French-British underwater drone proves de-mining ability, says Thales

STUTTGART, Germany — Recent sea trials of a remotely operated underwater vehicle proved it is capable of neutralizing naval mines, a new milestone for the Franco-British Maritime Mine Countermeasures program, French firm Thales announced Wednesday.

The program’s prime contractor and lead system integrator successfully demonstrated this final component of its system for the MMCM program, dubbed SLAM-F in France.

The sea trials took place remotely from the company’s command center in Brest, France, alongside representatives of the French Navy, the French defense procurement agency DGA, the British Royal Navy and the U.K. Defence Ministry, as well as the Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation, according to a Thales news release. OCCAR is an international weapons management group.

The Thales operations center controlled the systems with the support of French Navy personnel.

The trials, which were “recently” held, demonstrated the ability of Thales’ M-Cube mission management system to relocate and identify mines at sea, after which the underwater drone successfully installed exercise charges on a bottom mine and a moored mine; the latter are deployed when the water is too deep for bottom mines.

France and Britain first launched the MMCM program in 2015 with a contract signing between Thales and OCCAR, intending to demonstrate and qualify a novel, fully integrated, unmanned mine countermeasures system of systems. The goal is for MMCM to replace all current mine warfare platforms, including Tripartite-class mine hunters, sonar towing vessels and diver support vessels.

Per the French Armed Forces Ministry, one MMCM system architecture comprises two surface drones — one of which is equipped with a towed sonar and the other with a remotely operated robot — and two underwater drones responsible for detecting, classifying and localizing the mines. The remotely operated robot makes it possible to identify and neutralize mines.

Thales serves as the overall project manager of the system as well as the sonar manufacturer, while ECA Group — which now operates as Exail — developed the underwater drones.

Those drones will be capable of recognizing submerged objects with very high resolution thanks to Thales’ “multi-aspect sonar,” the ministry previously said.

The sonar can take images from three different angles in one pass, allowing the operator to more easily and quickly characterize an object.

The MMCM system will also be able to detect, identify and neutralize mines up to 300 meters (984 feet) deep, compared to 120 meters (394 feet) today, the ministry has said.

The first two prototype MMCM systems were delivered to the French and British navies in 2021 and 2022, according to Thales. The two services will take delivery of the six series-produced systems in 2024 and 2025, for a total of eight systems split between the two nations.

At the 2022 Euronaval conference held outside of Paris, French military officials announced the MMCM program will align itself with a separate Belgian-Dutch de-mining program meant to deliver new mine hunter vessels and unmanned systems, dubbed the Belgian-Dutch Mine Countermeasures system.

Author: Vivienne Machi
Source: DefenseNews

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