Thales Australia is proud to work alongside the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and mine countermeasures forces globally, to deliver technology that counters emerging threats to the world’s sea lanes. With over 50 years’ experience in undersea warfare systems, Thales Australia is committed to developing and delivering innovative technology to the RAN, and allied forces, that provide an unparalleled advantage.
With over 300 MCM sonars in service on half of all specialised vessels worldwide, Navies trust our systems; which have been proved as highly effective in operational situations for over 30 years.
Australia’s mine countermeasures environment
Australia’s maritime environment is the world’s third largest marine jurisdiction at almost 14 million square kilometres and with its warm, shallow waters, is unique to anywhere else in the world.
Surrounded by ocean, Australia is heavily reliant on seaborn trade for its economic prosperity. The sea safety of Australia’s oceans is dependent on strategic choke points remaining open and sea lanes being kept clear and undisrupted by mines. These mines are a combination of legacy mines from the World Wars, and modern digital mines designed with a very low target strength, making them increasingly difficult to detect.
An Australian first
Thales Australia is providing the Royal Australian Navy with its first expeditionary mine countermeasures capability based on unmanned systems. The system of systems will provide the navy with an initial, organic capability to detect and assess the threat of a potential or known minefield, providing the information it needs to avoid the threat or, if necessary, neutralise specific underwater targets.
Thales Australia provides sonar system support to the Huon Class Vessels, built by Thales and introduced into service in the early 2000’s. These vessels have proven highly capable, supporting Defence’s international engagement strategy through participation in exercises and operations, securing Australia’s sea lanes, providing defence assistance to the civil community, border protection and disposing of World War II explosive remnants, and they will continue to serve Australia for years to come.
Through the identification of obsolescence risks and mitigation opportunities, continuous monitoring of component availability and development of technology insertion solutions, Thales Australia is ensuring the RANs mine countermeasures capability keeps pace with change both technologically and operationally.
Combined Influence Sweep
The Australian Minesweeping and Support System (AMASS) was developed in a partnership between the then DSTO (now DST Group) and Thales, and was the world’s first operational emulation sweep. It was developed to provide a mine hunting and sweeping capability which would enable a range of small craft to be converted into mine sweepers or mine surveillance vessels without the space and weight penalties associated with traditional sweeps.
The key to the Thales CIS was the development of dyads, or buoyant permanent magnetic cylinders, combined with water-driven acoustic generators that, when towed behind a vessel in various configurations, could emulate the magnetic and acoustic signatures of a range of vessel classes and sweep sensitive influence mines to a depth of 90m.
It is the maturity, simplicity, versatility and durability of its design that ensures its ongoing employment with over ten global allied navy customers including the Royal Australian Navy (unmanned MCM).
Withdrawing the surveillance capability, more recently it is referred to as a Combined Influence Sweep (CIS) although colloquially it maintains AMASS.
Against modern mines, two types of self-powered, programmable acoustic generators are available, the AAG and the IAAG. Both these state-of-the-art acoustic generators provide multiple stable line structures, an increased speed range, and programmable output spectrum.
Thales magnetic sweeps consist of a linear array of positively buoyant permanent magnets called Dyads. Dyads are mild steel cylinders driven into magnetic saturation by permanent magnet disc stacks to form a large dipolar magnet.
Developed with the assistance of the Australian Defence Science and Technology Group (DST Group) and the Royal Australian Navy, Thales’s Combined Influence Sweep (CIS) is a systems approach to minesweeping.
Today’s disruptive technologies are taking mine countermeasures through a radical transition: from traditional mine hunting, with grey ship minehunters, to the unmanned and ultimately autonomous world of the future. This step-change has occurred steadily over the last decade where unmanned and autonomous systems, that operate both above and below the water, are reaching levels of maturity that now make their use a practical reality. The most important element in mine countermeasures is the safety of naval personnel and keeping them out of harm’s way; the application of unmanned and autonomous systems is a significant step forward in this direction.
M-CUBE – Mine Countermeasures Management System
The versatile M-CUBE mission system is based on an open, modular architecture to ensure effective management of the most complex operations. Incorporating state-of-the-art technologies, its comprehensive functionality covers all phases of mine countermeasure missions: planning, execution and supervision, assessment, debriefing and training. M-CUBE is readily configurable to accommodate any type of deployed sensors and includes a wide range of built-in support tools. It drastically reduces operator workload while ensuring a very high level of efficiency and safety.
Mi-Map – Post Mission Analysis tool
To support detection, classification and localisation of underwater mine threats. Mi-Map provides multi-user high-speed access to a sonar database and comprises a HMI with a set of functions ranging from sonar image display and mapping to contacts analysis and management. It is optimised to get MCM tasks done quickly either in post mission mode (UUV data) or in real time mission mode (for towed sonar data). Its design allows rapid navigation in huge SAS image data sets and the efficient handling of thousands of contacts.
Driving domestic capability
Thales is supporting the Australian Government’s investment in an Australian Defence Force that is more agile, capable and potent, with a broader range of capabilities. Thales recognises that the development of true sovereign capability will underpin the long-term security and prosperity of Australia and our region. It will lead to an increase in Australian industry capability and capacity and will involve more Australians and more small businesses through the delivery and and sustainment of leading edge Navy capability.
Thales proactively works with local SMEs to develop relationships that enable Australian industry to enhance, sustain, repair, operate and upgrade capability. This approach not only enhances the RANs operational performance through local support, but is in line with the Government’s long-term vision and roadmap for Australian defence industry.
Through collaboration and trust, Thales Australia and our SME partners are contributing to a strong, sustainable and secure Australian defence industry; capable of sustaining its capability on Australian shores.
Leading global development
The Maritime Mine Countermeasures Programme (MMCM) is a project to develop a new strategic maritime mine countermeasures capability based on the use of off board USVs (unmanned surface vehicles), ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) and UUVs (unmanned underwater vehicles) to keep personnel at a safe distance from threats. The UK MoD and French Defence Ministry appointed Thales as prime contractor with responsibility for the development, production and qualification of two identical prototypes.
MMCM provides an innovative solution because it’s based on the use of off board vehicles and new digital technologies. It is the most advanced Mine Countermeasures programme in the world, making use of artificial intelligence to ensure these unmanned systems operate safely at sea. Big data analytics technologies coupled with artificial intelligence allow highly efficient, high-performance processing of huge amounts of data from the sensors carried by these vehicles. Given the sensitivity of this programme, the system also features a major cybersecurity component, which was embedded in the original design.
Investing in the future
Thales has made significant investment in recent years in the development of future unmanned mine countermeasures systems, nurturing genuine partnerships to manage the challenge, risk and complexity associated with the customer’s transition. With the Franco-British MMCM programme, Thales is delivering the first operational autonomous mine countermeasures in the world; setting a new standard in the marketplace. The significant leap forward in autonomy, integration, trials and certification, but most importantly trust, will be drawn upon to support Australia’s unmanned transition.