Thales displays its minewarfare expertise at DSEi

Thales is a world leader in mine warfare systems – both manned and unmanned solutions - which includes operationally proved manned ship-based systems such as Sonar 2093 and 2193, and new cutting edge work on unmanned surface vessels.

Here, Jason Dey from the Maritime Mission Systems business at Templecombe, gives an insight into some of the products and capabilities on display at the show.

Can you tell us about your role?
As Product Line Manager for Mine Warfare in the UK, my role is to set the technical and commercial strategies for Mine Warfare products to address both current and future needs.  Typically this aligns to a market pull, investing in the right technologies and developments to sustain and grow our Mine Countermeasures (MCM) business by bringing new products to the market.
 
Can you tell us about your role with regards MCUBE and Halcyon on display?
MCUBE and Halcyon are our latest solutions for Mine Warfare Command & Control and Autonomous Surface Vessels respectively.  Bringing the two together allows conventional manned MCM (usually involving a Mine Countermeasures Vessel (MCMV) equipped with a selection of sensors and command & control) to transition to a remote autonomous MCM. 
 
This transition brings advantages in removing operators from the minefield and increasing operational tempo.  My role in these products is to ensure we can offer the right integrated, reliable and easily operable solution that can provide equivalent levels of performance in autonomous systems compared to conventional systems.
 
What is MCUBE?
MCUBE is the Mine Counter-measure Mission Management system, in service with three Navies, and under contract with two further Navies.  It provides Command & Control for the conduct of MCM, from a portable container, building or platform.  When used with an MCMV it allows the operators to fully plan, monitor and evaluate operations using its on board sensors whilst maintaining situational awareness.  The open architecture allows simple insertion of modules to operate remote systems as part of the Navy’s future roadmap for the introduction of these systems.

The open architecture allows simple insertion of modules to operate remote systems as part of the Navy’s future roadmap for the introduction of these systems.

What is Halcyon?
Halcyon is an Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) developed jointly by Thales and ASV Global intended to conduct operations at a significant distance away from the Control Centre.  The USV is equipped with a selection of surface and sub-surface sensors, allowing high levels of information, and very importantly, certainty of its situational awareness. 
 
Based near Portsmouth, ASV Global is a leading developer of autonomous vessel technology and platforms.
 
The on board autonomous control system contains COLREG compliance behaviours for navigation and obstacle avoidance, and additional special behaviours to maximise overall performance of both the vessel and any payloads.  The vessel was designed from the outset to allow a range of payload configurations, large on board sensor packages, autonomy requirements and seakeeping needs, which assure its readiness for future operations.  Secure communications allow remote command, control and monitoring using MCUBE.
 
Is Halcyon just for military applications?
Halcyon can be used for any task where there are benefits in using an autonomous and unmanned platform.  For example, it could be used for a hydro-graphic survey or a taxi for deploying Unmanned Underwater Vehicles for oil and gas industries
 
We hear Halcyon played a part in the Navy’s future plans in Exercise Unmanned Warrior last year, how did it perform?
In 2016, Thales showed Halcyon with MCUBE and the Thales T-SAS product at Exercise Unmanned Warrior as part of the MCM demonstrations.  These demonstrations showed that the use of USVs equipped with towed sonars were a credible solution as an alternative to conventional MCMVs.  The system’s excellent performance was achieved through treating the system as an integrated design from the start rather than a payload installed on a platform.

The system’s excellent performance was achieved through treating the system as an integrated design from the start rather than a payload installed on a platform.

 
Why are we trying to take the man out of the minefield?
When conducting MCM in the conventional way there is always a risk to the people involved in the operation during both the detection and neutralisation process.  Keeping the operators at a safe distance is paramount, and what better way than to conduct these operations remotely, away from the danger!
 
Are mines still a threat at sea?
Mines provide a very cheap way for blocking a shipping route, shutting access to harbours and ports, and making anchorages unusable.  The damage that can be done to a ship by a mine is significant compared to the value of the mine itself.  These two aspects make mines very effective weapons, and many nations have stockpiles of these weapons.  In addition peacetime operations continue to address mines left over from World War II and the Cold War
 
Can you see a future with autonomous vehicles playing a vital role at sea in both military and civil applications?
Definitely.  Wherever a person can reasonably be removed in any operation, both military and civil, I am sure it will eventually be done.  In military operations it may be for protection and safety, however learning from the past we see these systems taking more roles, especially in areas where it has benefits in terms of cost reduction or simply just a job no one wants to do!