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Unmanned minehunting technologies are gaining momentum, and the transition to the widespread use of autonomous systems in mine countermeasures is becoming a reality in both the US and the UK.
In the US, a new program aims to produce an easily deployable offboard platform that can perform mine detection and neutralization missions autonomously.
Northrop Grumman has completed initial at-sea testing of its AQS-24B minehunting sonar using a new deploy and retrieval (D&R) payload. The sonar and the associated D&R system were installed on a prototype Mine Countermeasures Unmanned Surface Vessel (MCM USV) to demonstrate its ability to conduct a minehunting mission aboard the US Navy’s (USN’s) Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs).
The company stated that integration of the AQS-24 sonar with USVs enables real-time transmission of sonar data to a remote sonar operator for immediate analysis, reducing mine detection to neutralization cycles. According to janes.com, three prototype vehicles built by Textron – based on its common unmanned surface vehicle (CUSV) platform – are in operation.
Meanwhile, the UK Royal Navy will begin minehunting and survey operations using USVs in March 2020. The navy will deploy a mix of unmanned and remotely-operated USVs and submersibles designed to detect ‘smart mines’ and conduct survey missions of the ocean and seafloor from naval base Clyde, according to naval-technology.com.
The active service follows a £13m contract award to Atlas Elektronik UK, the culmination of years of work and ongoing trials from the Royal Navy, Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) and Defence Science Technology Laboratory (Dstl).
The unmanned systems are set to supplement and support the Royal Navy’s existing manned minehunting force provided by Hunt- and Sandown-class minehunter vessels.
According to an MoD statement, “Collectively, they can search for, hunt and finally destroy mines faster than the Royal Navy’s Sandown and Hunt class ships, and they also have the added benefit of keeping the sailors required to operate them out of harm’s way.”