From 6 to 14 October 2022, the French Navy conducted its first operation as part of the exploratory seabed control capability, with an autonomous underwater drone.

Called CALLIOPE, this operation made it possible to employ an exploratory capability to monitor the ocean floor by implementing, directly from the Beautemps-Beaupré hydrographic and oceanographic vessel, the HUGIN Superior deep-sea underwater drone. This implementation was carried out under a contract notified by the Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) to the Norwegian manufacturer Kongsberg Maritime.

The CALLIOPE mission, which is consistent with the ministerial strategy for seabed control, has achieved its various operational and capability objectives.

First of all, it made it possible to participate in the reconnaissance and surveillance of certain submarine cables at a depth of more than 4500 meters in the abyssal plains of the Bay of Biscay, despite sometimes delicate sea conditions. A wreck sunk at a depth of 4600m was also observed.

This first also made it possible to refine the concept of the use of such a drone by the Navy and to increase its skills in its implementation thanks to the training of sailors on board. To this end, a brand team made up of members of the Centre of Expertise for Naval Programs (CEPN), the Mine Countermeasures Flotilla (FLCM), the Human Diving and Underwater Intervention Expert Center (CEPHISMER) and the Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service of the Navy (Shom) was integrated into the crew of the Beautemps-Beaupré.

The already solid skills of these sailors (divers, underwater detectors, hydrographers) in the exploitation of underwater sensors have greatly facilitated the handling of the drone and the exploitation of the many data collected. Training will continue in the coming months so that the French Navy is able to deploy a drone of this type fully autonomously in the short or medium term.

The French Navy’s increased competence in controlling the seabed is part of the ministerial strategy presented in February 2022. The deep sea, increasingly accessible to certain nations and private companies, is becoming a new area of conflict. The French Navy is thus developing its capabilities to know, monitor and act at depths of up to 6000 m in order to guarantee the freedom of action of our forces in the “aeromaritime” environment, contribute to the protection of our underwater infrastructures, and guarantee the interests of the France relating to the exploration of mineral and energy resources.