Navy buys mine-sniffing underwater robots

Fleet of submarine mine-hunters take to the seas...

Fleet of submarine mine-hunters take to the seas...

The Royal Navy is taking delivery of a fleet of underwater robots which will hunt down sea mines.

The battery-powered Remote Environmental Monitoring Units - known as Remus - will operate at depths of up to 100m, scanning the seabed to make sure there are no mines lurking to destroy ships and landing craft.

The 1.6m long torpedo shaped vehicles use "advanced detectors" to pin-point the location of mines, before returning to their naval handlers for the raw data to be collected and evaluated, the Ministry of Defence said.

Sea mines are one of biggest threats to naval forces as they are cheap and easy to plant - but are notoriously difficult to detect.

It will be the first time the Navy has had an unmanned vehicle capable of detecting mines in shallow water. Previously this dangerous job would have been carried out by naval divers.

The Defence Procurement Agency will buy 10 of the robots, manufactured by Hydroid Inc, as part of a £2.75m programme. The robots will start work early next year and are expected to stay in service until 2011.

Defence Procurement Minister Lord Drayson said: "Remus will give the Royal Navy the ability to undertake rapid mine reconnaissance in very shallow water - cold and dangerous work in an area which up until now could only be done by divers."

He said the robots will also help the Navy by supporting search and salvage operations and protecting ports and harbours against terrorist attack.

But there are some jobs the robots cannot do - the task of clearing the mines will still fall to human divers.