L'Express: Autonomous Underwater Vehicles invade the seas

Thursday, July 19 2018

Published on l'Express, July 2018

Read the PDF in French

In the civil domain, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) are multiplying. It is especially true for scientific or archaeological expeditions to cover large areas - the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (Ifremer) has, for example, instructed ECA Group to design an underwater robot capable of reaching a depth of 6,000 meters to map the Pacific Ocean floor;  for the offshore sector, where AUVs have been used for decades to find new fields of operation, but also to facilitate the inspection and maintenance of facilities such as pipelines or telecommunication cables.


"Man can hardly reach depths greater than 1,000 meters, while underwater vehicles are used daily in the oil field," said Guénaël Guillerme, CEO of ECA Group. Before stating: "For a long time, we had robots tele-operated via a cable but, for the latest five to ten years, as they become more autonomous, the term of drone is required."

But the "dronisation" of the seas will come first and foremost by the development of sophisticated tools for military applications.


The "world of silence" as Commander Cousteau described it is a universe where everything is listened to, scrutinized, scrutinized, as discreetly as possible. "The use of drones will be integrated into the missions that are incumbent on mine hunting, namely the defense of our coastline and our ports on the one hand and the ability to project on the other hand, to ensure freedom of movement of our units on a theater of maritime operations ", explains Captain Bertrand Dumoulin, the head of the Information and Public Relations Department of the Navy (Sirpa).

Even if the figures are difficult to confirm, great powers have modern arsenals: alone, China would have 50,000 to 100,000 mines of 30 different types! France, for its part, has recognized expertise in the field of mine action, particularly in terms of radar and sonar. Together with Britain, they are developing the futuristic Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM) program. Objective: to set up a system of drones to keep men away from danger zones to detect, identify and neutralize mines.

Specifically, the first component of the system is an underwater drone charged with exploring the funds. Developed by ECA Group and named "A27-M", it can be launched from a classic ship. "Totally autonomous, it is fast, precise, stable and can operate at great depth", Guénaël Guillerme details.

Once in the area, this support boat can launch a towed sonar (T-SAM), which, like the A27-M, will map the scene. Once reappeared on the surface, the towed sonar, which looks like a long torpedo with big mustaches (fins ensuring stability), will see its data recovered.


Read more:

ECA Group demonstrates capabilities of its AUV A27-M for long endurance Mine Counter Measure Operations

Underwater mine countermeasure for the future: ECA Group is set to develop autonomous underwater vehicles as part of the French-UK MMCM programme

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