Thursday, August 27, 2020

Indian Navy Sets Sights On Drones That Can Blow Up Underwater Mines

The Indian Navy has, yet again, set the ball rolling towards acquiring a first of it’s kind capability, in a doubly quick time. A few days ago, it’s Directorate Of Special Ops and Diving [DSOD] floated a Request For Information [RFI] for, what it termed as, Portable Underwater Vehicle [PUV] Explosive Ordnance Disposal [EOD]. Remotely Piloted Vehicle [RPV] or Underwater Drone, perhaps, in mango lingo.

Portable Underwater Vehicle - PUV - Explosive Ordnance Disposal - EOD - Indian Navy - RFI - 01As per the document released, the remotely-controlled system would surveil the waters to Detect, Identify & Classify [DIC] any laid Mines or other explosives, of size greater than 0.5 sq. m cs area. Upon positive identification, the PUV EOD would fire shaped charges, to detonate them before they can cause intended harm.

The Navy seeks for 10 such stand-off Mine Counter-Measure [MCM] systems to add to inventory. The 2-man portable system, weighing up to 90 Kg, which operators could keep onboard a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat [RHIB], would operate in waters between 5-75 m of depth. Integrated Sonar & Visual camera would perform Navigation & DIC operations. Manoeuvring them would include a combination of hands-on operator control, plus automated waypoint navigation, guided by either Acoustic Positioning [USBL, IUSBL] or Satellite-based solutions like GPS.

Portable Underwater Vehicle - PUV - Explosive Ordnance Disposal - EOD - Indian Navy - Wireless - 01
Implementing Control redundancy would involve having a secondary Command Team console located up to a distance of 3 km from area of operation. Upon positive identification of threat, the underwater Drone would would affix a shaped charge, weighing around 4.5 Kg, with the help of it’s Actuator Arm & trigger a premature explosion, neutralising it.

The PUV EOD could either be a wired or wireless system. In the first case, then, the Secondary Controller would need the Primary Controller to relay it’s signal to the Mine Detector, while in the second case, it can independently control the underwater Drone from it’s Station.

The RFI reflects an urgency in induction. Responders have time only till October 2020, unlike some of the other recent RFIs. This is borne out of the fact that number of dedicated Mine-clearing vessels, currently, in the entire Indian Navy is Brahmagupta’s invention. The last of India’s Minesweeper, the 70s Soviet Vintage Pondicherry-class, INS Kozhikode [M71], the Navy decommissioned in 2019.

Towards remedying this critical vulnerability, it has expressed a total requirement of 24 Ships. It has been exploring & pursuing numerous options, including a, now dead in the water, proposal to build 8 Mine Counter-Measures Vessels [MCMV], via a joint collaboration between the Goa Shipyard Ltd. [GSL] & Korean Kangnam Corp. The Russians have also pitched in with their proposal to locally assemble it’s Project 12701 Alexandrit-E Minesweepers in India. Issues regarding price & sharing of IPR have stonewalled all progress. Choices galore, decision not in the fore.

Pondicherry-Class Minesweeper - INS Kozhikode - M71 - Indian Navy - 01

Interim measure adopted includes retrofitting conventional vessels with the Thales-supplied Mine Counter-measure Clip-on Influence Sweep [CLOIS]. That deal, India finalised in 2019.

This PUV EOD plan, too, is a Redux of a similar intent the Navy expressed sometime back. The Circle of life. The Navy has enquired about option for Transfer of Technology [ToT] & Transfer of Production [ToP]. Unlikely to materialise with a 10 system purchase.

One can go through the complete RFI on the Navy’s Website [archive].

Upon eventual buy, these underwater Unmanned systems would be the first such Indian asset capable of neutralising explosives with explosives. Current sanitisation SOP include deployment of Minesweeper Vessels that detect & neutralise the Mines by mimicking the magnetic or acoustic signature that would trigger the Mine laid. Such capability makes it possible to cover a wider sweep of area during sanitisation. However, if the repository does not hold that signature, neutralisation can not be effected. Physically cutting the cables holding down the Mines is another method Minesweepers adopt.

Pinguin B3 MCM ROV - German Navy - 03

The solution the RFI seeks, OTOH, would target individual Mines, one at a time. The Atlas Elektronik-developed SeaFox C in service with the British Navy is one such comparable solution. The German Navy has onboard it’s vessels the Pinguin B3 ROV system performing similar, albeit more capable, role, operating off it’s Frankenthal-Class Minesweeper [Type 332] Warships.

A much-needed systems, whose time in the Indian Navy should have come years ago.


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