Northrop Grumman Australia is to offer its AQS-24B airborne and surface minehunting systems to meet the requirements of Royal Australian Navy under its SEA 1905 Maritime Mine Countermeasures (MCM) Program.

The program was announced in April 2019 to replace the RAN’s remaining four Huon-class minehunter coastal (MHC) ships from the mid-2020s onwards for A$1 billion. Two new ships will be based on the new Arafura-class offshore patrol vessel and deploy four modular unmanned autonomous systems that will be used as the minehunting capability.

Eugene Cumm, director of international mine warfare programs at Northrop Grumman told MON that the AQS-24B system can be fitted onto any Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) that would be deployed on the ships.

He said the system was tested during the Autonomous Warrior 2018 exercise in Jervis Bay against real targets. It deploys by a cable from the USV and employs a combination of a high speed synthetic aperture sonar and a laser line scanner for the real-time detection, localisation and classification of moored mines at high area coverage rates moving at 18kt.

The company announced on 7th October that the AQS-24 system had successfully operated at depths of 120m, double the existing 60m range giving it a Deep Tow capability. This is planned to be integrated into the US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship MCM module.

Cumm said that Northrop Grumman has engaged Australian suppliers: Marand, Ferra, Quickstep, AW Bell and Electrotech to ensure that if the AQS-24B is selected the components of the system can be manufactured locally with full assembly, integration and testing.

He added that more rigorous testing with a more detailed assessment is planned in partnership with the RAN to measure performance in challenging environments with different water types and turbidity. Gate One approval is expected in 3Q2020 with module deliveries expected by 2023.

SEA 1905 replaces SEA 1179 Phase 1, which had originally intended to provide a service life extension to the Huon-class MHC but this was scrapped in favour of moving towards using unmanned and autonomous solutions for its MCM capability.

The AQS-24B can work completely autonomously following a pre-planned track to scan for mines deployed by cable from the back of a USV. This keeps the MCM vessel out of harms way up to 10-14 miles from the danger zone. (Northrop Grumman)

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