Exail, a specialist in underwater drone systems, has signed a contract with the DGA – Direction générale de l’armement (French defence procurement agency) – for the rental of an A18D AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle) for the French Navy. The contract is expected to last approximately two years and includes academic and operational training for 12 sailors.

The A18D is designed to perform missions at depths of up to 3,000m for mapping, sonar imaging and high-resolution inspection of pipelines and cables. Capable of carrying out its missions in total autonomy for 24 hours, it can reach a speed of 6 knots and carry out up to 40 km² of imaging per mission. The French Navy will use this autonomous multi-sensor vehicle to conduct experimentations with a view to defining its future needs, with the DGA’s technical support, as part of the French Ministry for Armed Forces’ strategy to understand and monitor seabeds.

The A18D AUV and its on-board sensors will allow the French Navy to:

  • Detect and identify objects thanks to a high resolution Synthetic Aperture Sonar (SAS);
  • Chart the form of the seabed using a multi-beam echo sounder (MBES) bathymetric sonar, and;
  • Characterise the nature of the seabed thanks to a sub-bottom profiler (SBP) sonar and video camera.

The AUV can be embarked on several types of ship. The AUV, which is very versatile and easy to install given its compact design, will be delivered with a software suite to manage missions, and recover and analyse the data obtained. A command-control container will also be installed on board the mother ship, providing operators with a dedicated and sheltered space from which to command and control the drone. Finally, the GAPS portable USBL system produced by Exail will enable extremely accurate positioning of the recorded data even at a depth of 3,000m.

Support is an essential aspect of this turnkey delivery; the theoretical and operational training provided by Exail’s experts will make crews capable in the deployment and operation of the AUV, as well as in the recovery and processing/post-processing of the data obtained.

Observing and monitoring what is happening in the deep ocean has become a real necessity to ensure the protection of national interests. This is the why the Ministry for Armed Forces unveiled its seabed strategy last February. It is within this framework that the contract has been awarded. It follows on from an initial operational evaluation campaign of Exail’s A18D conducted last year by the French Navy and the Naval Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service (SHOM).

Dominique Giannoni, CEO of Exail, is delighted with this contract. “We are proud to participate in this seabed program and to put all of Exail’s technology and the know-how of our teams at the service of France’s ambitions in this area of sovereignty,” he said.

Exail has designed and developed an autonomous underwater drone, Ulyx, for the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (IFREMER), which can explore the seabed at depths of up to 6000m. The Ulyx is currently in the qualification phase and has already reached a depth of 4500m. Exail, a leading reference in the field of underwater robotics for over 40 years, offers operational and efficient solutions to meet the needs and ambitions of France in what is an area of sovereignty – the seabed.

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