France’s MMCM prototype has just arrived in Brest to commence sea trials in July
On 24 May, local media reported that Thales’ prototype of the Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) destined to the French Navy (Marine Nationale – MN), in the context of the France-UK Maritime Mine Counter Measure (MMCM) programme, has just arrived to Brest. Unreported elsewhere, the news signals that the prototype is ready for sea trials, which are scheduled to start in July. Another prototype for the UK will be tested by the Royal Navy (RN) from Thales’ new site in Turnchapel Warf.
Initiated in 2012 under a cooperation agreement between France and the UK, the MMCM programme develops a prototype autonomous system for detection and neutralisation of sea mines and underwater improvised explosive devices (UWIEDs). The MMCM contract was awarded to Thales in collaboration with BAE Systems by the Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation (OCCAR – Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en matière d’ARmement) in March 2015, on behalf of the French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA – Direction Général de l’Armement) and the UK MoD’s Defence Equipment & Support organisation. The contract also included the national partners, ECA Group in France and ASV, Wood & Douglas as well as SAAB in the UK. The same local source, however, mentioned that BAE Systems withdrew from the programme in the process.
The whole MMCM system has been defined and designed as a resilient non-USV centric systems architecture, which includes the USV equipped with a Towed Synthetic Aperture Sonar T-SAS/Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) – the Multi-Shot Mine Nutralisation System (MuMNS) developed by SAAB – and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) – ECA’s A27. It has been conceived so that its modular structure facilitates adaptation to different threats under different scenarios (e.g. seaport access, amphibious operation, choke point, homeland security) and allows future upgrades, making it future proof. Moreover, the MMCM will be rapidly deployable through modular containerised systems transportable by road, sea, train and air, and the assets will perform their tasks autonomously with control from a host ship or shore-based station via high-data-rate communication and over-the-horizon links.
Thales‘ USV has been manufactured with composite materials and is 12m long. The sea trials for the USV prototype will be taking place in the second half of 2018 with the objective of reaching qualification of the system in 2019. The MN plans on acquiring eight MMCM systems (that is, 8 USVs, 24 AUVs, 8 T-SAMs and 8 ROVs), four of which before 2025, as part of the planned replacement for the MN’s 11 ‘Tripartite’ class mine hunters (which also includes the construction of four mother-ships).