Anglo-French minesweeper drones complete final critical test

Developed by Thales, the Maritime Mine Counter Measures autonomous surface and underwater drones have shown they are capable of dealing with naval mines in short order.
Christopher McFadden
Image of the underwater drone hunter-killer.


An Anglo-French remotely-operated underwater vehicle mine hunter-killer drone has completed critical trials proving its naval mine neutralizing capabilities. Led by the French defense contractor Thales, the trials are a key milestone for the joint Maritime Mine Counter Measures program (MMCM). Called SLAM-F in France, Thales, the program’s prime contractor and lead system integrator, successfully demonstrated the final piece of the puzzle, leading to the possibility for the drones to enter active service.

Naval mine killer

According to a news release from Thales, the sea trials were "recently" conducted remotely from the company's command center in Brest, France. During the trials, representatives from the Marine Nationale (the French Navy), the French defense procurement agency Direction générale de l'armement (DGA), the British Royal Navy, the UK Defense Ministry, and the Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation (OCCAR) were also present. Thales' operations center managed the systems with the help of French Navy personnel.

The trials showcased Thales' M-Cube mission management system's capability to locate and identify sea mines, which incorporates an underwater drone that can install exercise charges on both bottom and moored mines. For reference, naval mines come in two types: bottom and moored. Bottom mines sit on the ocean floor and can be triggered by passing ships. Moored mines are anchored to the seabed but float at a certain depth and target surface vessels. Both are dangerous and require thorough detection and removal measures.

In 2015, Thales and OCCAR signed a contract to launch the MMCM program to demonstrate and qualify a new and fully integrated unmanned mine countermeasures system. France and Britain initiated the program, and its ultimate goal was to replace all existing mine warfare platforms, such as Tripartite-class mine hunters, sonar towing vessels, and diver support vessels.

According to the French Armed Forces Ministry, a single MMCM system architecture consists of two surface drones. One has a towed sonar, while the other has a remotely operated robot. The two drones are responsible for detecting, classifying, and analyzing mines, with the duo's underwater mine-killer drone responsible for neutralizing them.

The project is managed by Thales, who also manufactures the sonar, while ECA Group (now Exail) developed the underwater drones. Thanks to Thales ' multi-aspect sonar, these drones can detect high-resolution submerged objects. The sonar can capture images from three different angles in a single pass, making it easier and faster for the operator to identify and characterize an object.

Better mine neutralization

According to the ministry, the MMCM system can detect, identify, and neutralize mines up to 984 feet (300 meters), improving from the current depth of 394 feet (120 meters) for other systems. Thales has confirmed that the first two MMCM system prototypes were already provided to the French and British navies in 2021 and 2022, respectively. The two navies are expected to receive six series-produced systems in 2024 and 2025, for eight systems to be distributed between them.

During the 2022 Euronaval conference outside Paris, French military officials declared that the MMCM program would partner with a separate Belgian-Dutch de-mining program to provide new mine hunter vessels and unmanned systems. The program is known as the Belgian-Dutch Mine Countermeasures system.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board