ECA Group press release
ECA Robotics, a French subsidiary of ECA Group, has recently signed a contract worth several hundred million euros. This contract comprises the outsourcing to its Belgian subsidiary ECA Robotics Belgium of the manufacturing and delivery of unmanned vehicles dedicated to the underwater mine counter measures as part of the renewal of the mine countermeasures capacity.
Belgium and the Netherlands have awarded the renewal programme to the consortium Belgium Naval & Robotics, set up by Naval Group and ECA Group. This programme consists of 12 new generation vessels (six for the Belgian Navy and six for the Royal Netherlands Navy) and containerized systems. It is the first programme that applies the stand-off concept by using a Toolbox. This Toolbox is comprised of several unmanned vehicles that operators can command and deploy from a safe distance in order to carry out autonomous mine clearance missions.
The contract that ECA Robotics France awards to ECA Robotics Belgium involves the manufacturing, supplying and delivery of the following products:
- The USV INSPECTOR 125-M: surface drone capable of deploying all of the Toolbox elements in a specific zone
- The USV INSPECTOR 125-S: surface drone able to tow a sweep system for mine clearance
- The sweep system which will be equipped with magnetic and acoustic modules
- The AUV A18-M: underwater drone integrating the synthetic aperture sonar UMISAS used for mine detection
- Towed sonar T18-M: sonar towed by the USV and which also detects mines
- MIDS system (Mine Identification and Disposal System) consisting of the SEASCAN MK2 and the K-STER C. These two components respectively ensure the identification and the clearance of the mines
- Transfer and integration of the UMISOFT software for the management of the mission and data analysis
- Supply of UAV V200 Skeldar aerial drones with integrated payloads (LiDAR, optronics pod) for the detection and identification of surface mines, and communication relay
- Acceptance tests and trials for the systems
- Programme management
The unmanned vehicles will be manufactured in a new, very modern plant to be built in Ostend, Belgium. Building will start early 2021 so that production can commence in 2022.
ECA Robotics Belgium will recruit about 70 people in Belgium to achieve the production for the contract that will take circa 10 years to complete. In addition, ECA Robotics Belgium will be able to perform maintenance on drones at the plant upon delivery of the first drones.
Belgian and Dutch Navies MCM Replacement Program
The Belgian Ministry of Defense officially notified the consortium Belgian Naval & Robotics (formed by Naval Group & ECA Group) on May 22, 2019, a contract to supply 12 motherships and associated equipment to the Belgian and Dutch Navies.
Naval Group mothership has one port and one starboard LARS located slightly aft of midship, close to the ship’s centre of gravity. Each LARS consists of a pivoting A-Frame davit with the USV, weighing up to 18t, housed in a floating cradle. It allows the simultaneous launch of two USVs with maximal safety. For the Belgian-Dutch mine countermeasure (MCM) program, conducted by Belgium Naval Robotics – a Naval Group and ECA Group consortium -, they will be used to operate two ECA’s Inspector 125 USV.
The Inspector 125 USV has a length of about 12 meters, a beam of about 4 meters and a full load weight of 18.1 tons. According to ECA Group, the Inspector 125 is designed to receive a wide range of payload with easy and quick reconfiguration capability. It can carry, deploy and recover the A18 mid-size AUV, the T18 LARS for seafloor survey or MCM detection operation or 2x SEASCAN + 6x K-STER C for MCM identification and neutralization operations. The Inspector 125 has an endurance of 40 hours, a maximum speed of 25 knots and an operational range of 12 nautical miles (from the mother-ship).
The mothership itself, designed by Naval Group, is 82 meters long with a displacement of 2,500 tons and a crew complement of 30 sailors (total accommodation for 63 people). It is fitted with a Bofors 40Mk4 40m main gun system.