Engineers from Thales, both in Cheadle and nationwide, have worked alongside the Royal Navy and French military to develop the world’s first autonomous mine-hunter technologies.
Following successful trials detecting over 140 mines across miles of open sea and in harsh weather conditions, bringing this hi-tech capability to the Royal Navy will create 215 jobs at the firm and in its UK supply chain, including 30 at Thales’ Cheadle site.
Staff from Thales UK’s Cheadle site have been instrumental in developing the new technology: software architecture and development to implement this world class and cutting edge autonomy for a surface vessel was carried out by engineers in the Stockport team.
The project has also allowed Thales UK to recruit a number of apprentices in Stockport who have been able to have involvement in this work. It is hoped that having worked a multi-national environment on this world-first defence programme, those apprentices will go on to be the next generation of world class professional software engineers.
One of these apprentices on secondment at one of the firm’s sister sites in France to continue development of the technology and for their own professional development.
The firm has now secured a £184 million contract for the Maritime Mine Counter Measure (MMCM) programme, a collaboration between the French and British defence departments, to combat sea mines worldwide. In Autumn 2020, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:
This £184 million contract offers a huge leap forward for the Royal Navy’s autonomous capabilities in the detection and defeat of sea mines. As the Armed Forces puts modernisation at the heart of its future strategy, these systems will protect vital shipping lanes, commercial traffic and our brave personnel from these deadly devices.”
The Royal Navy has been a world leader in mine countermeasures since beginning the removal of ordnance left over from World War Two. . In recent times, the UK has been involved in minehunting operations across the world, including the Gulf and off Libya. The new contract with Thales will see three sets of mine hunting equipment be procured, consisting of:
- Autonomous vessel – a boat controlled and operated from a “mother ship” or base.
- Towed sonar – a sonar which is towed/dragged behind the vessel to locate ordnance.
- Mine neutralisation system – a remotely operated underwater vehicle which is used once the mine is located to neutralise the device and prevent its detonation.
First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin said:
I am enormously excited by the potential of the future minehunting capability. This will allow us to deliver minehunting more effectively, more efficiently and more safely, and to integrate even more closely with our French counterparts in this important area.”
Alex Cresswell, CEO of Thales in the UK, said:
Technologies such as autonomy and AI are transforming societies and warfare at an exponential rate. This contract represents the next generation for Anglo-French minehunting, delivering a world leading capability that will keep our armed forces safe and create and secure vital jobs across the UK and our supply chain. We look forward to delivering the next stage in this exciting hi-tech programme.”
The first equipment sets are due to be delivered in late 2022. It will commence operational evaluation prior to entering service with the Royal Navy.