To tackle the abundant and significant threat of sea mines, the Royal Navy's new unmanned, underwater 'robots' have entered service following successful trials at the end of last year. Modern mines are capable of being triggered by just the sound of a ship passing above so equipment for detecting them needs to be state-of-the-art.
The Mine Countermeasures Reconnaissance Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (known as 'Recce') can hunt sea mines remotely down to 200 metres and is now fully integrated into service, having been handed over to the Royal Navy's Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Unit.
The new, fully autonomous Recce system can scan the sea bed for mines for over 20 hours at a time, using an advanced system of sensors to pin-point their exact location.
This data is fed back to the onboard operators for analysis, considerably reducing the risk to naval divers who traditionally carried out these operations.
High resolution imagery also gives operators a sharper, clearer picture of the sea bed, enhancing their ability to identify the mines.
The system is a step-change for the mine hunting capability of the Navy's Hunt Class Mine Countermeasures (MCM) Vessels, but its adaptability allows it to be deployed from any ship or even a jetty with a suitable davit.
Defence Equipment and Support's Underwater Systems Programme Manager, Phil Jenkin, said: "The system builds on the success of the REMUS technology of smaller, shallow water vehicles, which the Navy has used over the last few years. The new vehicle is not intended to replace the existing systems but extend the Navy's remote mine hunting capability, boasting improved sonar technology, allowing it to cover larger areas of water and to dive deeper."
As well as hunting mines, the system is capable of conducting remote assessment of the marine environment such as mapping the ocean floor and measuring ocean currents.
While finely tuned to the Royal Navy's requirements, Recce was a low risk procurement, as Lieutenant Commander Paul Guiver, of the Underwater Warfare Systems Capability Development Group, explained: "It is a fine example of using low technological risk, commercial off-the-shelf equipment and will provide the operational experience to the user that will help to de-risk future MCM capability programmes. REMUS technology is already used by a dozen navies worldwide, however the Royal Navy was the first to formally accept unmanned, underwater vehicle systems into service. The delivery of Recce and initial operating capability could not have been achieved without the considerable efforts of Hydroid Inc working closely with the Underwater Systems team. This marks a very important milestone in the development of our MCM and remote environmental assessment capability."
The Royal Navy has welcomed the new capability; Lieutenant Commander Kev Giles, the Navy's Fleet Mine Warfare Capability Manager, said: "It is a leap forward from the smaller vehicles it already operates which have a shorter range, fewer sensors, and dive to a maximum 30-metre depth. This is why the Royal Navy is very enthusiastic about this. It gives us a look into the future."
Two systems, each consisting of two 3.9-metre long, torpedo-shaped vehicles, were bought by Defence Equipment and Support in a £5m contract placed with Hydroid Inc in 2007.