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UK’s new minehunting drone mothership arrives home for conversion

Mine hunting offshore supply vessel Royal Navy
Photo: Royal Navy

A new ship that is poised to support Royal Navy mine-hunting operations has arrived in Plymouth for its militarization and conversion into a “drone mothership.”

When deployed, the platform will support the safeguarding of UK waters from the threat of mines at sea, operating a range of uncrewed systems that will help keep personnel at a safe distance.

Based at His Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde, the 96.8 meters long vessel will work side-by-side with autonomous mine-hunting systems already operated by the Royal Navy out of Faslane under Project Wilton.

Purchased from Island Offshore, the vessel is currently named MV Island Crown, but will be renamed as it joins the fleet. The former offshore supply ship arrived at HMNB Devonport to undergo minimal conversion work, primarily to support installation of military communication systems and Royal Fleet Auxiliary operations, before being handed over to the RFA later this year.

Operated by specialist teams on board, these innovative systems will allow the Royal Navy to protect UK waters, also providing support to the North Atlantic and European waters if required.

Commodore Steve Prest, Director Navy Acquisition, said: “The delivery of this ship is an important step in the Navy’s transformation to conducting mine countermeasures using distributed offboard systems-of-systems.

“The ship will be used to extend the range of our Maritime Autonomous Systems from coastal waters to conducting offshore survey operations in defense of the homeland.”

The uncrewed systems will include the joint French-UK Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM) system, the Combined Influence Sweep (SWEEP) system and Medium Underwater Autonomous Vehicles (MAUVs).

The purchase of the £40m ship was carried out by Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), the procurement arm of the MOD.

The ship is intended to enter service this spring.

It is worth noting that MV Island Crown arrived in the UK just weeks after the first of two future Royal Navy undersea surveillance ships arrived into Cammell Laird’s Birkenhead shipyard on January 19.

Also a former commercial offshore energy industry vessel, the 98-meter-long Topaz Tangaroa – as the vessel is currently known – will host remote and autonomous offboard systems for underwater surveillance and seabed warfare.