Project Mapantsula reflects a new approach to naval mine warfare, says Thomas Kunze, international business development manager at Atlas Elektronik. It will allow the South African Navy (SAN) to remove the man from the minefield.
Mapantsula will provide the SAN a modular minehunting system that will free it from reliance on a dedicated class of vessels. The SAN is keen to retire its 1980s vintage River-class minehunters and has already phased out its minesweepers.
“The SA Navy does not want dedicated minehunting ships. They are expensive, have around forty personnel aboard and they have to go close to mines,” says Kunze.
Modern Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) can search a designated area by themselves and are “intelligent enough that they can search again and again every few days or weeks depending on the situation and changes to the sea bottom.”
Kunze was in SA for this month`s 3rd Sea Power for Africa symposium where Atlas Elektronik displayed its Sea Otter minehunting system alongside the Sea Fox mine disposal weapon.
The former German naval officer adds that once Sea Otter detects a mine, the one-shot Sea Fox mine disposal vehicle such as Sea Fox “destroys the mine and itself in harmony, or if it is a complicated situation you can send a diver down.”
Both systems fit into standard ISO containers and can deploy from shore or from vessels such as SA`s future inshore and offshore patrol vessels as well as its current Valour-class frigates.
“You will have the command-and-control in a container and the vehicle in there to unload its data and prepare it for the next mission. In another container you will have the Sea Foxes … we containerise them differently because they are weapons…”
Kunze adds the Navy is not currently seeking an influence minesweeping solution. “That would involve you sending vessels, probably unmanned vessels nowadays, through a minefield and try to influence the mines into exploding by using acoustics or magnetic fields.”
In addition to minehunting, Sea Otter is certified for antisubmarine warfare tasks, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, Special Forces support, maritime security, counterterrorism, force protection and environmental assessment.
Sea Fox is currently in service with six navies (Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, the US, and Britain) and on order by three more (Japan, Estonia and Finland).