PARIS — Three European nations have teamed up to develop new naval counter-mine capabilities, with France aligning itself with an existing Belgian-Dutch program.
Defense officials from the three countries formalized an agreement Oct. 18 during the biennial Euronaval trade conference held outside of Paris, according to the French Armed Forces Ministry. Most significantly, the pact brings two programs together: France’s SLAM-F (système de lutte anti-mines futur), or future anti-mine warfare system, and the Belgian-Dutch Mine Countermeasures (rMCM) system.
“France has notably confirmed its decision to launch the design of French mine warfare vessels on the basis of that of the vessels of the binational Belgian-Dutch rMCM program,” the ministry said in a news release. “Thus, the nations share the goals of maximizing design communities to create opportunities for specific joint in-service support and other joint activity related to mine warfare capabilities.”
The SLAM-F effort aims to replace Navy personnel with autonomous vessels for demining missions. It was developed under the Franco-British Maritime Mine Countermeasures Program, launched in 2012 to develop a prototype underwater drone that could detect and neutralize sea mines and underwater improvised explosive devices. The industry team for the prototype program was led by Thales and BAE Systems, with co-partners including the United Kingdom’s branch of Saab, ASV, and Wood and Douglas, as well as France’s ECA Group — which announced Tuesday it will now operate with longtime partner iXBlue under the name Exail.
Thales delivered the first SLAM-F prototype to the French Navy in 2021. France plans to begin ordering its initial SLAM-F systems in 2023, with a delivery date currently under discussion, the ministry said. Officials previously announced plans to order up to eight unmanned systems.
The Belgian and Dutch navies expect to begin deliveries of their respective rMCM systems in 2024. Naval Group and ECA Group formed a consortium dubbed Belgian Naval and Robotics in 2019 to lead the program. The rMCM program is expected to include 12 minehunter vessels and about 100 unmanned systems split between Belgium and the Netherlands, according to Naval Group.
This past April, Naval Group inaugurated a new mine countermeasures-focused research and development center in Brussels, alongside a lab dedicated to cyber technology.
The French Navy’s top official has called for increased intergovernmental cooperation in the maritime domain to support interoperability and decrease the cost burden on allies. In a speech Monday in Paris ahead of the Euronaval conference, Adm. Pierre Vandier highlighted joint programs and interoperable capabilities as a critical element of France’s future naval force.
Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.