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It has been named HUGIN and has become the Royal Navy’s most powerful weapon in the battle against naval mines. In a war, fjords, coastal areas and harbours which have been laid with mines dramatically reduce the scope of action for Norway’s own naval forces. Mine sweeping is therefore a top priority for the Royal Navy and with HUGIN they can carry out this work more safely, at lower cost and higher efficiency.
“With HUGIN, KONGSBERG, the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment and the Royal Norwegian Navy have laid the foundations for a completely new method of mine sweeping. Instead of sending out a vessel with crew onboard to a minefield, we can now send out an autonomous subsea vessel. Extremely advanced sensors allow HUGIN to find mines much more quickly and with a much higher degree of precision. HUGIN has pioneered the method used for mine sweeping, not only at home but also abroad,” explains Bjørn Jalving who is head of the subsea division at Kongsberg Maritime.
HUGIN is the result of a productive threeway cooperation project between the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, industry and the Royal Navy. It all started with a technological demonstration of a battery-operated subsea vessel in 1991-93, at which Bjørn Jalving took part as a conscript researcher with the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment. The demonstration was led by Nils Størkersen who is currently head of research at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment. After the demonstration, several participants began to study different applications for cable-less subsea vessels, both for civil and military use.
The first actual application was to carry out detailed charting of the seabed for the development of offshore installations and pipelines. Statoil joined as a partner. However, the project needed a solid industrial partner to get it started and the natural choice was Kongsberg Maritime.
“The civil development project laid the foundations for the realisation of military applications using the same technology,” explains Nils Størkersen. “It’s our job to create value within the Armed Forces. The technology we develop only benefits the Armed Forces once it has been made available in the form of commercial products. And for that reason, we have always relied on a good partnership with an industrial enterprise so that we can realise our technology for the Armed Forces. It’s not until KONGSBERG has supplied the product and it has been implemented as an operational capacity that the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment can register any value creation.”
The development of HUGIN for mine sweeping started on a parallel with the development and industrialisation of HUGIN for the offshore market. The military development process vastly benefited from the vast experience gathered on the civil offshore market. “We would never have reached the stage we are at today if Kongsberg Maritime had not succeeded on the civil market,” confirms Bjørn Jalving.
“The first civil commercial delivery took place in 1999. Since then, we have made delivery upon delivery of HUGIN for detailed seabed charting to customers all over the world. Every single deep-sea oil field on a global scale has been charted by HUGIN. The fact that HUGIN is a commercial product also in the oil and gas industry allows for continuous developments to the system which benefit both the civil and military sectors.”
A lot had happened since Statoil held a demonstration of a prototype in 1996 and up to the demonstration of HUGIN onboard the KNM Karmøy naval vessel in 2001. “This demonstration represented a breakthrough for gaining acceptance of the concept of an autonomous system independently charting the threat of mines,” recalls Nils Størkersen.
“Making the change from a well-used method for mine sweeping to something completely new represented a high mental barrier. The only way to overcome this barrier was to demonstrate the system in use. We went onboard the KNM Karmøy to demonstrate how HUGIN could carry out a mine sweeping operation. This allowed the Navy to see technology in practice which could be directly related to their reality and which would make a difference for them. After the demonstration, the development of military HUGIN vessels saw a dramatic increase. The first prototype was delivered to the Royal Norwegian Navy in 2004, with a more complete prototype procured in 2008. Both these vessels have been in frequent use ever since,” confirms Mr. Størkersen.
Kongsberg Maritime and the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment are eagerly working towards a new milestone in the not so distant future, as the Royal Norwegian Navy is planning a serial procurement of HUGIN for operation on all mine sweeping vessels. “That is our ultimate goal, to have a commercially supplied capacity which achieves full operations. It will be a major milestone,” confirms Geir Espen Schmidt, Manager of the HUGIN AUV Department at Kongsberg Maritime.
20 years after development of HUGIN was implemented, you still meet the same faces among the HUGIN team. Nils Størkersen, Bjørn Jalving and Geir Espen Schmidt all agree that the stability of their team has been one of the main reasons behind the impressive results they have achieved.
“Our team has remained incredibly stable for the past twenty years. If you think about the key figures from the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment and KONGSBERG, there is a core of internationally leading technologists in both enterprises who have continued to cooperate over the years. I believe we have successfully created a technological group where we feel that we are constantly breaking new ground. This type of team really makes a difference,” concludes Bjørn Jalving.