IDEX 2017

Automation keeps men off the minefield [IDEX17D4]

21 February 2017

French robotics and undersea systems specialist ECA is showcasing its capability in unmanned mine countermeasures (MCM) at NAVDEX.

The company last year unveiled its new UMIS (Unmanned MCM Integrated Systems) package, which brings together unmanned surface vehicle, autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), unmanned air vehicle, and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) technologies together in a single ‘system of systems’. The intention is to increase the tempo of MCM operations while at the same time increasing safety by removing personnel from the mine danger area.

According to ECA, the UMIS approach offers a number of advantages over traditional MCM methods. These include: the ability to collect high-resolution sonar images using AUVs that can ‘fly’ at an ideal height over the seabed; the ability to use non-specialist mothership platforms, so avoiding the expense associated with dedicated low- signature minehunters; and faster coverage rates, enabled by the ability to use multiple robotic vehicles to perform detection and identification in parallel.

ECA’s Inspector Mk 2 USV (pictured) is a key component of UMIS, providing the means by which other robotic detection and neutralisation vehicles can be delivered into the minefield. This means that the MCM mothership can remain at a ‘standoff’ distance outside the danger area.

The use of a USV has three major advantages, according to ECA.

First, the USV acts as an intelligent docking system for AUVs and ROVs, enabling these vehicles to be deployed and recovered automatically for recharging, data download, and transit. Second, the Inspector Mk 2 USV provides an intelligent gateway between the above-water and underwater worlds; it can be equipped with satellite, radio and wi-fi for above-water communications, as well as an acoustic modem and short baselines for underwater communication and positioning.

Finally, the USV is equipped with its own forward-looking high-resolution sonar, giving it the ability to detect in-volume mines as well as obstacles (such as nets) to allow for safe AUV navigation.

Other key components of UMIS include ECA’s A9-M AUV (fitted with a high-resolution sonar to capture accurate seabed imagery, enabling the detection and classification of mine-like objects); the Seascan Mk 2 vehicle for identification; and the K-Ster C expendable mine neutralisation system.

(356 words)