The biggest threat to America's Navy over the past 60 years hasn't been China's rapidly modernizing military, North Korea's nuclear saber rattling or even Russia's arctic overtures -- it's been underwater mines. They've damaged 15 of our ships since 1950. Sure, you can disarm these explosive hazards manually but that means risking the lives of Navy seamen in an underwater Hurt Locker. Instead, the UK and France are teaming with European defense contractors Thales and BAE to develop a fully automated minesweeping system that keeps sailors out of harm's way.
The Thales-BAE Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM), due for preliminary testing in about two years, is actually more like a fleet. The system revolves around an unmanned surface vessel towing a Synthetic Aperture Sonar array to locate mines. This surface ship, upon finding a mine, will then deploy an autonomous underwater drone (like, say, the SeaFox UUV) which will then neutralize the threat, typically by affixing sand detonating an explosive charge to the side of the mine. Of course, these robotic vessels will still report to nearby humans. In fact, the entire system will deploy from a larger, manned naval vessel and maintain open communication and data lines throughout the course of the operation.
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