Royal Navy Takes Delivery of First Anglo-French Minehunting Drone Boat

thales minehunting vessel
Image courtesy Royal Navy

Published Dec 14, 2021 8:33 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Royal Navy has taken delivery of a new autonomous mine hunting system from a joint Anglo-French consortium. 

The system includes a new unmanned surface vessel, a towed sonar array and a portable control center, and it is now undergoing advanced trials. 

The delivery is the first from the joint Maritime Mine Counter Measures program, contracted by France and the UK using the OCCAR (Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en matière d'Armement) procurement treaty. The development of the system began in 2010, and after a demonstration phase, the final contract was awarded to Thales UK, BAE and L3Harris in late 2020. 

“It is exciting to see the first delivery to the Royal Navy from the Maritime Mine Counter Measures,” said Commodore Steve Prest, the Royal Navy’s Deputy Director Acquisition. “The future of mine warfare is here: the Royal Navy’s minehunting capability programme is real; it’s happening; it’s delivering. We have a lot to learn about this transformational approach to mine warfare, but there is much, much more to come.” 

The service's hope is that a remote-controlled or autonomous family of systems will be able to fully take over the mine countermeasures role of the Royal Navy's manned minehunting vessels. Under a sweeping integrated defense review released earlier this year, the UK Ministry of Defence announced plans to decommission the Sandown- and Hunt-class MCM vessels and replace them with unmanned systems. This will reduce cost of operation and remove the service's sailors from harm's way. 

"The new systems find mines, even in the worst conditions, five to 10 times faster than our current ships do," said First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin in a speech after the review. "We will stay the best minehunters in the world by starting to swap ships for drones. First the Sandown and then the Hunt-class."

The Royal Navy already has three autonomous minehunting systems operating out of Faslane under the name of Project Wilton - RNMB Harrier, Hebe and Hazard - and has transitioned one of its existing MCM crews to full-time autonomous vessel duty. The newly delivered demonstrator will undergo operational testing alongside these platforms.