Autonomous Mine-Hunting Systems2023-09-07T17:44:04+01:00

Project Description

DE&S is enabling the Royal Navy’s transition from conventional ship-based mine clearance to autonomous mine-hunting systems – making the disposal of sea mines safer, more efficient, and effective

What are Autonomous Mine-Hunting Systems?

Autonomous mine hunting systems are Uncrewed Surface Vessels with sophisticated payloads that can detect and defeat the threat of underwater sea mines.  These new systems are quicker and provide greater precision than crewed mine hunting vessels.

The adoption of autonomous systems provides the Royal Navy with world-leading mine-hunting capability, ensuring the freedom of movement for our ships and submarines when defending the UK at sea.

MHC Systems include the joint FR/UK Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM) system, the WILTON mine detection system, the Combined Influence Minesweeping (SWEEP) system, and the SEACAT Medium Underwater Autonomous Vehicle.  The programme is also providing host platform to expand operating ranges.

About the Autonomous Mine-Hunting Systems

MMCM system

The FR/UK MMCM programme is being delivered by Thales.  It will deliver cutting-edge mine hunting equipment to the Royal Navy and the Marine nationale, comprising of uncrewed surface vessels, mine hunting payloads and remote command centres. Operators of the system can detect and neutralise mines from miles away, ensuring they can keep vital sea lanes open, with much-reduced risk to ships and the lives of sailors.

WILTON system

The WILTON system has been delivered by Atlas Electronik.  It contains crewed and uncrewed surface vessels, mine detection payloads and remote command centres.  WILTON is already being operated by the Royal Navy in the Clyde area and the Gulf.

SWEEP system

The SWEEP system is being delivered by Atlas Electronik.  It contains uncrewed surface vessels, coil auxiliary boats and remote command centres.  Each system can emit magnetic, electric, and acoustic signals to detonate a variety of sea mines. SWEEP is a complimentary system used to deal with mines that cannot be dealt with using other mine-hunting tactics.

SEACAT system

The SEACAT system is being delivered by Atlas Electronik.  It will be used with crewed and uncrewed surface vessels for additional discreet / covert capability to search for underwater threats.

Host Platforms

Initially, the MHC programme is utilising two Host Platforms.  RFA Stirling Castle was acquired to 2023 to be the UK host platform and has received minimum modification for its new role.  RFA Cardigan Bay is being similarly modified to be the Gulf host platform.

The systems significantly reduce the risk to service personnel, as they are operated from remote command centres that may be mounted on ships or onshore.

How are Autonomous Mine-Hunting Systems delivered?

In 2014, DE&S placed a £13 million contract with Atlas Elektronik to deliver the SWEEP minesweeper system to the Royal Navy. The contract sustained around 20 jobs and created 15 new jobs with the company. The system was delivered in 2018.

In 2020, the UK invested £184 million in the Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM) programme through a joint production contract with France. The programme contract was placed by the Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation (OCCAR) acting as the Contracting Management Authority on behalf of both nations. The system has now been delivered to the Royal Navy and comprises an uncrewed surface vessel, towed sonar, and a portable operation centre. The contract supported 200 UK jobs through Thales and the wider supply chain.

In 2020, DE&S awarded a £25 million contract to Atlas Elektronik UK to deliver three SWEEP systems to the Royal Navy, allowing personnel to neutralise mines from a remote distance while on operations worldwide.

This was shortly followed by a £32 million contract in 2022, to provide three sets of Medium Autonomous Underwater Vessel (MAUV) systems, supporting both the SWEEP and MMCM systems. The contract created 50 highly skilled jobs in the UK and a further 23 jobs across Europe.

In 2023, DE&S delivered a specialist ship to host a suite of autonomous mine-hunting systems to the Royal Navy. The vessel – RFA Stirling Castle – was delivered at pace due to the rapidly evolving threat posed by naval mines and the need for effective measures.

Meet the DE&S Mine Hunting Capability (MHC) team

Become part of the team

The DE&S Mine Hunting Capability (MHC) team works with the Royal Navy and industry partners as “One Defence” team. Together, they ensure that the equipment DE&S provides is safe to operate and maintain, fit for purpose, regulatory compliant and affordable.

The MHC team is responsible for accelerating and exploiting innovative and technically advanced systems to identify and dispose of sea mines. The team specifies contract requirements and works closely with the contractor to develop the autonomous systems. They ensure that services are delivered and sustained at an acceptable level of quality, through acceptance and evaluation trials.

Andy Lapsley, MHC Team Leader said:

“The Mine Hunting Capability programme is pioneering the adoption of autonomy within the Royal Navy.  Our delivery programme is also testing different acquisition approaches to optimise future delivery of all autonomous systems.”

“DE&S has already begun to deliver this fast-changing and innovative technology to the Royal Navy, and the range and scale of the capability available to our sailors will expand rapidly in coming years.  This requires strong cooperative working with many partners in MOD, Industry and Internationally.”

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