New Purpose-Built Plant in Ostend to Build Unmanned Systems
ECA Group has reached a milestone regarding the unmanned vehicles to be manufactured in Belgium for the Belgian and Dutch navies’ mine warfare programmes. ECA Robotics, a French subsidiary of ECA Group, recently signed a contract worth several hundred million euros to outsource manufacturing and delivery to its Belgian subsidiary ECA Robotics Belgium for the unmanned platforms intended to renew the mine warfare capabilities of both nations.
Belgium and the Netherlands awarded the renewal programme to Belgium Naval & Robotics, a consortium established by Naval Group and ECA. The programme comprises 12 new-generation vessels (six for each navy) and containerized systems. It is the first programme that applies the stand-off concept of using a Toolbox, consisting of several unmanned vehicles that operators can command and deploy from a safe distance in order to carry out autonomous mine countermeasure missions.
The contract award to ECA Robotics Belgium involves manufacture, supply and delivery of the following:
• INSPECTOR 125-M unmanned surface vessel (USV): a surface drone capable of deploying all the Toolbox elements in a specific zone;
• INSPECTOR 125-S USV: a surface drone able to tow a sweep system for mine clearance;
• The sweep system, which will be equipped with magnetic and acoustic modules;
• The A18-M autonomous underwater vessel (AUV): an underwater drone integrating the synthetic aperture sonar UMISAS used for mine detection;
• Towed sonar T18-M: a sonar towed by the USV, which also detects mines;
• The Mine Identification and Disposal System (MIDS), including the SEASCAN MK2 and K-STER C, which respectively ensure identification and clearance of mines;
• Transfer and integration of the UMISOFT software for mission management and data analysis;
• Supply of V200 SKELDAR UAS with integrated payloads (LiDAR, optronics pod) for detection and identification of surface mines, and communication relay;
• Acceptance tests, trials, training and programme management.
The unmanned vehicles will be manufactured in a new, very modern plant to be built in Ostend, Belgium. Building will start early 2021 so that production can commence in 2022. ECA Robotics Belgium will recruit about 70 people in Belgium to support the production contract, which will take some 10 years to complete. In addition, ECA Robotics Belgium will be able to conduct maintenance on drones at the plant with effect from the first delivery.