ECA Group unveils AUV A18-M for underwater mine warfare


France’s ECA Group has unveiled its new generation mid-size AUV A18-M for underwater mine warfare. 

Built for “efficient mine detection and classification in all water depths up to 300m,” AUV A18-M is specifically designed to operate in the close vicinity of the smartest mines without triggering them, according to ECA Group.

Regarding AUV A18-M, ECA Group says that “with its compactness and its unequaled high-quality imagery this new generation underwater drone becomes the reference in the category of autonomous underwater vehicles dedicated to mine hunting.”

“This mid-size AUV is the top trade-off between, size, weight and long endurance,” says Léonie Delacou, AUVs product manager at ECA Group. “Its payload capacity makes it able to host high performance sonar, such as synthetic aperture sonar (SAS) providing unprecedented detection and classification performances.”

AUV A18-M is easy to deploy even from small naval platforms, such as new generation USVs. It has a high level of stability, and it is less affected by waves than a surface ship or a towed system, allowing it to obtain a very high image quality.

AUV A18-M can also adapt its operating depth to the environmental conditions, which allows it to avoid blind zones due to sound speed stratification.

Thanks to advanced embedded processing, sonar image raw data can be processed in real time, and a list of contacts can be extracted, which are relayed back to the command center using an advanced communication network, with a USV or a UAS acting as the gateway. These contacts are then reviewed by sonar operators onboard a mothership or onshore, in order to launch identification and disposal.

ECA Group says that AUV A18-M “is able also to detect any kind of hazard,” such as improvised explosive devices (IED) and pollutants. It can also provide very accurate maps of the seabed which allow the environment to be assessed with high fidelity.

AUV A18-M integrates the Synthetic Aperture Sonar (SAS) and has a very high area coverage rate, “of the order of 2km2/hr which represents between 5 and 10 times more than that of a conventional side-looking sonar on an AUV.” This optimal configuration allows for coverage of very large areas, “of the order 20-40km2 (depending on transit distance) in a fraction of the time of legacy assets, with far superior image quality, and with reduced risk to personnel.”

“The performance gain is due to the very high resolution in both range and cross-range offered by a wideband SAS, of the order of 2.5cm x 3cm constant up to the edges of the swath, which is unachievable, at any practical range, by any other type of sonar on any type of platform,” says Dr. Marc Pinto Program Director for Systems of Robots and sonar expert at ECA Group.

“With the only possible exception of buried or concealed mines, all known mines can be detected and high quality classification cues can be extracted from the highlight and shadow structure.”

AUV A18-M can be integrated within a larger unmanned system, such as ECA Group’s Unmanned Maritime Integrated System (UMIS), and benefit from common interfaces, communication network as well as data processing system.

“The A18-M joins now the ECA Group MCM robotic ‘team’ which is composed of the Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) INSPECTOR MK2, the identification ROV SEASCAN and the expendable mine disposal vehicle, also called minekiller, the K-STER C,” says Daniel Scourzic, UMIS Marketing Manager at ECA Group.

“All of these robots can work together in order to accomplish tasks simultaneously or for INSPECTOR USV, to be used a communication relay to send gathered a preprocessed information (ATD – automatic target detection) to a command and control system on a mothership or on shore to deploy the identification and disposal vehicle. This is the first comprehensive unmanned maritime system that includes all types of naval robots: USVs, AUVs, ROVs and EMDS.”

ECA Group adds that “operating in parallel several unmanned devices, the UMIS system allows the user to have higher efficiency and clearance rate, enabling to achieve typical operations in at least 3 times shorter period compared to conventional systems without any risks for the ship and the operators who stay out of danger zones.”