The Belgian and Dutch navies will start replacing their ageing fleet of MCM vessels from 2023. The Tripartite class vessels were built in the 1980s under a trilateral program between Belgium, Netherlands and France. Under the MCM program, the two navies intend to purchase 12 new vessels, 10 “tool boxes” and an initial 10 years support contract. Each tool box will be composed of an array of remotely operated and autonomous platforms, with two unmanned surface vessels (USV), one autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), one unmanned air vehicle (UAV) and, depending on the countries request, one remotely operated vehicle (ROV). Three naval defense joint ventures (called « combinations » by the Belgian military) are competing in this tender: SeaNavalSolutions (Thales, EDR, Chantiers de l’Atlantique and Socarenam); Belgium Naval & Robotics (Naval Group and ECA) and Damen Imtech Belgium.
By launching their MCM program in 2018, Belgium and the Netherlands intend to shape and adopt the next generation of mine warfare by linking a mother-ship to autonomous platforms via a system that will make them interact. A strategic program, the MCM, lead by Belgium, is called to serve as benchmark for every modern navy that would like to modernize its mine countermeasure vessels or which intend to acquire a new capability.
The actual MCM Vessels operated by Belgium and the Netherlands were integrated by ATLAS ELEKTRONIK and are equipped with the combat proven ATLAS MCM Command and Control System (Integrated Mine Countermeasures System – IMCMS).
ATLAS is offering its next generation MCM toolbox, containing IMCMS, ARCIMS USV, SeaCat AUV, Towed SAS , influenced mine sweeping equipment capability, a vertical take-off and landing drone, mine avoidance sonar as well as the related system integration.
The offered system is not just a collection of bits and pieces build up out of proposals of different suppliers, it is a proven, integrated state of the art system and really at the 1.0 level. ATLAS’ offer includes the sophisticated integration into the Combat Management System of the vessels and next to that being able to work on a stand-alone basis.
ATLAS would be proud to work with the Belgium Navy with respect to the continuous development amongst the procured MCM Toolbox and improve their logistics support. Such a cooperation would minimize costs and enable the involvement of the Belgium industry to a maximum.
Next to the life cycle support capabilities of the Belgium industry, ATLAS’ offer is leveraging the local Belgian industry to build the MCM Toolbox 1.0 and in the future the following generations of MCM toolboxes. Already the MCM Toolbox 2.0 could be a common European MCM toolbox aligning European navies. Participating on this common MCM Toolbox will be a big advantage for Belgium industry and all participating navies.
The proposed Center for Maritime Autonomy (CMA) lays out the vision of Atlas Elektronik on how the Belgian Navy could succeed in the upcoming new area of naval force development. The Belgian Navy is the ideal partner to launch the CMA because it is agile and open towards new concepts such as the offered MCM toolbox. In adopting a holistic approach to naval innovation, the CMA will foster the Belgian Navy role as a thought and practice leader on maritime autonomy in the 21st century. CMAs activities will support the MCM community as early adopters of unmanned technology and will expand to other warfare areas such as ASW, harbor and critical infrastructure protection an. Furthermore, opening up the CMA for cooperation with partners from other European nations (and beyond) strengthens Belgium’s strong European vocation and will be instrumental in shaping European thinking on future naval operations with unmanned systems.
The CMA is conceptualized as a public private partnership (PPP) between Belgium, Beglian industry, Belgian academia and research institutions and ATLAS ELEKTRONIK. Consequently the CMA will be a Belgian institution in Belgium for Belgium.
Therefore, the CMA will utilize a comprehensive partnership program to make maximum use of the technology expertise of Belgium’s research and industrial ecosystem. In doing so, the CMA will be a major hub within this ecosystem for applied research and development focusing on the naval and maritime application of unmanned systems. In addition, the Center will also become a major gateway for Belgium’s partners to connect with international stakeholders and vice versa. The CMA will open up avenues to a broad set of partners:
- In the international defense arena, the CMA could join forces with different Centers of Excellence that have been established e.g. within NATO, the NATO Center for Maritime Research & Experimentation (CMRE) or the European Defense Agency.
- The Belgian defense industry offers opportunities for cooperation through two key clusters – the Skywin aerospace cluster of Wallonia and the Flemish Space Industry.
- Besides the defense industry, Belgium’s regions offer a vibrant cluster community. For example, the CMA could tap into the Blue Cluster of Flanders (marine industry), the Belgian Offshore Platform in Brussels, or the InfoPole Cluster of Wallonia (information and communication technology, ICT).
- Belgium’s startup community is equally vibrant offering opportunities for cooperation in technology fields like robotics and unmanned systems, artificial intelligence, augmented/virtual reality, cybersecurity, as well as data analytics.
- In all of these technology fields Belgium’s regions also offer most interesting research institutes, such as the two high-performance computing institutions Canaero (Wallonia) and the Vlaams Supercomputer Centrum, the IdLab at the Ghent University with a focus on distributed intelligence and machine learning as well as several research institutes working on additive manufacturing, materials technology and energy management.
The CMA will support the Belgian Navy’s position as lead nation in autonomous naval MCM. The CMA also encompasses ATLAS’ ambition to be part of the next generation of naval warfare systems for the decades to come. As neighbors within the European Union ATLAS will be a reliable partner even in times of changing global security environments. Due to ATLAS‘ experience as MCM capability provider and our broad customer base our mission is to develop the next generation of MCM systems.
The direct Impact by just considering the BE NL future MCM program and closely related European MCM programs with ATLAS involvement in will lead to additional work for the Belgian industry and thus creating hundreds of permanent jobs.
This involvement will also include the build, outfitting an integration of the ARCIMS autonomous surface vessels, the related launch and recovery systems, building and integration of combat management consoles and the transfer of technology for the through life support.
If the effects on other business in the field of autonomous systems besides MCM (e.g. Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW), security of critical infrastructure, offshore industry) and secondary effects based on the knowledge built up around the center for maritime autonomy are taken into account a much higher and sustainable impact on the Belgian industry will occur.