The French Ministry of the Armed Forces Orders the First Drone Systems Intended to Combat Naval Mines
(Source: French Ministry of the Armed Forces; issued Nov. 26, 2020)
(Unofficial translation by Defense-Aerospace.com)
France has invested 300 million euros, and the United Kingdom £184 million, to finance the initial production contract for their jointly-developed Maritime Mine Counter Measures, which calls for delivery of the first four sets of drone systems to each country. (Thales photo)
On November 16, 2020, the Joint Organization for Cooperation in Armament (OCCAr) awarded Thales, on behalf of the Directorate General for Armaments (DGA), a contract for the acquisition of the first three systems of naval anti-mine drones, including the upgrade of the prototype launched in 2015, as part of the cooperation with the United Kingdom around the Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM) project. A fourth system will be ordered in 2021.

Intended to renew the French Navy’s capabilities in mine warfare, MMCM -- the initial component of the SLAM-F future anti-mine action system program -- will allow sailors to operate remotely from the danger zone. Its operation is based on a new concept comprising both underwater and surface drones.

The model defined by the 2019-2025 military programming law provides for eight anti-mine drone systems to be in service by 2030, four of which will be delivered by 2024.

Placed under the contracting authority of the DGA, the first part of the SLAM-F program was launched on September 27, 2020 by Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces, following several years of studies and demonstrations which verified the concept.


£184 million contract will support more than 200 jobs in the UK and 200 in France, and give both countries’ navies increased capability to remotely detect and neutralise sea mines.


The SLAM-F program aims to ensure the modernization of the entire naval mine countermeasures capability. It consists of four components:

-- drone systems that can be operated from the shore or from a dedicated vessel. They are the heart of SLAM-F and are the subject of Franco-British cooperation called "Maritime Mine Counter Measures" (MMCM), within the framework of the Joint Organization for Cooperation in Armaments (OCCAr);

-- mine warfare vessels (BGDM) dedicated to driving and operating drones;

-- new-generation mine clearance diver mother ships (BBPD NG);

a mine warfare data system (SEDGM).

MMCM is a Franco-British cooperation initiated in 2010 as part of the Lancaster House treaty. The contract for the design, development and production of prototypes (one per country) was signed in March 2015 between Thales and OCCAr on behalf of the two countries.

The basic architecture of the production-standard anti-mine systems that will equip the French Navy will consist of two surface drones (USV) -- one equipped with a towed sonar and the other with a remotely operated robot (ROV) -- and two underwater drones (AUV), responsible for detecting, classifying and locating mines.

The remotely operated robot (ROV) identifies and neutralizes mines. A Thales subcontractor, the company Études et Constructions Aéronautiques (ECA) manufactures the underwater drones which are equipped with Thales sonars.

The first four systems will initially be operated from shore to support the naval deterrence component (SSBNs), and subsequently from mine warfare vessels which are the subject of later stages of the SLAM-F program. The challenge is to allow sailors to operate well away from the danger zone.

Drones are a major asset for naval mine warfare operations. Thanks to their advanced technology and high navigational accuracy, they can discreetly detect, classify and locate mines, while keeping humans at a safe distance away. In addition, the technological evolution of the sonars that equip these drones makes it possible to counter an ever more sophisticated threat (acoustically undetectable mine) or others which are difficult to locate by conventional means (buried or submerged mine in the middle of dense flora, for example).

This 300-million euro investment will make it possible to maintain 200 jobs in France for the duration of the contract, including 100 at Thales and 100 with subcontractors.

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World-Class Autonomous Minehunters to Protect Royal Navy
(Source: UK Ministry of Defence; issued Nov. 26, 2020)
The UK and France reaffirmed their long-standing defence relationship today by committing to a joint programme for autonomous minehunting systems that will detect and neutralise mines around the world.

Speaking at the Franco-British Council Defence Conference, the Defence Secretary announced a £184 million investment in the joint Maritime Mine Counter Measure (MMCM) programme, which will create new systems to combat sea mines and keep ships and personnel away from danger.

The contract will support 215 jobs across the UK at Thales sites in Somerset and Plymouth, as well as in the wider supply chain, including L3 Harris in Portsmouth, Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire and Alba Ultrasound in Glasgow.

This investment follows the substantial £16.5 billion settlement in the Spending Review for Defence over four years that will modernise the armed forces, reinvigorate the shipbuilding industry and bring jobs and prosperity to every part of the UK.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “This £184 million contract offers a huge leap forward for the Royal Navy’s autonomous capabilities in the detection and defeat of sea mines. As the Armed Forces puts modernisation at the heart of its future strategy, these systems will protect vital shipping lanes, commercial traffic and our brave personnel from these deadly devices.

“The programme also underpins a deep and ever-strengthening relationship with France and marks the tenth anniversary of the Lancaster House treaties between our two nations.”

UK-France defence cooperation

The Defence Secretary was speaking at this year’s virtual Franco-British Council Defence Conference, which also featured French defence minister Florence Parly, Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter and his French counterpart Ched d’État-Major des Armées François Lecointre.

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the historic Lancaster House treaties on defence, security and nuclear cooperation between the UK and France. The historic commitment has established a long-term partnership between the two countries and includes the fully operational Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) – a force able to rapidly deploy over 10,000 personnel in response to a crisis.

Both nations are deployed around the world together in places such as the Middle East combating Daesh and in Estonia as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence. In Mali, three RAF Chinooks and 100 UK personnel are deployed in a non-combat role in support of French counter-extremist operations.

Royal Navy minehunting

The Royal Navy is world leader in mine countermeasures, having been regularly called upon to deal with mines and other historic ordnance, left over from the Second World War, around the United Kingdom. In recent times, the UK has been involved in minehunting operations across the world, including the Gulf and off Libya.

Following a successful demonstration phase and trials completed in October 2020, the new contract will produce three sets of minehunting equipment, consisting of:

-- Autonomous vessel – a boat controlled and operated from a “mother ship/base.”

-- Towed sonar – a sonar which is towed/dragged behind the vessel to locate ordnance.

-- Mine neutralisation system – a remotely operated underwater vehicle which is used once the mine is located to neutralise the device and prevent its detonation.

When used together, these three elements are known as the Primary System. This next-generation mine hunting capability is designed to potentially replace conventional crewed mine hunting vessels, such as the Royal Navy’s Hunt and Sandown class ships, with autonomous systems.

First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin said: “I am enormously excited by the potential of the future minehunting capability. This will allow us to deliver minehunting more effectively, more efficiently and more safely, and to integrate even more closely with our French counterparts in this important area.

The UK element of the MMCM programme was negotiated by Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), the procurement arm of the UK Ministry of Defence.

DE&S CEO Sir Simon Bollom said: “This ground-breaking technology brings with it a step-change in capability for the Royal Navy which is a bold step into the digital and autonomous world. I’m incredibly proud of DE&S and the Royal Navy team who have worked tirelessly with our French colleagues to deliver on this contract.”

Alex Cresswell, CEO of Thales in the UK, said: “Technologies such as autonomy and AI are transforming societies and warfare at an exponential rate. This contract represents the next generation for Anglo-French minehunting, delivering a world leading capability that will keep our armed forces safe and create and secure vital jobs across the UK and our supply chain. We look forward to delivering the next stage in this exciting hi-tech programme.”

The first equipment sets are due to be delivered in late 2022. It will commence operational evaluation prior to entering service with the Royal Navy.

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Contract Sees Cutting-Edge Autonomous Minehunters for Royal Navy
(Source: Royal Navy; issued Nov. 26, 2020)
Cutting-edge autonomous minehunters will change the way the Royal Navy counters the threat of sea mines and reduce the risks faced by sailors on the frontline.

Crewless surface vessels will be built following an investment of £184m into the Maritime Mine Counter Measures programme, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced today.

Through this project, a joint British and French production contract will culminate in the autonomous kit being deployed in support of global Royal Navy operations.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “This £184m contract offers a huge leap forward for the Royal Navy’s autonomous capabilities in the detection and defeat of sea mines. These systems will protect vital shipping lanes, commercial traffic and our personnel from these deadly devices.

“The programme also underpins a deep and ever-strengthening relationship with France and marks the tenth anniversary of the Lancaster House treaties between our two nations.”

The investment follows the substantial £16.5bn settlement for defence over four years that will modernise the armed forces, reinvigorate the shipbuilding industry and bring jobs and prosperity to every part of the UK.

The Royal Navy is world leader in mine countermeasures, having been regularly called upon to deal with mines and other historic ordnance, left over from the Second World War, around the UK.

In recent times, the navy has been involved in minehunting operations across the world, including the Gulf and off Libya.

Following successful demonstration phase and trials completed this year, the new contract will produce three sets of minehunting equipment, consisting of an autonomous vessel, towed sonar and mine neutralisation system.

When used together, these three elements are known as the Primary System. This next-generation Autonomous Minehunting System is designed to replace conventional crewed minehunting vessels, such as the Royal Navy’s Hunt and Sandown class ships, with autonomous systems.

Commander Steve White, who is involved in the MCM programme at the Royal Navy, said: “The emerging technology associated with these Maritime Autonomous Systems are designed to replace the minehunters in the decade ahead, who have served the Royal Navy so well over the years.

“Our professional sailors who serve in these ships will transfer their skillsets across to these new systems and continue to provide the human decision-making interface, however they will be displaced further away from any mine threat making this new system far safer for them.”

First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin added: “I am enormously excited by the potential of the future minehunting capability. This will allow us to deliver minehunting more effectively, more efficiently and more safely, and to integrate even more closely with our French counterparts in this important area.”

The contract sees a boost to companies in the UK with more than 200 jobs supported by the newly-signed contract.

The investment will see around 215 jobs supported in Thales sites in Somerset and Plymouth as well as the wider supply chain including L3 Harris in Portsmouth, Stonehaven in Aberdeen and Alba Ultrasound in Glasgow.

Three sets of equipment will be bought comprising of a portable operation centre, an autonomous surface vessel, towed sonar and mine neutralisation system.

The UK element was negotiated by Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), the procurement arm of the Ministry of Defence.

DE&S chief executive Sir Simon Bollom said: “This cutting-edge equipment brings with it a step-change in capability for the Royal Navy which is a bold step into the digital and autonomous world. I’m incredibly proud of the DE&S and Royal Navy team who have worked tirelessly with our French colleagues to deliver this on contract.”

The first equipment is due to be delivered in late 2022. It will commence operational evaluation prior to entering service with the Royal Navy.

(ends)

Thales to Deliver the World’s First Fully Integrated Unmanned Mine Countermeasures System for the Royal Navy and French Marine Nationale
(Source: Thales; issued Nov. 26, 2020)
France and the United Kingdom marked the tenth anniversary of the Lancaster House treaties by signing a joint contract for Thales to launch the production of the MMCM (Maritime Mine Counter Measures) program, under Phase 2. Phase 1 initiated in 2015 was to demonstrate and qualify the technology.

With this contract, French and British Navies equip themselves with the world’s first fully integrated unmanned mine countermeasures system of systems.

The system has been tested and demonstrated under real operational scenarios at sea in France and the United Kingdom.

Thales, together with its main partners (ECA Group, L3Harris and Saab), is now awarded to deliver these systems starting from 2022 to the Navies.

Following the first phase of the program in which two demonstrators have successfully proven their operational performances at sea, France and the United Kingdom marked the tenth anniversary of the Lancaster House treaties by signing a joint contract for Thales to start the production phase of MMCM to deliver eight unmanned mine hunting systems (four for France and four for the United Kingdom).

With the threat of mines and improvised explosive devices present in all conflicts involving naval forces, countries need to strengthen the protection of their maritime domain, to ensure the protection of their assets and to safeguard the freedom of civil navigation. At the same time, it is essential to limit human exposure to mines.

With 50 years of expertise serving navies around the world, Thales develops technologies that enable the transition from conventional solutions, such as minehunters, tounmanned solutions. The MMCM program is the first step in the renewal of the operational concept for mine warfare in France and the United Kingdom, based on the use of unmanned systems which could potentially replace traditional minehunters.

This is a step change in capability, improving performances, productivity and removing the need to place members of the armed forces in harm’s way. It strengthens the leadership of the French Navy and Royal Navy as world leaders in both mine hunting and unmanned systems in the maritime domain.

The subsystems developed for the programme by Thales and its partners include Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV) to transport and connect solutions and a cutting-edge sonar (SAMDIS) offering unique Single Path Multi View capability to identify and classify threats.

The SAMDIS sonar can be carried by Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) or by Towed Synthetic Aperture Multiviews (TSAM) vehicle operated from the USV. The USV can also carry a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to neutralize the threats. The entire system is remotely supervised by operators working from a Portable Operational Centre (POC) capable of controlling up to three systems in parallel at sea.

MMCM is the only proven system to offer advanced technologies, including autonomy, to improve performance and productivity thanks to the combination of unrivalled real time user experience using big data exchanges with trusted augmented artificial intelligence (A2I) to provide huge improvement of customer trust in operation clearance and increase the security of national interests.

As a result of Thales’s open-architecture approach to MMCM, these new technologies can be easily integrated into the overall system, providing the navies with the opportunity to introduce new operational capabilities, in a planned way, throughout the life of the system.

After the success of the first configuration conducted under real operational conditions with the complete system, Thales is now fully committed to deliver the first operational systems to French and British navies by 2022. This program testifies of the exemplary cooperation between the two states and industrial teams and anchors Thales’s unique expertise and World leading position in conventional MCM, supporting over half the world’s anti-mine vessels with over 300 systems in service.

“Thales is grateful to France and the United Kingdom for trusting such an important technology transition with the Thales teams in France and the UK. To date during trials, the MMCM systems and its assets have covered the equivalent of 30.000 soccer fields at sea, sometimes with very rough sea conditions. This is indeed a step change in how Navies will be able to respond in the future to vicious threats such as mines and improvised explosive devices at sea,” said Alexis Morel, VP Underwater Systems, Thales.

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