COLOGNE, Germany — The Belgian Defence Ministry has awarded a contract worth nearly €2 billion (U.S. $2.2 billion) to a consortium led by France’s Naval Group to deliver mine-hunting ships and drones to the navies of Belgium and the Netherlands, according to the shipbuilder.

The announcement on Wednesday came after the customary review period by the Belgian legislature had passed. Beligum announced in March that it planned to select Belgium Naval and Robotics, a joint venture of Naval Group and ECA Group, to produce 12 vessels equipped with about 100 drones for the two countries. Six vessels will go to Belgium, and the other six to the Dutch.

Finding and disabling sea mines is a key mission for the two neighboring countries. Their navies are configured mainly to defend territorial waters and the nearby English Channel, which allows passage to the North Sea.

The offer by Naval Group and ECA Group leans heavily on undersea drones to deal with the treacherous weapons. The ships will be built to launch and recover the ECA Group’s “Inspector 125” unmanned boats, which carry various autonomous underwater drones for finding mines and setting them off from a safe distance.

The contract is expected to last 10 years, according to a consortium statement. An initial three-year development phase is to be followed by a production stage, putting the first system in the water by 2024.

The two companies hope the high-profile deal will generate additional sales elsewhere in the world. “The Belgian and Dutch navies being a reference in mine warfare within NATO, the choice of our consortium is a major asset for export,” a statement reads.

Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.

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