(Adds comments from Captain Nurettin Sevi  (Ret.), aerospace and defence analyst at GlobalData.)

The ECA Group has been awarded a procurement contract to supply the UAV SKELDAR V-200 as part of the naval mine countermeasures capability replacement programme led by Belgium Naval & Robotics, a consortium including Naval Group and ECA Group, which will supply 12 mine hunters equipped with the drone system Toolbox to the Belgian and Royal Netherlands navies. Working across 12 new-generation ships (six each for the Belgian and Royal Netherlands Navies), this contract is the first to materialise the stand-off concept by using a Toolbox – a system composed of a variety of drones to be deployed by operators in order to fulfil autonomous mine clearance missions at sea.

The UAV SKELDAR V-200 is an integrated part of the Toolbox, which will also consist of surface drones USV INSPECTOR125, underwater drones AUV A18-M, towed sonars T18 for mine detection, alongside the MIDS system (Mine Identification and Disposal System) for mine identification and neutralisation, SEASCAN and K-STER. Selected also by the German and Canadian navies, the SKELDAR V-200 provides navies with an embedded “eye in the sky” intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability to enhance its capacity to perform primary and secondary missions. For the contract with ECA Group, serial deliveries of the UAV SKELDAR V-200 are expected to start in 2023.

“We are very pleased to announce our choice of UMS SKELDAR as a partner to join this first world’s navies program based on autonomous technologies. Together with Naval Group, we believe that strong partnerships and close cooperation are key to the success of this project,” said Jean-Louis Sambarino, programme director of ECA Group.

Speaking of this latest NATO navy contract win, Axel Cavalli-Björkman, CEO of UMS SKELDAR, said “this is a significant contract win for us and confirms our market-leading capabilities within the maritime sector. The SKELDAR V-200 was conceived as a maritime platform and we have continued a program of enhancements including technical, sensor and flight endurance along with improvements of our superior heavy fuel engine.”

“Sea mines are very cost-effective, easy to deploy and becoming more sophisticated and highly deadly,” said Captain Nurettin Sevi  (Ret.), an aerospace and defence analyst at GlobalData. “Even though some sea mines are very simple, they remain an ever-present threat to naval operations and commercial shipping. In order to mitigate or sweep away their impact on the maritime domain and keep manned platforms away from the mine danger area, modern navies have begun to use maritime unmanned vehicles as a Mine Countermeasure package. This package consists of Autonomous Unmanned Vehicle (AUV), Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) and Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV). With developing laser  mine detection systems, UAVs can be the key element of the package to detect mines on the sea surface and shallow sea bottom.

“With their modular structures and increasing payload capabilities, maritime unmanned  vehicles provide strategic and operational advantages to navies by reducing the cost and human risk significantly in mine countermeasure and anti-submarine operations, as well as by extending the reach of information, surveillance and reconnaissance collection. The utilization of unmanned and autonomous vehicles in MCM operations can be more flexible than in other combat operations, since the underwater is generally free from non-combatants and the target is a sea mine, which limits ethical concerns,” Sevi said. “Moreover, low speed and limited capability of underwater communication systems make the exploitation of autonomous and unmanned systems arguably more necessary in this domain than many others.”

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