The first of its kind for UK forces, the demonstrator system was designed and manufactured by Atlas Elektronik UK in Dorset under a £13m contract. It comprises an 11m long, 10-tonne unmanned surface vessel (USV) that tows three coil auxiliary boats behind it. The auxiliary boats emit magnet, electric and acoustic signals that can detonate a variety of mines, including a new breed of digital mine that can detect and target passing ships above.
“Combined Influence Minesweeping is a critical component of the Mine Countermeasures capability,” said Brigadier Jim Morris of the Royal Marines, the Senior Responsible Officer for Mine Counter Measures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC).
“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. (It) 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.”
According to the MOD, the vessel features a “sense and avoid” capability and is designed to operate alongside other autonomous systems. Operated either from a ship or a portable control cabin, the minesweeper has been undergoing trials for the past four months, carried out by Atlas Elektronik and the Navy’s Maritime Autonomous Systems Trials Team (MASTT). As well as the overall system performance, it was graded on how well it could clear mines and how successfully it could avoid obstacles.