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Thales and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) have begun the second phase of development of a dual-frequency sonar demonstrator for mine countermeasures onboard autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV). The project – the objective of which is to develop an improved autonomous mine countermeasures system capable of detecting, classifying and localising all types of mines – falls within the framework of the bilateral Franco-Japanese defence agreement and will further cement the existing partnership between MHI and Thales.

While mines are a ubiquitous threat, dealing with them effectively is vital to guaranteeing maritime access and keeping key trade routes open — particularly for nations with valuable assets or ports featuring high volume commercial traffic. In response to the growing threat posed by bottom-laid, semi- or fully-buried mines in coastal areas, the two nations have decided to cooperate in order to study the performances of innovative dual-frequency sonar technology, engaging Thales and MHI to exercise their experience and capabilities in pursuit of a joint objective.

Thales will provide expertise in sonar processing, as well as its latest generation HF synthetic aperture sonar (SAR) – SAMDIS – with multi-aspect capability, while MHI will provide its LF SAR and the OZZ-5 AUV. The smart integration of the high and low frequency sonars, coupled with an automatic detection and classification function, will offer capability and performance enhancements in a single solution and synergies for each sonar’s processing and imaging. The net result will be a unique autonomous mine countermeasures (MCM) system, capable of detecting, classifying and localising all types of mines, from fully buried to ground mines.

The agreement kicks off a five-year design and development project, and will include at-sea experiments in Japan and France. It is the result of years of long cooperative efforts between the companies and their respective governments to jointly develop a solution that satisfies the requirements of both navies and ensures the two nations remain at the forefront of innovation in unmanned MCM systems.

In Japan, Thales is focused on building long-term sustainable partnerships with our key stakeholders. This extended partnership with MHI affirms our commitment to the country and to deepening bilateral ties between France and Japan. I am confident that our technologies and close collaboration can deliver unique and innovative solutions that will strengthen the capabilities of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force as they build local expertise for the future,” commented Cyrille Dupont, President and CEO, Thales Japan.

The OZZ-5 AUV will host the dual-frequency mine-hunting sonar demonstrator. (Image via Thales)

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