Autonomous minehunter RNMB Apollo passes trials

An uncrewed mine-hunting vessel developed by Thales for the British and French navies has completed a ‘demanding series’ of ‘open water assurance trials’.  

Ewan Lebourdais/Thales

Run in December 2022 but only just announced, the trials featured Royal Navy Motor Boat (RNMB) Apollo, an Uncrewed Surface Vessel (USV) that can be remotely operated and which also has autonomous capabilities. The trials were part of the Anglo-French Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM) programme, which is delivering autonomous capability for both the Royal Navy and the Marine nationale (French Navy).

Apollo is equipped with a combination of different sensors, including radar, LIDAR (light detection and ranging) and electro-optical and infra-red cameras. These allowed the vessel’s position to be continuously relayed to the command and control centre over a secure communications network during the trials.

Thales MCube mission management software is used onshore to merge the sensor inputs into a single tactical picture for command and control. According to the company, the trials demonstrated that remotely controlled uncrewed vessels can be operated remotely by a shore-based team, while at the same time retaining awareness of its course and position utilising line of sight communications systems.

“As the first of their kind, these trials are a significant milestone in the path towards certification of autonomous maritime systems for operational use,” said Alex Cresswell, CEO and chairman of Thales UK.

“They represent one of the first important steps in gaining trust in uncrewed vessels in a complex programme. The trial is a critical remote operation stepping stone towards autonomous mine hunting.”

In service, these vessels will be capable of operating in national waters or being air-transported across the world to hunt for mines in danger zones or secure sea lines of communications. RNMB Apollo is one of the two pre-production USVs delivered to the Royal Navy and Marine nationale in December 2021 as part of the MMCM programme which is aiming to bring autonomous mine hunting capability to both fleets.

“We have a long tradition of supporting the Royal Navy and Marine nationale in mine warfare, surface ship and underwater operations and we are very proud to be working with them to bring these game-changing autonomous systems into operational service,” said Gwendoline Blandin-Roger, managing director of  underwater Systems, Thales.