Royal Navy Accepts Mine Countermeasures ‘Mothership’ With Surface, Underwater Drones

The UK Royal Navy has received a Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) ship that will host unmanned surface and underwater systems to secure British waters against mine threats.

Named RFA Stirling Castle, the vessel is part of the Defence Equipment and Support’s (DE&S) Mine Hunting Capability program which seeks to adopt modern autonomous solutions into the navy’s mine countermeasures units.

The platform will employ “innovative” technologies to localize, identify, and defeat mines and other sub-surface explosives in addition to critical data gathering and analysis tasks.

Furthermore, the ship will have mechanisms to prepare, store, and launch drones and boats for mine warfare and hydrographic survey missions.

Stirling Castle will leverage a remote command center that can be installed onboard to assist the vessel in command and control of autonomous systems.

The RFA Stirling Castle

The 6,000-tonne (6,600-ton) ship originally sailed as an offshore oil rig support system called MV Island Crown.

DE&S procured the vessel in 2023 to become the first reconfigured RFA system for minehunting deployments. It underwent conversion in Devonport, Plymouth, the same year.

Stirling Castle is operated by 27 personnel and carries 15 minehunting specialists. It can accommodate up to 100 additional sailors depending on mission requirements.

“I was delighted to be there to see RFA Stirling Castle officially complete her award-winning acquisition and transformation journey from a commercial vessel to her new role as mine counter-measures mothership,” RFA Stirling Castle Procurement Lead Gareth Morris said.

“Her future with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary will continue to evolve with innovative capabilities as she joins the Royal Navy fleet, defending the UK and its surrounding waters.”

Trials, Deployment This Year

According to the DE&S, the Royal Navy will now begin testing the Stirling Castle’s maritime autonomous systems to meet its expected deployment date later this year.

The DE&S plans to acquire up to three more RFA ships in the mid-2020s for the Mine Hunting Capability program.

“The coming year will see a large increase in volume and variety of equipment available to Royal Navy mission teams,” DE&S Mine Hunting Capability Team Leader Andy Lapsley stated.

“Feedback from these trials will help to shape the next generation of maritime capability in Defence.”

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