Navy's First Uncrewed Minesweeper Under Development

The Royal Navy's first uncrewed minesweeper is being developed, enabling sailors to remotely detect and destroy sea mines on naval operations.

The UK is investing £25 million into developing three autonomous minesweeping systems (SWEEPs), which will be used to tow sensors in order to identify sea mines.

The different types of sensors are often called payloads and using the latest magnetic, acoustic and electric technology, they trick the mines into thinking there is a target above it and they detonate. 

It will detect more modern and smarter digital mines which target ships and submarines passing overhead. 

Across the Armed Forces, drones and autonomous technology is being trialed and tested to revolutionise how the military operates with some uncrewed systems are already in use.

Sarah Brown from Atlas Elektronik UK - the Dorset based company designing the vessel, told Forces News: "Essentially we're able to cause the mines to falsely trigger so they go 'bang'.

"That's what's really good about sweeping, whereas traditionally with sort of hunting for mines, you would go out and you would look for the target.

"Once you've established where it is, you would then need to get some kind of weapon or explosive charge on that mine in order to make it safe, whereas for sweeping, you don't necessarily know where the mine is, but you've already neutralised it because it's gone 'bang'.

Across the Armed Forces, drones and autonomous technology is being trialed and tested to revolutionise how the military operates.
Across the Armed Forces, drones and autonomous technology is being trialed and tested to revolutionise how the military operates.

"So essentially it's a quicker way of neutralizing a minefield."

Currently, the Royal Navy operates Hunt class and Sandown class minehunters such as HMS Middleton and the UK has a permanent presence in the Gulf carrying out minehunting operations.  

These ships use more basic technology and hunt mines using sonar before using a remotely piloted disposal system called Seafox or highly trained divers to dispose of them.

In November, the UK announced it was investing £184 million in a joint programme with France to develop Autonomous Minehunting Systems.

Sir Simon Bollom, Chief Executive of Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) told Forces News: "This difficult, repetitive and sometimes dangerous, in operational circumstances, activity that has traditionally been undertaken by mancraft.

"We are now moving into a new era which is essentially unmanned.

"It's about autonomy, its about data handling, its about artificial intelligence - using new technology rather than people to do some of these difficult and repetitive tasks.

"What it will do, is release Royal Navy personnel that traditionally have done this task to be able to operate in other parts of the Navy.

"For example the Carrier Strike Groups which are now being set up around [HMS] Prince of Wales and the [HMS[ Queen Elizabeth.

The Royal Navy's autonomous mine sweeping system (SWEEP)
SWEEP being put to the test (Picture: Atlas Elektronik UK).

"All of those demand people and resources and what it means is, that through the use of autonomous system, the Navy will be able to increase its footprint and improve its potency."

It is not just the UK military taking advantage of new technology.

Dr Sidharth Kaushal from the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies explained other countries are following the same trend.

"The UK is probably sort of on a par with the overhead of most countries and the sort of the Western Alliance - other than the US in terms of fielding these capabilities," Dr Kaushal said.

"It's certainly not alone. Countries like Russia and China are fielding increasingly sophisticated unmanned capabilities as well.”"

The autonomous minesweeping technology has already been through numerous trials over the past few years – the first system is expected to be delivered in late 2022. 

Cover image: SWEEP, the Royal Navy's autonomous mine sweeping system (Picture: Atlas Elektronik UK).

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