The Délégation Générale pour l'Armement (DGA), the French government's arms procurement office, has awarded a contract for an undisclosed amount to DCNS, ECA and Thales to study the use of unmanned underwater vehicles in mine countermeasures (MCM), DCNS said July 28.
Dubbed Espadon, French for swordfish, the study is expected to lead to deployment of a demonstrator around 2011, the shipbuilding company said in a statement.
"With many navies expected to renew their MCM systems over the coming decade, DCNS, Thales and ECA have put forward a joint solution using a type of naval drone known as an unmanned surface vehicle. USVs offer the key benefit of keeping minehunter crews out of harm's way," the company said.
Although the amount was below 50 million euros ($71 million), the technology study will prepare for a new generation of mine countermeasures, a Thales spokesman said. Details of the split of the contract were unavailable, the spokesman said.
The system would consist of a minehunter vessel, two USVs and autonomous underwater vehicles.
The concept involves the minehunter staying at a safe distance and deploying the unmanned surface vessel. The USV, which would be programmed to operate in minefields, would in turn deploy autonomous underwater vehicles. These carry sensors and robotic gear to detect and neutralize mines.
DCNS will be lead contractor and be responsible for the USV platform and interface with the mother ship.
Thales will work on the USV, MCM outfitting and sensor module, comprising an AUV and a towed sonar for mine detection, identification and location. Thales would also provide communications between the different elements.
ECA is responsible for design and development of the autonomous underwater vehicles, AUV launch and recovery and the USV remote control system.