Easy to deploy and cheap to acquire, maritime mines and underwater explosives pose a real threat to navies and commercial shipping by reducing freedom of movement in shallow waters and strategic choke points.
The capability to detect, locate, classify and neutralise these weapons remains a key requirement for navies around the world. With the technological evolution in Unmanned Underwater and Surface Vehicles (UUVs/USVs) as well as sensors and effectors in Mine Countermeasure (MCM) warfare, western navies and industries are developing networked off-board ‘systems of systems’ which can be deployed at stand-off ranges to replace current conventional MCM platforms.
The US Navy has been the first Western navy to move toward this operational concept, providing an organic MCM capability for expeditionary forces by introducing rotary-wing and non-specialized but multi-role platforms equipped with dedicated equipment. The US Navy’s ‘Freedom’ and ‘Independence’ class Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs) are at the forefront of such capability, using their modular mission bays, manned and unmanned rotorcraft, surface and underwater assets and other built-in features to launch, recover and operate unmanned systems at sea.
The US Navy’s current programme of record calls for 24 mission packages (MPs) dedicated to MCM warfare. The first increment of the MCM MP includes the Remote Mine-hunting System (RMS), which comprises the Lockheed Martin semi-submersible unmanned AN/WLD-1 Remote Multimission Vehicle (RMMV) towing a Raytheon AN/AQS-20A sonar, the Northrop Grumman AN/AES-1 Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) and Raytheon’s AN/ASQ-235 Airborne Mine Neutralisation System (AMNS); the latter two systems carried by the Sikorsky MH-60S naval support helicopter. Three more planned increments will introduce new MCM systems: Increment 2 will provide beach zone mine detection with the currently operational Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout UAV equipped with the Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis system.
The follow-on increment will provide a sustained influence sweep capability with the Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) being developed by Textron Systems and centred on a USV derived from the company’s Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV) towing a long submerged magnetic-field-generating cable with a Mk.104 acoustic generator to detonate mines. The fourth increment will deliver the Knifefish UUV, a development lead by General Dynamics Mission Systems based on the Bluefin-21 UUV equipped with a side-scan sonar that will provide a buried mine-detection capability up to a speed of three knots (5.5 kilometres-per-hour) to a depth of 275 metres/m (902 feet/ft). The main component of increment 1 MCM MP represented by the Remote Minehunting System (RMS) has however encountered reliability problems, which could delay MCM MP initial operational test and evaluation and follow-on low-rate initial production awards.
Although worldwide navies look to organic, multi-role/dedicated platforms capable of deploying off-board MCM ‘systems of systems’, European shipbuilders maintain the leadership in the MCM vessel design and production segment, promoting new developments and upgrading packages. For example, in 2011, Thales received from the Lithuanian Ministry of Defence a contract for upgrading two ex-Royal Navy’s ‘Hunt’ MCM vessels which were commissioned into the Lithuanian Navy in July 2013. The contract involved the ships’ modernisation and installation Thales’ Sonar-2193, Thales M-CUBE MCM command and control system, an advanced hull-mounted wideband mine-hunting sensor and ECA’s K-STER ‘one shot’ Expandable Mine Disposal Vehicles (EMDV).
The Royal Navy’s MCM capability is today largely delivered through eight ‘Hunt’ and seven ‘Sandown’ class MCM ships, which are being kept current through the insertion of new equipment and platform overhauls provided by BAE Systems and Babcock International group. Equipped respectively with a Thales Sonar-2193 hull-mounted and Sonar-2093 variable depth sonar, the former embodies wideband techniques to dramatically improve performance against low target echo strength mines, which are to be implemented on the latter Sonar-2093 following a contract awarded to Thales in late 2014. Both classes of ship also use Atlas Elektronik/Ultra Electronics’ SeaFox system for mine inspection and disposal.
To further enhance the Royal Navy’s MCM force by reinstating influence minesweeping on the ‘Hunt’ class, Atlas Elektronik has been awarded a contract to design and build a USV-based multi-influence minesweeping prototype, followed by full acceptance and demonstration in a portable mode, capable of deployment from the ‘Hunt’ class ships. No details have yet been disclosed, but the system should be based on Atlas Elektronik’s proprietary USV-based ARCIMS (Atlas Remote Capability Integrated Mission Suite) remote MCM system. Already delivered to an undisclosed Middle East navy, ARMICS comprises an optionally manned surface vehicle manufactured by ICE Marine and configured to accept alternative MCM mission modules.
Elsewhere in Europe, Germany’s Lürssen shipyard offers dedicated MCM vessels, as does Navantia via its ‘Segura’ class. Saab is offering a larger version of its ‘Landsort’ and ‘Koster’ class MCM ships equipping the Marinen (Royal Swedish Navy), as well as the Republic of Singapore Navy’s ‘Bedok’ class. Referred to as the ‘Enhanced Koster’ class, the ship’s hull is lengthened by five metres/m (16 feet/ft) to 52.5m (172.2ft) to create more space for crew and systems, and improved sea-keeping, in addition to allowing future growth. Thales, meanwhile, completed the upgrading of the ‘Bedok’ class in 2014 introducing an upgraded MCM Command and Control (C2) system, a TSM-2022 Mk.III hull-mounted mine-hunting sonar, ECA K-Ster EMDVs and a Thales DUBM-44 towed synthetic aperture sonar (TSAS) introduced to reduce the time required to survey an area for threats.
On September 2015, the industrial team headed by Polish Remontowa group and including Gdynia shipyard and CTM Marine Technology Centre as combat system integrator, launched the first of three planned MCM vessels for the Marynarka Wojenna (Polish Navy) under the Kormoran-II programme. Initial delivery of these ships is planned for November 2016. The design includes CTM’s SCOT-M MCM C2 system, together with mine detection, identification and disposal systems including the Saab Double Eagle Propelled Variable Depth Sonar (PVDS) and Kongsberg Maritime HUGIN 1000 MR AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle).
With a long tradition in manufacturing GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic) MCM ships providing such vessels to Australia, Finland, Italy, Malaysia, Nigeria, Thailand and the United States, Italy’s IMMSI is currently involved in the construction of an MCM vessel for an undisclosed export customer, under a contract assigned to Orizzonte Sistemi Navali (OSN) joint-venture between Fincantieri and Finmeccanica as prime contractor with a reported option for a second vessel. According to different sources the MCMV is expected to be delivered to Algerian Navy with a dedicated C2 system provided by Selex and Gaymarine Pluto-family mine searching and destruction Remotely-Operated Vehicles (ROVs). IMMSI is also involved in the midlife upgrading programme of the Marina Militare (Italian Navy) eight ‘Gaeta’ class MCM ships which includes platform modifications and systems overhaul, a new MCM C2 from Selex, a Thales Sonar-2093 and the latest Gaymarine Pluto Gigas ROVs.
The Italian shipyard is also part of the international industrial team led by Ching Fu Shipbuilding of Taiwan, and Lockheed Martin announced on October 2014 to supply six MCM ships to the Republic of China Navy. To be equipped with a mine-hunting combat management system and mine disposal vehicles integrated by Lockheed Martin, the first-of-class will be delivered by Intermarine and completed by Taiwanese shipyard, while the following vessels will be built and fitted-out locally with technology transfer and support from the Italian shipyard. Deliveries are expected to be completed by 2024.
The Russian’s Srdne-Nevsky Shipyard (SNSZ) of United Shipbuilding Company launched on October 2015 the first of two ‘Project 10750E’ class MCM ships for the Kazakhstan MoD. They are equipped with a dedicated mission package centred on Teledyne Reson’s SeaBat sonar, ECA’s K-Ster EMDVs and Alister-9 AUVs.
In the Far East, the Republic of Korea’s (RoK) Kangman shipyard is promoting GRP MCM vessels based on Intermarine design and built for the RoK Navy, while Tokyo-headquartered shipyard Japan Maritime United Corporation (JMUC) launched on 27 October 2015 the first composite material/GRP built 690-ton MCM ship for Japanese Self-Defence Maritime Force, with two other vessels under construction. Other Asia-Pacific and Middle East navies are looking at dedicated MCM vessels or multi-role platforms to perform the MCM mission, in addition to upgrading their current MCM ship inventories. India’s Goa Shipyard was selected by that country’s MoD to supply twelve locally-built MCM vessels. The Goa Shipyard has in turn invited several companies including Kangnam, Intermarine, Navantia, Lockheed Martin, Thyssenkrupp and two Russian yards to pre-qualify for a follow-on formal bid based on technology transfer, together with international MCM equipment suppliers, to locally build and deliver the new MCMVs in the 2021-2026 period.
On behalf of France and the United Kingdom, OCCAR (Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en Matière d’Armement/Joint European Organisation for Cooperation in Defence Equipment), which manages pan-European defence procurement programmes on behalf of the European Union, awarded a $23.9 million contract regarding the Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM) programme in late March 2015. The contract was awarded to an industrial team lead by Thales in collaboration with BAE Systems and their partners in France (ECA) and in the UK (ASV, Wood and Douglas and Saab’s UK division). The goal of this joint French/UK MMCM programme is to de-risk and demonstrate low-risk, robust and reliable ‘end-to-end’ mine and underwater explosive detection, classification, localisation and neutralisation to meet common French and UK requirements. The MMCM architecture proposed by the Thales/BAE Systems team comprises a USV based on an improved variant of the ASV Halcyon multi-role USV, already demonstrated with its full autonomous capability by UK MoD, and equipped with autonomous navigation and obstacle detection/avoidance sonar; a threat identification and neutralisation capability provided by Saab via its Multi-Shot Mine Neutralisation System (MuMNS) concept based around an ROV to be launched and recovered from the selected USV; a towed synthetic aperture sonar based on Thales’ latest SAMDIS (Synthetic Aperture and Mine Detection Imaging Sonar) to be used by the selected USV and AUVs derived from ECA’s A-27M long-endurance multi-mission vehicle. Thales and BAE Systems provide the MCM C2, while above-water communications suite is provided by from Wood and Douglas. Stage 1 of the MMCM programme is to be complete following a critical design review by mid-2016 while the contract includes options for the manufacture and demonstration of two identical systems for evaluation by the Royal Navy and Marine Nationale (French Navy) with a view to moving into production early next decade.
The MMCM programme does not include the host platform. Instead, this will be satisfied through the French Systéme de Lutte Anti-Mines Futur (SLAMF/Future Anti-Mine Fighting System) which will renew the force’s MCM capabilities after 2020 and the UK Mine Countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC) programme, of which the MMCM represent a core building block. The French MoD plans for the MMCM to operate from a new larger, non-specialist ‘mothership’ remaining outside the danger area, while UK looks to operate the MMCM from its ‘Hunt’ class ships, and eventually from the vessels developed as a result of the MHV programme.
Integrated MCM systems, provided in both ship- and container-mounted versions, with a tool box of sonars, USV, AUVs and MCM C2 systems are being offered today by several suppliers, such as Atlas Elektronik. The company’s IMCMS (Integrated MCM System) is in service with navies of Belgium, Finland, Germany, The Netherlands and Sweden. ECA’s Triton and MCM mission module includes a Thales MCM sonar package (typically the company’s Sonar-2193, -2093 VDS and TSM-2022 Mk.III) and Atlas Elektronik’s HMS-12M triple-frequency broadband sonar.
In the USV domain, in addition to Textron Systems’ UISS plus Atlas Elektronik’s ARMICS and MMCM ASV solutions, ECA is proposing its Inspector Mk.II USV, which has already been supplied to the French Navy for counter-insurgency training missions. L-3 Communications Calzoni, meanwhile, is proposing its family of U-Ranger and Mini-Ranger USVs which have been selected by the Italian Navy. Moreover, the Republic of Singapore unveiled in November 2015 a 16m (52.4ft) variant of its Venus family of USVs developed by Singapore Technologies Electronics which could be equipped with an MCM suite including a Thales dipping sonar and TSAS, in addition to ECA’s K-Ster EMDSs.
Kongsberg’s Remus AUVs, including the portable Remus-100 and the larger Remus-600, are joined in the company’s catalogue by the more specialised and larger HUGIN-1000, which can work with high-resolution sonar up to 3000m (9842ft) depth. The ECA group, meanwhile, offers a complete range of AUVs based on its Alister family which can be equipped with a variety of sensors. The smaller man portable A9-M has been developed for shallow and very shallow waters while mid- and larger-size A18-M and A27-M can be equipped with SAS and has an endurance up to 30 hours and an operating depth up to 300m (984ft). Saab has sold the AUV62-MR, which can be deployed from both surface and underwater platforms, while Atlas Elektronik offers the SeaCat hybrid and SeaOtter Mk.II AUVs; the latter can operate in un-tethered autonomous and ROV-modes. More information on USV and UUV programmes around the world can be found in Claire Apthorp’s Unmanned Vehicles supplement accompanying this issue.
The mine detection, location, identification and disposal segment is covered by Atlas Eletronik SeaFox system, which comes in disposal and training/search versions and is currently in service with ten navies around the world. Saab offers the slightly heavier Double Eagle which is available as both the Mk.II Mine Disposal Vehicle (MDV) and Mk.II/Mk.III Propelled Variable Depth Sonar (PVDS) Mine Reconnaissance Vehicle. The Double Eagle family is supplemented by the Double Eagle SAROV semi-autonomous version and the new Multi-Shot Mine Neutralisation System (MuMNS) already selected for the MMCM programme (see above).
At the European level, Belgium, Estonia, Germany (as the project’s lead nation), The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden are all involved in a research project regarding future maritime MCM capabilities launched on October 2014. Called MCM-NG (New Generation) this project has a planned duration of 36 months during which contributing nations will work on a set of common requirements to prepare future generations of MCM vessels and systems that could become operational in the 2030 timeframe. This initiative could yet pave the way for a larger pan-European MCM programme over the next two decades, as navies around the continent, and around the world in general, continue to address the threat posed by such dangers of the deep.
by Luca Peruzzi