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Euronaval 2010: A big gun for a big threat

25th October 2010 - 16:12 by Tony Osborne

One of the biggest guns ever fitted to a helicopter will be used to defeat mines lurking under the surface.
 
RAMICS (Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System), under development by Northrop Grumman, will use an electronically-targeted Mk44 30mm Bushmaster II cannon to engage mines that have been previously detected by the same manufacturer's Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS).
 
The two systems are the airborne components of a mine-detection and mine-clearance module for the Littoral Combat Ship entering service with the US Navy.

RAMICS is still under development but will work in conjunction with the ALMDS pod, which uses a LIDAR laser system to detect mines lurking in shallow waters where sonar generally becomes less effective.

The ALMDS pod has now reached the LRIP III contract stage having successfully completed its operational test & evaluation programme at the Naval Surface Weapons Centre at Panama City in Florida, flying on the Sikorsky MH-60S – the multi-mission version of the Seahawk, which has been chosen for embarkation on the LCS vessels.

'LIDAR is the most effective method for detecting mines in shallow water,' explained Dex Guzman, business development manager at Northrop Grumman's Maritime and Tactical Systems department. 'Until now the only option to detect mines in shallow water was using divers or dolphins.'
 
Now, the pod will be able to search swathes of water to a depth of 40ft, 1000ft wide from an altitude of 1000ft, rapidly speeding up the mine detection and clearance process. Laser use has its own limitations – if the water is murky, the laser will not be search as effectively.
 
'The system is smart – it will tell the crew whether the laser is unable to penetrate deep into the water,' added Guzman.
 
ALMDS data can be examined on the fly using the common console operated by the third crew member in the helicopter. However, more frequently the data will be downloaded once the aircraft has returned to the ship, allowing the data to be interpreted and decisions made about how to clear them.
 
As well as the gun on the starboard side, a second LIDAR sensor will be fitted on the port side of the aircraft, which will use the data from the ALMDS to acquire and provide targeting data for the gun.
 
The entire RAMICS kit can be fitted to a helicopter in two hours.
 
Once in flight, the helicopter will go into the hover and the weapon will be aimed at the mine’s position underwater and fire five armour-piercing super-cavitating sabot rounds to vaporise the water in front of the round, improving its accuracy and allowing it to destroy the mine.
 
The weapon has only been trial-mounted on an MH-60S on the ground and has not flown or been fired in flight.

Guzman said they do not expect any issues with recoil and had been working to address some concerns with crews about firing such a powerful gun from the aircraft. He hoped the RAMICS system could be flown next year or in 2012. The RAMICS gun weighs about 200-250 lbs while the associated pod comes in at 700 lbs.
 
Meanwhile, ALMDS is being marketed to export customers here at Euronaval. Guzman said there is significant interest from two countries in Asia and several nations in Europe.

'The two systems can be fitted to any medium sized naval helicopter,' explained Guzman, 'We don't see any issues in fitting it to an NH90 for example.'
 

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