By Lucy Ashton
THE ROYAL NAVY’S autonomous mine hunting programme – Project Wilton – has achieved another milestone with the arrival of their newest vessel RNMB “Hebe”.
Named after the ancient Greek goddess of youth, Hebe is the third and final Project Wilton boat and has now joined sister vessels RNMBs Harrier and Hazard at HM Naval Base Clyde.
Together the three vessels make up the key maritime components of the Project Wilton capability, representing a shift in the Royal Navy’s mine hunting capabilities.
The boats are capable of working in different configurations – manually, remotely or autonomously – to detect and classify mines and maritime ordnance. The Project Wilton team are currently undertaking comprehensive trials and a capability development programme to ensure they are ready to deliver route survey operations.
“RNMB Hebe is the final piece in the jigsaw of Project Wilton’s maritime capability,” said Lieutenant Commander Ross Balfour, Officer-in-Charge of Project Wilton.
“The vessel is a 15-metre Vahana boat, four-metres longer than the other Project Wilton vessels. AEUK have made significant upgrades resulting in Hebe having an organic command, control and communications capability which allows the autonomous control of her sister vessel Harrier. She also has the ability to operate Towed Sidescan Sonar to map the seabed.
“Hebe has fantastic potential and we are working diligently to integrate her impressive capabilities with our existing equipment.”
From the relative comfort of Hebe, mine countermeasures experts can coordinate and control the boats or monitor autonomous offboard sensors. They also have the option of controlling the vessels from a land-based Remote-Control Centre.
The entire system is highly flexible and rapidly deployable, capable of being loaded onto trucks and transported to wherever it is required to conduct survey and mine hunting operations.
The Project Wilton team took delivery of RNMB Hebe on June 3 at Inverkip Marina, sailing her into the Gare Loch flanked by her sister vessels. Prior to her arrival at Inverkip, Hebe and the Project Wilton team also conducted initial training and trials at Portland Marina on the South coast.
“The Wilton team are excited and enthused by the challenge this new capability represents,” continued Lieutenant Commander Balfour. “We are operating at the forefront of technological development and paving the way for follow-on autonomous mine countermeasures capabilities currently in development.
“Riding this bow wave of change means the pace of development is high, requiring us to ‘learn by doing’ and constantly questioning the accepted norms. I am certain that my team of highly trained mine warfare experts can meet these challenges and deliver cutting-edge operational capability from this equipment.”
Pictures show Project Wilton boat RNMB Hebe with sister vessels during sea trials on the Gareloch.