Belgian, Dutch navies choose French-designed USV for minehunting

The Belgian Navy and the Royal Netherlands Navy have chosen an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) developed by France’s ECA Group for their joint mine countermeasures (MCM) capability replacement program.

Designed by ECA subsidiary Mauric, each USV in the series will feature a low magnetic and acoustic signature to prevent mine triggering and will be able to stay afloat in the event of nearby mine explosions thanks to an array of foamed compartments.

The USVs will also be capable of integrating different payloads, including towed sonar and smaller remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), depending on the mission to be performed, with changing from one configuration to another expected to take less than six hours.

ECA said a system that can reduce roll by 40 per cent will enable operations even in sea state four.

The baseline USVs will each have an LOA of 12.3 metres, two engines that drive waterjets to deliver a speed of 25 knots, and an endurance of 48 hours. A variant optimised for influence mine sweeping will have the waterjets replaced with propellers.

The USVs will be capable of autonomous operation up to 18 nautical miles from a mothership. The range can be further extended with the aid of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) configured as a communication relay.

The onboard autonomous navigation system will ensure obstacle avoidance capability in accordance with COLREGS. The obstacle identification system will be based on a perception module that can merge data from several sensors, including AIS, radar, mine obstacle avoidance sonar (MOAS) and cameras and inform the obstacle avoidance calculation algorithm.

ECA claimed that, even in a GNSS-denied environment characterised by jamming, spoofing, or loss of GPS signal, the USV can continue its mission autonomously thanks to its inertial navigation system.

A broadband radio link will provide high-speed communication, high capacity data transfer and anti-jamming capabilities. The antenna diagram will help maintain a strong link margin even with platform motion due to high sea states.

All communications on radio frequencies, satellite and underwater acoustic will be protected and authenticated by advanced encryption algorithms

Seventeen examples of the USV will be delivered to the Dutch and Belgian navies beginning in 2023.

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