FEATURE: Unmanned naval revolution continues to gather momentum

Photo: Trevor Hollingsbee
Photo: Trevor Hollingsbee – Atlas Elektronik unmanned mine warfare vessel

The naval zone at London’s bi-annual arms fair, the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition, this year gave considerable prominence to the rapidly developing discipline of unmanned naval craft operations. A major driver of this discipline is the strong contemporary desire of many governments to minimise the possibility of their armed forces sustaining casualties in combat.

Being exhibited by Atlas Elektronik (UK) was an 11-metre, waterjet-powered catamaran workboat, which is at the core of the company’s Atlas Remote Capability Integrated Mission Suite (ARCIMS) system.

This system features pair sweeping by two boats, together towing an advanced towed magnetic, acoustic and electronic minesweeping array. The British Royal Navy has ordered ARCIMS systems, to be launched and controlled from modified Hunt-class manned mine countermeasures vessels. At least one Middle East nation has also reportedly ordered the system.

Also strongly represented at the show was prolific manufacturer of, civil and naval, autonomous and remote controlled vessel systems, ASV (Global). This company has supplied leading defence manufacturer and contractor Thales with its C-Sweep unmanned workboat for the company’s Halcyon project. This project, which has recently been trialled by the British and French Defence ministries, features a synthetic aperture sonar–equipped array towed by a C-Sweep for mine detection, linked with unmanned underwater vessels for classification, and destruction, of located underwater mines.

Unmanned Pacific 950. Photo: Trevor Hollingsbee

On the water at DSEI 2017 was the versatile manned/unmanned, remote control/autonomous variant of BAE Systems’ Pacific 950 RIB. Produced in conjunction with ASV Global, this mid-engined, 40-knot craft can be fitted with radar, and advanced cameras, as well as optronic surveillance equipment. It can carry out unmanned missions of up to 12 hours duration.

The Pacific 950 was demonstrated carrying out, in company with manned vessels, force protection, interception and search and rescue evolutions, under the direction of a dedicated shore-based facility.

Potential roles of the unmanned Pacific 950 include protection of the RN’s new aircraft carriers, when they are at anchor or in harbour.