The UK’s Royal Navy has taken the delivery of its first robotic minesweeper system under US$17.5 million contract with Dorset-based Alas Elekronik UK. The demonstrator system can not only hunt and clear the traditional mines but can also deal with more sophisticated modern digital mines. The primary task of the major navies is to keep the sea lanes open and the greatest hazards of shipping in the sea are the sea mines. If they are newly laid or are left over from some previous conflict, the mines can go anywhere and the task of finding them down in the sea and destroying them is very hard.
The problem was that apart from the dangers of dealing with the mines, running the fleets of minesweeper is also very expensive. One way of dealing with these problems is by developing autonomous minesweepers which can deal with most of the work while the manned vessels can handle other complex tasks. A part of the Mine Countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC) program, designed the new autonomous minesweeper system for the Royal Navy. It can detect and target warships as they pass above them. It also has the ability to sense and avoid other vessels and navigation hazards. It can also work with other robotic systems in a coordinated exercise.
The system consists of 11-meter long unmanned surface vessel towing three coil-auxiliary boats which are equipped with electrodes and sensors to detect and detonate mines. These can be deployed from ships or ports and can be controlled from a ship-based station or a land base station. The system has undergone four months of testing by the Atlas Elektronik and Defence Equipment and Support team and the Royal Navy’s Maritime Autonomous Systems Trials Team (MASTT) to know the efficiency of the system to clear mines, avoiding obstacles and carrying out the general performance tasks. A more detailed set of trials with Navy will begin soon.
Brigadier Jim Morris Royal Marines, Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff in Maritime Capability and Senior Officer for the MHC program 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.”