Kolkata: An autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) designed to detect mines and a first of its kind in the country was launched here on Friday. The AUV named ‘Neerakshi’ is a collaboration of Kolkata-based war ship maker Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) Ltd and MSME entity AEPL, officials said.

The commercial launch of the AUV is likely to be within six months to a year after completion of user trials by the Indian Navy, Coast Guard and possibly the Army too, he said GRSE chairman and managing director Commodore P R Hari (Retd) said at the launch of the AUV.

“This can be used for a variety of functions ranging from mine detection to mine disposal to underwater survey,” he said.

The GRSE CMD said that the initial response has been overwhelming and expressed confidence that this venture will result in multiple projects which will augur well not only for the shipbuilder but also for the country. “Neerakshi is petite and demure, but don’t be mistaken. She is potent and versatile with multirole capabilities,” he said. Launching the 2.1-metre long cylindrical unmanned vehicle about a foot in diameter and weighing around 45 kg, secretary of defence R and D department and DRDO chairman, Samir V Kamat expressed confidence that in the coming years the country’s defence industry will not only meet the aspirations of the nation, but also become a developer of cutting edge systems, innovative solutions and generate a lot of exports.

“It feels very heartening to see a collaboration between a large shipyard and an MSME which has resulted in this innovative product being indigenously designed and developed in the country,” Kamat said, launching the orange-coloured prototype of the AUV.

Kamat said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set a goal for not only being self-reliant, but also a leading exporter of defence systems and technologies. “This can happen only if we have such partnerships … I am sure this will be a forerunner for many such partnerships,” he said.

GRSE has expressed its wish to make autonomous sea surface vehicles, a sea-based drone and look at green propulsion for ships as well as other platforms.

Hari said that at this stage the AUV is capable of mine detection, but the future plan is to ensure that this can be made capable of mine disposal also.

“Once the user trials are completed and the user requirements are embedded into the vessel we will go for the commercial production of the AUV,” he said.

The platform launched on Friday is a prototype. It has an endurance of four hours and can go up to 300 metres deep, he said.

The process is on to enhance the AUV’s endurance from 200 to 300 per cent and these can then be deployed across the coastal waters for ensuring safety of the coast. This platform is for deployment from either a mother ship or at the coast for coastal protection.

The GRSE chairman said that the collaboration of the leading shipbuilder with Aerospace Engineering Private Ltd (AEPL) is testimony to the successful marriage between vast and inherent expertise of a major warship builder and the innovative and transformative potentials of MSMEs having dedicated innovation division like AEPL.

Hari said that considering the present environment and realising the importance of technology in defence equipment, GRSE management took a decision to focus on areas like green energy platforms and autonomous platforms.

The GRSE wants to foray into all the three domains of autonomous platforms – sub-surface, surface and aerial, he said. An unmanned surface vessel is in the final stages of project completion and is targeted to be launched by the end of this year, he said.

“New and critical technology is the future. Realising this and to tap the capability of the Indian start-up ecosystem we launched a national open start-up challenge – GAINS,” he said.