navy also operate unmanned minehunters. The Fleet class unmanned surface vessel, also called the Common Unmanned Surface Vessel, is a class of unmanned surface vessels designed for the United States Navy to be deployed from Freedom and Independence class littoral combat ships and is intended to conduct mine and anti-submarine warfare missions. The first was delivered to the US Navy in 2008.

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Steve R
Steve R
8 months ago

My guess is that the next generation of ships to replace the Sandown and Hunt class ships will basically act as motherships for larger numbers of unmanned underwater minehunters.

Matt
Matt
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve R

Hi Steve,
I think this is where the modularity of the T26 and T31 will begin to shine. The fact that the T31 won’t have anything like a towed sonar array, will be offset by unmanned vehicles like these.
I see both of the new frigate types being great platforms for that. A long time to wait until the first new frigate hits the water, but by then we’ll have had plenty of testing time, getting familiar with unmanned vessels and generating a good set of operating procedures.
[email protected]

Callum
Callum
8 months ago
Reply to  Matt

I was thinking along the same lines. If I recall correctly, there was still a dedicated MCM/hydrographic replacement ship programme, but we haven’t heard anything about it in a while. With T31, we could potentially replace the 13 dedicated MCMVs and possibly the two Echo-class survey ships with anywhere up to a dozen additional T31s (depending on budget allowances, but that would only require investment of roughly £2.5-3bn over the next decade). Alternatively, a mixed force (my personal preference). Replace the 6 remaining Hunts with 3-4 T31s, and replace the 7 Sandowns and 2 Echos with a dozen cheap, GRP-hulled… Read more »

donald_of_tokyo
donald_of_tokyo
8 months ago
Reply to  Callum

A few comments: 1: I’m afraid the baseline Arrowhead 140 design cannot accomodate ARCIMS boats (~11.5m long) in their boat davits (up to 9.5m or so, can be easily “scaled” from CG on the web). This part shall be modified. # T26 will be able to. 2: Drone-besed MCM system will be very expensive, by nature. It has every sensor, analysis-kit, software and submersibles (=MCM kits) the Hunts have, and IN ADDITION, needs drone systems to deliver them. Maintenance load for the latter is ADDED to the original maintenance load for the MCM kits. It cannot be cheap. Modern (classic-type)… Read more »

James Fennell
James Fennell
8 months ago

I’m not sure if that is correct. Some of the images of T31 have ARCIMS in the boat bays.

andy reeves
andy reeves
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve R

is this going to be the next excuse for shrinking the size of the navy if they replace sweepers, will these be classed as royal navy boats like the archers?

James Fennell
James Fennell
8 months ago
Reply to  andy reeves

A better capability to do the job is not ‘shrinking the navy’. We need to forget about counting hulls as a means of assessing capability. That’s not to say that we don’t need some more capability – we do. But the RN not a collection of toy boats, it’s a military force.

Peter Crisp
Peter Crisp
8 months ago

I would imagine that the fact that the UK has some of the roughest seas on the planet on its doorstep helps with testing. If a ship can withstand the North Sea during winter storms it’s a pretty well tested design and pretty capable anywhere.

andy reeves
andy reeves
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter Crisp

the southern ocean was the most formidable seasi ever saw, wild winds 40 foot waves and the sea as blck as coal

Bloke down the pub
Bloke down the pub
8 months ago

I think it’d be a good idea if, while in unmanned operation, they flew a flag or symbol to identify themselves to other vessels. You wouldn’t want a trawler getting too close and cutting away a towed array, or worse dragging the usv under.

Matt
Matt
8 months ago

Yes it would be interesting to see if these will be completely autonomous or if they will be ‘man-in-the-loop’ systems with an operator watching on cameras.
[email protected]

Peter Crisp
Peter Crisp
8 months ago
Reply to  Matt

I would imagine there would be someone watching over them just in case someone decided to try and go for a joyride in it or otherwise steal it.

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter Crisp

Yup, physical security would be something to think about but in this instance it would take a brave person to try and joyride on this system – it is MCM after all 🙂

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
8 months ago
Reply to  Matt

Autonomous can cover a range of level of computer control as I am sure you are aware. Given the described range of missions in the article include survey I would have thought man-in-the-loop would at least be an option as survey cover a huge range of interest.

I wondered if there would not be some sort of over watch from a safe distance either directly or from another USV to give a more complete situational awareness especially when operating in coastal waters.

Matt
Matt
8 months ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

Interesting… an Aerial drone providing overwatch for several unmanned vessels. I like it (and it would probably be on-scene faster and more fuel efficient than a manned helo) But will these drones be more prone to electronic jamming being far from the relative cover of the frigate/mothership?
[email protected]

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
8 months ago
Reply to  Matt

Hi Matt, Any vehicle, including missiles, that have a RF data link can in theory be ‘hacked’ or jammed. All you can do is make it as difficult as possible. In the case of a missile your time window to under take a hack is very small so probably better to focus on jamming, etc. As for USV they are relatively slow and in this case would loiter in a given area for quite sometime, so I would hope their network defences are of the highest order. Military networks are well defended but they are not invulnerable – nothing or… Read more »

DaveyB
DaveyB
8 months ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

To increase the resistance to jamming you would remove the omni-directional and replace it with a directional one that has a very narrow transmitted beam. This can be done with passive yagi style of aerial or an active aerial array. The other option is to use a laser as the communications device. Whichever style you use the vehicle will still need to controlled via line of sight. Much like the method the Iranians used to hack the US RG170 Sentinel drone which was being controlled via a satellite. If you ramp up the power of a transmitter operating on the… Read more »

Mark May
Mark May
8 months ago
Reply to  Matt

The Royal Australian Navy SOP for Autonomous Surface Vehicle (Drone boat) peacetime Ops is they are manned (safety number), but operate autonomously. If there is a safety/navigation issue etc, the safety number can take charge of the vessel.

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
8 months ago

We first used this type of system under an UOR after the last Gulf War, but the system was not taken into service after the job was done..! Such are Treasury Rules…

andy reeves
andy reeves
8 months ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

‘F’ the treasury, they’ve done enough damage already.

HMS Monarch
HMS Monarch
8 months ago

If you were to install a 30mm with Martlets onto them you could have quite a good counter against asymmetric swarming attacks if they were deployed from some form of mother ship unit

andy reeves
andy reeves
8 months ago
Reply to  HMS Monarch

may as well paint the gosport ferry grey, and put them on that give it a name like h.m.s carrier and claim it as an example of how the fleet is growing…..NOT

Gunbuster
Gunbuster
8 months ago

The USN has been using remote boats from RFA Cardigan Bay for some time during exercises. A large deck and big cranes make it ideal for a mother ship role. With the RN boats being used in Faslane there are some wins for the system. The channels in and out of Faslane are probably the most route surveyed underwater area in the UK. If anything appears on the seabed that wasn’t there the last time it sticks out like the proverbial dogs bollock. In a environment that has not had a route survey… Well things are going to be pretty… Read more »