Autonomous minehunters protect the seas

These minehunters are designed to detect the latest mine threats – and reduce the risk to the lives of those searching for them.
Interesting Engineering

Drone technology has been commonly associated with military aviation. Drones or remote-controlled aircraft like UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and UCAVs (unmanned combat aerial vehicles) have gained tremendous popularity over the past few months due to their high performance in the Russia-Ukraine war. 

As a result, different military branches are testing this technology. Many defense contractors have started working on ground systems to get effective outcomes. Specifically, the navies are interested in this technology to carry out their multiple crewless high-sea missions. 

But the point is, can drone technology be successfully used in naval wars? 

This video by Military Mechanics gives insight into the Crewless Mine Hunters tested by the Royal Navy under its crewless mine hunting program, project Wilton. It is named after the Navy's HMS Wilton, an experimental coastal minesweeper launched in 1972. The project aims to develop and deliver the navy's unmanned or crewless minehunting and survey programs to replace Britain's aging minehunter warships.  

Presently, the plan is to retire six surviving hunt class MCMVs (mine countermeasure vehicles) between 2029-31, and the seven Sandown class will sooner or later retire between 2023-31. Minesweeping has been practiced since 1855, but it is a dangerous process. New technologies like robots and drones reduce the risk for divers involved in managing and disposing of underwater ammunition. These drones can work remotely in different configurations and detect mines in real time. 

Currently, the navy team is undertaking trials to check its operations on the naval battlefield. 

Interestingly, this new naval drone system can detect those signals that conventional mine sweepers can't and can be deployed quickly around the world for surveys. 

The system employs an unmanned surface vessel or vehicle that tows three coil auxiliary boats (naval ships that support combatant ships). Each of the three boats in the system emits magnetic, electric, and acoustic signals capable of detonating various mines, including the most technologically advanced, which can detect and target passing ships overhead.

As per the naval traditions, all three boats have names; RNMB Hazard, RNMB Harrier, and RNMB Hebe. Compared to the other two, Hebe is more advanced and is specially designed for uncrewed MCM (mine countermeasure) operations. It can detect and classify mines even while sailing at 13 knots. 

When it comes to controlling the craft, the MCM team can operate and coordinate all three boats simultaneously, allowing Hebe to function as a mobile-controlled platform. Further, the system can also be controlled by a land-based remote control center which is suitable when deploying boats in restricted zones where forces cannot help. 

Another uncrewed surface vessel-based system, RNMB Hydra, developed by Atlas Elektronik UK (AEUK), marine technology and ammunition developers, will be fitted with the existing system for better operations. 

The system will be delivered to the Royal Navy by late 2022 and deployed for operations in early 2023. These machines will empower the navy with their high functionality and flexibility.