Military tech

Unmanned ships can find and dispose of mines quickly

Above: The unmanned surface vessel, now on trial, can be controlled remotely by two operators. Right: Fitted with a towed synthetic aperture sonar system, the USV can be configured for coastal patrols in future.
Fitted with a towed synthetic aperture sonar system, the USV can be configured for coastal patrols in future.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Above: The unmanned surface vessel, now on trial, can be controlled remotely by two operators. Right: Fitted with a towed synthetic aperture sonar system, the USV can be configured for coastal patrols in future.
The unmanned surface vessel, now on trial, can be controlled remotely by two operators.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Drones, autonomous vessels and unmanned watch towers are some of the technology that the Singapore Armed Forces has invested in to tackle the manpower crunch and improve operational efficiency. This was shared by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen during the debate last Friday on his ministry's spending plans for the year. The Straits Times looks at some of these innovations, one each from the air force, army and navy.

The process of detecting and disposing of sea mines can be significantly faster in the future when a new unmanned ship, currently on trial, goes into operation.

The unmanned surface vessel (USV) takes about six minutes to deploy sonar equipment, with two operators controlling the ship remotely. It currently takes the Bedok-class Mine Countermeasure Vessel (MCMV), which is operated by a crew of about 30 men, about 45 minutes to perform the same task.

With a modular design, the USV carries a towed synthetic aperture sonar system and can also be configured to carry out coastal patrols in the future.

The Mine Countermeasure USV - which was designed and built locally and is now in the final stages of a year-long trial - has an automatic launch and recovery system.

The Republic of Singapore Navy currently has two of these USVs, each weighing 30 tonnes, measuring about 16m in length and capable of travelling at a speed of more than 25 knots.

Designed for high speed and manoeuvrability, the USVs can also navigate safely and operate autonomously when close to other vessels, as it is equipped with a built-in collision detection and avoidance system.

Such patrols are currently done by 30-man patrol vessels or 23-man Littoral Mission Vessels. A coastal patrol USV can be operated remotely by just two men.

Major Lim Yoong Seet, 38, the officer commanding for Unmanned Underwater Systems, said the process of detection and disposal of mines can now be more seamless, as a USV fitted with a disposal system can take over the task of disposal right after, while a single MCMV has a recovery downtime.

"Once the MCM USV is done with detecting and classifying mines, it can seamlessly hand over the information to the USV with the mine disposal system for mine identification and neutralisation," he added.

Military Expert 2 Briane Vivaegananthan, 36, a USV payload supervisor whose job includes maintaining and operating the USVs, said: "In terms of operational effectiveness, we can meet the objectives in a much faster way. With the current USV, we can hit a maximum speed of more than 25 knots, compared with the MCMV, which was about 15 knots. That's almost two times the speed."

Other than the USVs, the navy is also testing a Smart Base Access project that will reduce the number of security personnel required and could generate savings of $160,000 per year at Changi Naval Base. A trial for this project started last month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2018, with the headline 'Unmanned ships can find and dispose of mines quickly'. Print Edition | Subscribe