Screenshot 2024-06-30 at 10.39.13 AM.png

The Royal Navy has used its smallest warships as a launchpad for autonomous minehunting operations for the first time.

Seven P2000 patrol vessels of the Coastal Forces Squadron deployed on NATO’s annual Baltic exercise – known as Baltops 24 – during which 50 ships, dozens of aircraft and 9,000 personnel from 20 nations operated together.

Two ships, HMS Puncher and Pursuer, welcomed aboard experts from Zulu Squadron of the Mine and Threat Exploitation Group and their autonomous craft.

Zulu Squadron are usually responsible for keeping the waterways clear and safe on the Clyde in Scotland through which the UK’s Vanguard strategic deterrent submarines operate from their base at Faslane.

Royal Navy y deployed a team of five to Baltops as a trial to see if they could send expeditionary mine hunting kit on overseas operations – with a view to them being able to do this anywhere in the world on demand in the future.

The team brought with them an IVER 3 Autonomous Vehicle, which operates independently, scanning the seabed with its sonar to identify potential mines and a Video Ray Defender remotely operated vehicle which sends a live stream back to the operator to safely find potential mines on the sea bed.

“I’m especially pleased with how the team have remained adaptable to challenges posed by the equipment and the weather, working long days and even encountering a bear while we were driving through the Latvian countryside,” said Lieutenant Malcolm Andrews, Zulu’s Operations Officer.

Elsewhere, patrol boats HMS Archer, Ranger and Example were involved in exercises in the complex island chain of the Stockholm Archipelago – where Royal Marines have also been operating.

The P2000s were used as ‘enemy’, charged with harassing larger warships of the Swedish and Dutch navies in the confined waters.

The squadron also worked with US forces specialising in Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) techniques.

The ships delivered SERE teams on to land, working with US aircraft and Lithuanian patrol vessels, to find and rescue downed aircrew.

P2000s can operate alone and often do, but were split into two task groups after deploying in May for Baltops: HMS Explorer, Express, Puncher and Pursuer all focused on the area near Latvia, while Archer, Ranger and Example were near to Sweden.