The new boat, Harrier, conducting trials on the Gareloch; Robert Blake from Atlas Elektronik UK; Jared Pocock from Defence Equipment and Support; Lt Cdr Ross Balfour, Officer in Charge of Project Wilton; and Chief Petty Officer Joe Morton from the Wilton team;  RNMB Harrier will join sister-boat RNMB Hazard on the Clyde; Harrier is delivered to the Inverkip Marina, and Harrier takes to the water at Inverkip. Pictures by the Royal Navy

By Gavin Carr

The future of mine hunting has come to Faslane on the Gareloch with the arrival of a new Autonomous Mine Counter Measures vessel.

The new boat, RNMB Harrier, will be operated by Project Wilton, a recently formed Maritime Autonomous Systems (MAS) team based out of HM Naval Base Clyde.

Part of the First Mine Counter Measures Squadron (MCM1), the Wilton team are charged with introducing this cutting-edge technology into the Royal Navy.

RNMB Harrier arrived on the Clyde on Friday, August 14, and was straight into a week-long familiarisation and training package delivered by prime contractor, ATLAS Elektronik UK (AEUK).

The Wilton team and the Royal Navy took formal ownership of this capability today (August 21) and will now work towards Initial Operating Capability (IOC) in September.

Lieutenant Commander Ross Balfour, Officer in Charge of Project Wilton, said: “We have been working closely with both Defence Equipment and Support and our industry partners to realise this emergent capability for a considerable time.

“It is very exciting to see the equipment and Harrier in the flesh and allow my highly-trained team to get their hands on the kit and start to develop the potential of this highly capable system.”

RNMB Harrier can operate in three modes – manually, remotely and autonomously – giving a large range of flexibility to deploy either Towed Side Scan Sonar systems or Autonomous Underwater Vehicles.

This provides the ability to very accurately survey the seabed and, after trained analysis, determine the presence of mines and other underwater threats.

The new system offers greater flexibility to deploy around the world where it can be quickly set-up for survey and mine hunting operations.

Primarily a capability demonstrator, Project Wilton and RNMB Harrier are supporting the development of Maritime Autonomous Systems to ensure the Royal Navy remains at the forefront of technology and innovation.

Jared Pocock, Senior Project Manager for Defence Equipment and Support said: “It has been a privilege working with the Project Wilton team delivering this transformational system.

“It is exciting to see the fruition of the dedicated work put in over the past two years with the Royal Navy now getting their hands on this equipment and putting it to work.”

RNMB Harrier has joined her sister-vessel RNMB Hazard which has been in operation for around 18-months, initially being put through its paces by the Royal Navy’s Maritime Autonomous Systems Trials Team (MASTT) prior to transferring to Project Wilton.

The third and final Wilton boat, RNMB Hebe, is due to arrive in Spring next year.  At 15 metres she is larger than the 11-meter-long Harrier and contains a Portable Operations Centre Afloat that allows her to control Harrier and Hazard while also co-ordinating autonomous operations.

By 2022 the system will “gain teeth” after continued development into a fully operational Mine Counter Measures system capable of removing bottom objects and neutralising explosive ordnance.

The Royal Navy’s investment in the Harrier boat comes as the Service commits to embracing and developing the latest technology for frontline operations.

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