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Towed multi-aperture sonar for MCM – Project Equinox emerges from the shadows

March 27, 2020

Ioseba Tena  – Global Business Manager – Defence & Robotics

When I started working at Sonardyne International a few short years ago, we were known as a leading manufacturer of subsea instrumentation – primarily working within the offshore sector. My role was to look at how our instruments could add value to vehicle platforms, which were typically manufactured by others. This included integrating our Solstice multi-aperture sonar (MAS) into portable autonomous underwater vehicles for mine countermeasures (MCM).

Today, that’s still my role, but – as you may have heard – we’re now part of a bigger picture; Sonardyne Group. Over the past 12 months, other companies have joined us and, as anyone with an extended family knows, being part of a group changes how you look at the world.

So, how is being part of group changing things? Opportunities is one word that springs to mind. And here’s an example. Recently, EIVA joined the group; they’re a world-leading and highly regarded Danish software and mechanical engineering house for subsea applications. In their portfolio they have a lot of neat tools. In our portfolio, we have a game changer: Solstice. A multi-aperture sonar (MAS) that has been making waves by enabling substantially higher area coverage rates (ACR) using low-logistics AUVs. It was designed by Wavefront Systems, another one of Sonardyne’s sister companies.

Bringing together Solstice, SPRINT and Scanfish

Last year, our technical and commercial teams got together and decided it would be worth trialling our Solstice onboard their ScanFish 3D. ScanFish is a very capable remotely operated towed vehicle (ROTV) that’s widely used for unexploded ordnance surveys (UXO) and known for its stability in flight; stability that Solstice requires to get best imaging from the system. But we decided we didn’t want to leave it there, we also agreed to mount a SPRINT INS, a DVL and a Mini-Ranger 2 USBL system. Project Equinox was born.

A new tool for mine countermeasures

For some time now, we’ve seen a growing requirement from world navies to adopt unmanned surface vessels (USVs) to conduct MCM in the littoral. We knew the biggest challenge was the quality of the sonar data and the positioning of those mines. It was obvious as a group of companies we had all the technological ingredients needed – except of course for the USV. I recall the moment Jeppe Neilsen, EIVA’s CEO, realised we could offer a low-cost, low-logistic alternative to traditional synthetic aperture sonar (SAS) systems. It was over dinner at an internal training event in November of 2019. Then are there we made the decision to bring the different elements needed together – software, sonar, positioning and navigation – and trial the outcome.

We agreed the plan; EIVA would design and manufacture a custom pod to hold our SPRINT INS and Solstice. We also integrated acoustic aiding using a Mini-Ranger 2 USBL.

Across -team collaboration – fast track integration

We conducted an initial trial at the start of the year with all the parts, except the ScanFish, in our Plymouth trials facility. Then we shipped the gear to Denmark. In February we mounted the system on the ScanFish and, for the first time, and put it all in the water.

“We used Aurora, a local a university-owned research vessel that is regularly called upon to support EIVA’s own trials,” John Chapman, Wavefront System’s Managing Director recalls. 

We expected a lot of headaches, our teams are all experienced, but this was the first time we attempted to work together as part of the group. Using proven products makes it all so much easier. We were up and running in record time

John Chapman, Wavefront System’s Managing Director

Graham Brown, Managing Director at Sonardyne, liked what he saw! “The wreck we chose to survey is a well-known site commonly used to trial side-scan and multibeam equipment,” he says. “It’s well charted and would serve as a great comparison for the system. Local legend claims it’s a sunken troop carrier from the war. I was taken aback by the quality of the navigation and the sonar data. I expected it to be good, but this was better. Sub-meter accuracy from a sonar survey.”

I liked what I saw too and I am sure you will. It’s impressive what we achieved as a group in such short period of time. It’s created a great new tool for mine countermeasures. All of us at EIVA, Sonardyne and Wavefront were really looking forward to engaging with our customers at shows like Oceanology, Sea-Air-Space and UDT 2020 on it. It was a great outcome which we wanted to let people know about. If you were planning, like us, to be there and want to find out more then don’t hesitate to get in touch with us and we can arrange an online meeting. We’d be delighted to show you more.


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