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Belgian-Dutch MCM - Imtech Belgium - Damen unveiled its solutions

Belgium and the Netherlands have decided to jointly replace their identical Mine Counter Measures (MCM) capability. Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilders (DSNS), in association with Imtech Belgium, forming the Imtech Belgium - Damen corporation, have submitted their bid to the Belgian MoD which is in charge of the final selection. This bid includes a mothership coupled with 2 different toolboxes.

AIP front atlas A design of the prototype of the mothership proposed by Imtech Belgium - Damen (Picture source : Damen Schelde)

As a reminder, Mine Counter Measures (MCM) vessels are ships able to locate and disarm explosives under water. These vessels are equipped with a range of modern underwater sensors, such as hull mounted sonars, and remotely operated submersible vehicles that can approach and destroy dangerous underwater objects.

Richard F.M. Keulen, Director Naval Sales Support at Damen, told Navy Recognition during NAVDEX 2019, UAE, that "as this project of MCM vessels is part of a cooperation between the Belgian and Dutch navies, it would make perfect sense that Belgian and Dutch companies join hands to take care of it". Therefore, in March 2018, Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding (DSNS) and Imtech Belgium set up a temporary trade association, called Imtech Belgium – Damen, as the potential main contractor to the Belgian MoD.

Through the purchase of new MCM vessels, Belgium and the Netherlands are seeking to maintain their joint naval forces as a leader of the mine-hunting for the NATO forces. Actually, Belgian and Dutch navies excel in this area of expertise but must today strengthen their expertise by acquiring more capable and up-to-date vessels. The Belgian Navy introduces a new concept with a mothership staying outside of the mine field and a toolbox of highly sophisticated unmanned vehicles to remotely and autonomously search, detect, classify and neutralise any mine threat. Therefore, Imtech Belgium - Damen has decided to put its own expertise of MCM at the service of both countries, helping them to reach their objectives of remaining a worldwide leader in the mine-hunting. Though, 2 other consortiums are competing for the contract, Sea Naval Solutions (“Chantiers de l’Atlantique”, with Socarenam, Belgian EDR and Thales) and Naval & Robotics (Naval Group with ECA Robotics).

The bid of Imtech Belgium - Damen consists in the providing of a mothership to both navies, equipped with a large toolbox of unmanned equipment. And the strength of Imtech Belgium - Damen could be its decision to give the opportunity to the navies to choose between two different toolboxes. One made by ATLAS ELEKTRONIK, and the other one made by OIP (Sensor Systems).

The ATLAS-built toolbox would include IMCMS, ARCIMS USV, SeaCat AUV, Towed SAS, influenced mine sweeping equipment capability, a vertical take-off and landing drone, mine avoidance sonar as well as the related system integration. ATLAS’ offer includes the sophisticated integration into the Combat Management System of the vessels and next to that being able to work on a stand-alone basis.

ATLAS toolbox A design of the ATLAS' toolbox (Picture source : ATLAS ELEKTRONIK)

As for the OIP toolbox, it would include a Combat Management System (CMS), an Unmanned Airborne Vehicle (UAV), an Unmanned Sea Vehicle (USV), a diverse range of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) and sensors, and a simulator and a containerized control center. The command-and-control system (CMS) developed by OIP and set-up on the mother ship, enables a direct control of the different unmanned vehicles. The OIP system also provides a direct and secure link between the various elements of the systems (for instance enabling a live and completely secure data transfer from the USVs to the ship). These tools are highly adaptive and can also be used for other purposes than Mine Counter Measure missions. The Unmanned Airborne Vehicle and the Unmanned Sea Vehicle can be a great asset for any Search & Rescue (SAR) or Home Land Security (HLS) operation, windfarm inspection, detection of human trafficking, etc…

OIP toolbox A design of the OIP's toolbox (Picture source : OIP Sensor Systems)

In addition to the providing of new vessels, Imtech Belgium – Damen plans to develop a MCM “Valley”, in which both companies (i.e. Imtech Belgium and Damen) will cooperate on the development, the building, the maintenance and the upgrading and modernisation of those vessels and their toolboxes, but also on the innovation and the development of a cluster of industries. All these activities will land in Belgium. Above all, through this contract, Imtech Belgium – Damen aims to continue the strategic partnership between Belgium and the Netherlands, in the area of MCM, where both nations already form the landmark internationnaly for NATO and EU. This leading position will then result in other nations joining this new concept, meaning export opportunities.