ECA Robotics, a French subsidiary of ECA GROUP, has recently signed a contract worth several hundred million euros with its Belgian subsidiary ECA Robotics Belgium to outsource the manufacturing and delivery of unmanned vehicles in support of Belgian-Dutch minehunter program.
Belgium and the Netherlands have awarded the mine countermeasures capability renewal programme to the consortium Belgium Naval & Robotics, set up by France’s Naval Group and ECA GROUP. This programme consists of 12 new generation vessels (six for the Belgian Navy and six for the Royal Netherlands Navy) and containerized systems. It is the first programme that applies the stand-off concept by using a Toolbox. This Toolbox is comprised of several unmanned vehicles (UxV) that operators can command and deploy from a safe distance in order to carry out autonomous mine countermeasure missions.
The contract that ECA Robotics France awards to ECA Robotics Belgium involves the manufacturing, supplying and delivery of the following products:
+ The USV INSPECTOR 125-M unmanned surface vessel: a surface drone capable of deploying all of the Toolbox elements in a specific zone
+ The USV INSPECTOR 125-S: a surface drone able to tow a sweep system for mine clearance
+ The sweep system which will be equipped with magnetic and acoustic modules
+ The AUV A18-M autonomous underwater vehicle: an underwater drone integrating the synthetic aperture sonar UMISAS used for mine detection
+ Towed sonar T18-M: sonar towed by the USV and which also detects mines
+ MIDS system (Mine Identification and Disposal System) consisting of the SEASCAN MK2 and the K-STER C. These two components respectively ensure the identification and the clearance of the mines
+ Transfer and integration of the UMISOFT software for the management of the mission and data analysis
+ Supply of UMS Skeldar V200 VTOL unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with integrated payloads (LiDAR, optronics pod) for the detection and identification of surface mines, and communication relay
+ Acceptance tests and trials for the systems
+ Programme management
The unmanned vehicles will be manufactured in a new, very modern plant to be built in Ostend, Belgium. Building will start early 2021 so that production can commence in 2022.
ECA Robotics Belgium said in a statement that it will recruit about 70 people in Belgium to achieve the production for the contract that will take around 10 years to complete. In addition, ECA Robotics Belgium will be able to perform maintenance on drones at the plant upon delivery of the first drones.
The new MCM vessels will replace RNLN’s six Tripartite-class mine warfare vessels known in its service as Alkmaar-class minehunters. In case of the Belgian Navy, the newly acquired vessels will not only replace the six Tripartite-class minehunters but also the command and logistical support ship, Godetia (A960).
The Belgian Navy expects delivery of its first vessel in 2024 while the RNLN is scheduled to receive its new MCM vessel no earlier than 2025.