IMT develops underwater beacon detection system


Armscor division Institute of Maritime Technology (IMT) has designed and developed an underwater locator beacon detection system in collaboration with the South African Navy to detect cockpit voice and flight data recorders on crashed or ditched aircraft.

The underwater locator beacon (ULB) has been fitted to an unmanned surface vessel (USV), which was fitted with two hydrophones and tested successfully in the IMT’s test tank in 2017. The hydrophones will be increased from two to three to facilitate direction finding a beacon’s pulse with towed sea trials scheduled for 2018.

Armscor said the system is a technology demonstrator. Maturing the system requires dedicated hardware acquisition instead of sub-systems being borrowed from other IMT projects as is happening at present.

According to Armscor, the system uses hydrophones and electronics for measuring sound in water to detect ‘pings’ from flight data recorders, also known as ‘black boxes’. By developing the USV, the IMT has given South Africa a local capability to search and recover data recorders at a range of up to 2 km in typical deep water conditions.
“Once the technology is matured, it will aid the services offered by the South African Navy. The advantage of a local system is in reaction time to undertake a search in the Southern African region for such data recorders,” Armscor said. The IMT will build a once-off for the South African Navy.

Claude Ramasami, Manager: Operations Support at the IMT, told defenceWeb that underwater beacon locators are commercially available but very expensive (R20-30 million) and that developing such a system locally has only cost a tiny fraction of that.

The IMT has developed a raft of technologies used by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), some of which have been spun off commercially. This includes its VistaNet maritime domain awareness software for the SA Navy and Defence Intelligence; an electronic field-based shark repellent system that only uses cables and a broken rail detector. The latter uses ultrasonic technology to detect broken railway lines and was originally developed to detect cracks on submarines. It is being installed on a stretch of railway supplying Eskom’s Majuba power station and has also been fielded in Saldanha. Two test systems have been sent to India as well.