Merré Shipyard has received a contract from French defense procurement agency, DGA (Direction Générale de l’Armement), to build eight diving support boats for the French Navy.
The vessels, called VSP (vedettes de soutien à la plongée, diving support boats) will be delivered to demining divers stationed in Toulon, Brest and Cherbourg, as well as the Saint Mandrier diving school with two boats per site. They will be used mainly for mine action in shallow depths.
This new contract was notified by the DGA on December 18, 2019. This order completes the renewal of naval mine and improvised explosive device capabilities provided for in France’s 2019-2025 military programming law. At the heart of this renewal, the SLAMF (future mine action system) program, led by the DGA, is developing an innovative concept of vessels and drone systems enabling the mine threats to be addressed while keeping seafarers at bay.
The detailed design of the vessels has already started and the construction of the first boat is expected to start in the second half of 2020, leading to the start of testing about a year later.
After the French Navy trials of the first ship, scheduled for 3 months in Toulon, Merré Shipyard will start the construction of the remaining seven ships which will all be delivered within approximately 3 years. The construction of these ships will occur at various sites of Merré shipyard’s parent company BMA group, in particular, the sites of Nort-sur-Erdre (Merré) and Brest (BMA Group’s CIB Shipyard).
The VSP vessels will be built in aluminum with an overall length of 26.5 m, a width of 7 m, a draft of 1.7 m and a displacement of 87 tonnes. They will be powered by two sets of shafts and propellers driven by diesel engines, to reach a maximum speed of 13 knots; electric motorization allows these ships prolonged and discreet navigation at very low speeds. The ships have all the equipment required to carry out the specific missions.
The eight VSPs will replace the nine intervention speedboats for demining divers (VIPD) admitted to active service in the 1990s. These VSPs will participate in the mine warfare function. They will complete the four base buildings for demining divers and the eleven tripartite minehunters, which will be renewed as part of the SLAMF program. Thanks to their reduced size and their shallow draft, the VSPs can be deployed in areas of shallow water depth that are not accessible to larger vessels.
Their main operational missions will concern research and intervention up to sixty meters deep with a team of sixteen divers, research by towed sonar up to a hundred meters deep, support for underwater work sites or expertise and intervention under the hulls of boats.