Robotic Mine Defuser: Destroying Maritime Mines Without Human Harm

multi-shot mine neutralisation system

Recent innovation in UK and French marine engineering has seen the creation of the Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM) programme. This is a huge milestone in mine countermeasures; the first unmanned underwater bomb defuser. Created by french defense electronics group, Thales, the MMCM programme demonstrates a significant development for mine countermeasures, helping to protect frontline mine hunters, international traders, and any other ocean dwellers, from harm. 

Maritime Mines

Antoine Caput, Thale’s MMCM Programme Director, explains the contemporary use of maritime mines: they are “simple, cheap, efficient, improvised explosive devices of the sea favored by poorer states and terrorist organizations.” However, many mines found on the seabed, or floating through the ocean, are relics from conflicts past, a dangerous legacy of the two World Wars. Despite their old age, many will still contain explosive material that can cause significant damage.

Mine Defusing

In order to defuse a maritime mine, the explosive elements must be neutralised. Sea mines are triggered by magnetism. In order to avoid a dangerous end, a passive response to potential closeby mines involves changing the magnetic signature of a boat. 

Minesweepers and Minehunters are two of the main ship types that are specifically constructed with the purpose of finding and destroying maritime mines.

Minesweepers

Minesweepers are warships equipped with “sweeps,” a mechanical or electrical wire which is towed behind the ship, in potential mine filled areas. These sweeps cut the mine’s mooring wires. Influence sweeps are also attached, mimicking a ship’s magnetism, causing the mine to detonate. The minesweeper ship itself has minimal magnetic and acoustic signature to ensure it does not detonate the mines itself.

minesweeper

Minehunters

minehunter

Minehunters, on the other hand, focus on seeking out specific individual mines and detonating them. Using imaging sonar, the ships detect and classify a maritime mine, then send out a tethered smaller vehicle or divers to neutralise the mine.

Minehunters, on the other hand, focus on seeking out specific individual mines and detonating them. Using imaging sonar, the ships detect and classify a maritime mine, then send out a tethered smaller vehicle or divers to neutralise the mine. 

Maritime Mine Counter Measures Programme

This new anti-mine system is multi-faceted, designed to detect, identify, and destroy mines, while keeping humans safe. The programme was funded by the French and UK government, awarding the contract to Thales and its’ partners; Saab, ECA, and ASV, in March 2015.

MCMM System

The system contains size components: 

  • A 40 foot uncrewed surface vehicle 
  • Multi-Shot Mine Neutralization System (MuMNS), remotely operated and deployed from the surface vehicle
  • Three uncrewed undersea vehicles 
  • A towed sonar 
  • Two portable operations centres in 20 foot containers, which are for human operators, and can be located at a safe distance, on ship or land. 

MCMM Process

The first stage of the process is to find and classify the mines. In naval terms, this is called DCL; Detection, Classification, and Location. This will be done from the uncrewed surface vehicle, which will be operated from the crewin the operation centres, or pre-programmed. The surface vehicle tows the sonar in order to examine the area. When the mine is in sight, the three underwater vehicles, which also contain sonars, will approach the mine and, from those three angles, create a 3D image of the object.

multi-shot mine neutralisation system

Then, the process moves on to identification and neutralization. This phase is managed by the MuMNS. Using its two rear propellers, it navigates through currents, while remaining tethered to the surface vehicle with a fibre-optic tether that provides power and communications. The MuMNS can dive up to 985 feet. Similar to the surface vehicle, the MuMNS can be pre-programmed or piloted from the safety of the operations centres. 

When close enough, the machine’s telescopic arm extends out and attaches an explosive charge onto the mine using a non-magnetic nail gun. This interaction will not cause the mine to detonate as the interaction is too soft. 

The MuMNS then travels back to the surface vehicle, and the vehicle can move away, before the charge is remotely detonated using a radio signal. 

This method ensures a high success rate, without the added high risk of human harm. This innovative programme has transformed marine warfare, and helps keep humans safe. 

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