The contract was signed on 25 November by Exail (the newly formed company by iXblue and ECA Group) and the French defense procurement agency (DGA). The contract is for a duration of approximately two years and includes the academic and operational training of 12 crew.
According to a DGA press statement:
This contract, for a maximum amount of around 3.5 million euros, includes several sea outings from 2023. It is part of the exploratory capacity of the ministerial strategy for controlling the seabed. As part of this strategy, the French Navy has been conducting several campaigns since October 2022 to implement “deep sea” underwater drones. The objective is to have autonomous submarine systems capable of operating in great depths to ensure the first operational missions of mastering the seabed while waiting for a permanent capacity.
As highlighted in recent events this year (namely, the Nordstream sabotage), observing and monitoring what is happening on the seabed has become vital for protecting national interests. The French Ministry for Armed Forces unveiled at the beginning of the year its seabed warfare strategy. This lease contract follows on from an initial operational evaluation campaign of Exail’s A18D conducted last year by the French Navy and its Naval Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service (SHOM).
According to Exail, the A18D AUV is versatile and easy to use, thanks to its compact design and its launch & recovery system. Its multiple sensors enable operators to detect and identify objects, determine seabed forms and characteristics down to 3000 meters.