The Latvian Navy current fleet of minehunters features a hull sonar for mine detection and classification. Once the object is detected, sailors send an ECA Group’s PAP AUV for the destruction phase. The navy’s goal is now to modernize the ship capability by replacing the hull sonar with up-to-date and reliable unmanned systems. Facing aging systems, Latvia launched an RFI in 2017, followed by a tender in May 2019. As far as we know, five companies are expected to bid: ECA Group, Atlas Elektronik, Leonardo, Thales and ID Robotica SA. Spanish shipyard Navantia show interest for a while before retracting. Selection of the preferred bidder is expected to happen by year end.
The Latvian Navy plans to replace the ageing PAP drones by an AUV fitted with a synthetic aperture sonar (SAS) that would extend the existing operational radius of the A9-M AUV from 100 to 500 meters. Instead of having a hull sonar that would be impacted by the ship movements, the sea state, etc., the Latvian Navy would deploy a system that will be deployed near the sea floor, within the same conditions than the mine, greatly increases the resolution on control screens.
New simulations systems and control stations will also be purchased depending on the selected system, theoretically decreasing the number of consoles needed for a same mission. Except the mine hunting capability, the Latvian Navy is also planning to modernize the vessels’ C2 and navigation systems, such as the navigation softwares and the autopilot.
From the Latvian side, this program is just seen as an interim solution before considering the replacement of the fleet in the 2030s. According to a Navy officer, one of the scenarios would be a joint purchase with the Estonian and Lithuanian navies. Besides Latvia, the Estonian Navy in July 2018 announced a modernization plan for its three Sundown-Class minehunters worth around 30M€