French defense firm Naval Group laid the keel for the first of 12 mine countermeasure vessels intended for the Belgian Navy on Tuesday.
Kership, a joint venture between Naval Group and Piriou, is building the vessels in the French town of Concarneau as part of the Belgian-Dutch rMCM program.
The 12 vessels, accompanied by around a hundred drones, will be built for the Belgian and Dutch navies.
‘First Vessels of Their Kind’
According to Naval Group, they are building the first mine warfare vessels to be equipped with “a combination of surface, underwater, and aerial drones.”
The vessels will also be equipped with robotic systems to detect, classify, and neutralize underwater mines. The robots would be built to “withstand underwater explosions and have very low acoustic, electrical and magnetic signatures,” Naval Group added.
Belgian Chief of Defence Admiral Michel Hofman explained the importance of the project: “In the 2015 NATO Maritime Operations study, the main shortcomings of shipborne systems were slow operation, poor mine discrimination, inability to detect buried and drifting mines, self-defense and the ability of platforms to easily project globally. It was already clear that the existing conventional platforms could not meet all these challenges. Therefore, we were looking for a reliable partner to carry out this small revolution in mine warfare.”
The 82.6 m (271 ft) by 17 m (56 ft) vessel has a displacement of 2,800 tons and is staffed by a crew of 63. It has a maximum speed of 15.3 knots with a range of 3,500 nautical miles (6,482 km or 4,028 miles).
Naval Group is responsible for ship design, overall integration, and testing. The company is also responsible for commissioning the ship’s mission system (combat system and mine countermeasures system). ECA Group is responsible for the supply of 100 underwater, surface, and aerial drones entirely dedicated to Mine Countermeasures operations.