Thales Group and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Contract to Supply the Japanese Navy’s OZZ-5 AUV with SAMDIS Sonar Systems

This week France’s Thales Group and Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries have signed a trilateral contract with Japan’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency. The trilateral contract will require Thales to produce and deliver an unspecified number of SAMDIS High Frequency Synthetic Aperture Sonar (HFSAS) systems, to the Japanese Navy. The role of Mitsubishi will then be to install the SAMDIS HFSAS upon their OZZ-5 Autonomous Undersea Vehicle (AUV), currently in service as the Japanese Navy’s mine detection drone. The integrated SAMDIS system will then operate on the OZZ-5 AUV, in collaboration with an unnamed Japanese produced low frequency SAS device. The result will be an underwater detection and identification system optimized for all-weather operations, focused on delivering high-resolution multi-angle undersea imagery. The OZZ-5 AUV will then be expected to function alongside ECA’s PAP-104 remote undersea mine disposal platform. The two undersea vehicles will then work as a team, with the OZZ-5 producing high-resolution images for threat detection and identification. The PAP-104 will then use the OZZ-5’s imagery data to execute a detonation procedure on OZZ-5 identified threats, completing the mine disposal operation. The SAMDIS was approved for naval use by the DGA, France’s military procurement agency, in 2016 granting the platform an excellent pedigree. The Thales Group seeks to use the SAMDIS contract to penetrate the tough Japanese defence market. A possibility often frustrated by the dominance of Japanese domestic producers. The order’s expected delivery date has not yet been announced by the contracting parties.

The SAMDIS, or Synthetic Aperture Mine Detection Imaging Sonar is the result of a joint programme between DRS Technologies and the Thales Group. The resulting system, designed and built in the US, has the objective of producing high-resolution, multi-spectral undersea imagery for small unmanned or autonomous undersea vehicles (UUV/AUV). The SAMDIS achieves this through using Synthetic Aperture Sonar technology. Synthetic Aperture Sonar systems integrate many small sonar emitters arranged in individual arrays. The individual small sonar emitters then have their individual sonar pings super positioned onto each other. The result is a build up of constructive interference, layering data upon data building up a high resolution composite image. The same resolution would otherwise only be achievable through the use of a single large emitter, whose size would preclude it from being integrated into a UUV/AUV. The consequence of being able to use multiple arrays in differing positions allows data to be taken from different angles and through different wavelengths simultaneously. The frequency used by the SAMDIS to acquire its data, sits at the high – ultra-high range placing its wavelength at beyond 15 kHz. The SAMDIS’ partner sensor system, the unnamed Japanese model, likely works along the same lines save its low frequency which instead uses wavelengths of between 1-5 kHz. The range of the sonar depends on the frequency with lower frequencies delivering longer ranges and higher frequencies giving shorter ranges.

The utilization of both low and high sonar systems on the OZZ-5 AUV will equip the vehicle with both long and short range imagery capabilities. The OZZ-5 AUV is the result of a 2018 Japanese military programme to produce an AUV capable of MCM functions. The AUV is 4m long and 50cm in diameter with a continuous mission life of nine hours, the vehicle has a maximum speed of seven knots. The producer of the OZZ-5 AUV, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is a Japanese manufacturing conglomerate whose defence arm has its modern origins in post-war Japan. The company has been the Japanese Self-Defence Force’s chief supplier of tanks, aircraft, missiles, warships and ammunition since 1964. The AUV order continues the company’s commitment to providing the best equipment for the Japanese military within an increasingly hostile Asian sphere. The SAMDIS’ producer, the Thales Group is a major French defence systems producer specialising in high technology integration on military platforms. The Thales Groups’ joint-project partner on the SAMDIS programme, the Virginia based firm DRS Technologies has subsequently been amalgamated into Italian firm Leonardo. The resulting company, Leonardo DRS continues to manufacture products using the jointly developed SAMDIS technology. The contract’s execution will be managed by the Japanese Military’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency, headed up by Takeda Hirofumi with the remit to co-ordinate and integrate newly procured defence technologies.