Leading navies clarify their visions for unmanned mine warfare (MW)
As the threat from mines continues to grow, leading navies are increasingly setting out their visions for unmanned mine countermeasures (MCM). Each has a unique configuration depending on national needs, and none is more ambitious than the new MCM requirements set out by the Belgian and Royal Netherlands Navies. They will result in one of the most comprehensive programmes seen to date: the need for full, at sea, operation of MW drones from a mothership.
Unmanned MCM system design: an exercise in understanding specific country needs
The navies need maximum flexibility and have a requirement for robust operation in high Sea States. This means that every asset, from mothership to launch and recovery system, must feature expert and dedicated design. Their next-generation MW motherships will carry sophisticated combat, platform, and communications systems. And the associated unmanned vehicles must be fully and cybersecurely integrated with the platform—communicating with it, and other toolbox assets, in real time. And, with technologies developing rapidly, the navies have set a clear need to maintain and upgrade these key assets over the system’s lifetime.
World-class expertise and experience—delivered locally: the balance that ensures programme success
Meeting all these needs, safely and securely, is singularly challenging. It can only be achieved through a balance of world-class expertise and experience—delivered locally. Why? Because the groundbreaking territory that unmanned MCM represents, and the challenge presented by such a “system of systems”, requires both multi-disciplinary expertise as well as proven experience of unmanned MW. Yet, this alone is not enough. Delivering such ambitious systems means seamless working with relevant agencies and the navies themselves. And the need to maintain and upgrade the system calls for close, long-term partnership. These needs cannot be met through satellites of distant companies: both require a resolutely local focus.
Sea Naval Solutions (SNS): a resolutely Belgian consortium
It was exactly the need to strike such a balance in meeting these new MCM requirements, that led to the conception of SNS—a consortium of four complementary players offering both global and local expertise. Chantiers de l’Atlantique brings world-class mothership and handling design experience, working in close partnership with Socarenam, which has a deep understanding of the Belgian Navy’s needs and expectations through its successful work on specialized patrol vessels. Similarly, Thales offers world-leading integration expertise backed by at-sea experience of unmanned MCM, but handles toolbox asset, communications, and cybersecurity integration through Thales Belgium—with seven sites across the country and a team of over 800. The local links are strengthened by Thales’s close work on MW simulation with EGUERMIN, the Ostend based mine warfare school and NATO centre of excellence. And the system is underpinned by Engine Deck Repair’s (EDR’s) world-class maintenance capabilities, delivered through the unrivalled facility of Belgium’s largest shipyard, and a 250-strong team, in Antwerp. Together, Thales and EDR draw on over 100 sub-contractors, which help drive the national economy. What’s more, the concept of global expertise—delivered locally would be further enhanced under the programme through SNS’s vision for EDR to progressively take on MCM shipbuilding as well as maintenance. The knowledge transfer involved would see Belgium revitalise its shipbuilding industry, delivering a social dividend as well as next-generation MCM systems.