The UK has invested £184 million in the Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM) programme through a joint production contract with France, say DE&S.
The contract sees the UK purchase three sets of equipment. Each set comprises a portable operation centre, an autonomous surface vessel, towed sonar and a mine neutralisation system.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:
“This £184 million 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 programme also underpins a deep and ever-strengthening relationship with France and marks the tenth anniversary of the Lancaster House treaties between our two nations.”
According to the Ministry of Defence, the investment will see around 215 jobs supported in the UK at Thales sites in Templecombe and Plymouth as well as in the wider supply chain including L3 Harris in Portsmouth, Stonehaven in Aberdeen and Alba Ultrasound in Glasgow.
The next-generation mine hunting capability is designed to replace conventional crewed mine hunting vessels, such as the Royal Navy’s Hunt and Sandown class ships, with autonomous systems.
The Ministry of Defence say that following a successful demonstration phase and trials completed in October 2020, the new contract will produce three sets of minehunting equipment, consisting of:
“Autonomous vessel – a boat controlled and operated from a mother ship/base. Towed sonar – a sonar which is towed/dragged behind the vessel to locate ordnance. Mine neutralisation system – a remotely operated underwater vehicle which is used once the mine is located to neutralise the device and prevent its detonation.
When used together, these three elements are known as the Primary System. This 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:
“I am enormously excited by the potential of the future minehunting capability. This will allow us to deliver minehunting more effectively, more efficiently and more safely, and to integrate even more closely with our French counterparts in this important area.”
DE&S CEO Sir Simon Bollom said:
“This ground-breaking technology brings with it a step-change in capability for the Royal Navy which is a bold step into the digital and autonomous world. I’m incredibly proud of DE&S and the Royal Navy team who have worked tirelessly with our French colleagues to deliver on this contract.”
Alex Cresswell, CEO of Thales in the UK, said:
“Technologies such as autonomy and AI are transforming societies and warfare at an exponential rate. This contract represents the next generation for Anglo-French minehunting, delivering a world leading capability that will keep our armed forces safe and create and secure vital jobs across the UK and our supply chain. We look forward to delivering the next stage in this exciting hi-tech programme.”
The first equipment sets are due to be delivered to the Royal Navy in late 2022.