Some of you are certainly familiar with Aqua Lung, the French diving equipment specialist created in 1946 by Commander Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his colleague Émile Gagnan. But 70 years on the Nice-based company is also a reference for combat divers as recently proven with a contract it won from the Belgian Ministry of Defence for 34 Amphora tactical diving systems.
Amphora is thus the happy winner of a €600,000 call for tender launched in 2015 and recently concluded with three days of testing by its future users in the depths of the Eau d’Heure dam in western Belgium.
Destined for divers with the Special Force Group (SFG) and the Engineers, the Amphora systems will replace the 76 LAR VI systems bought in 1994 from Germany’s Dräger. The SFG will get 10 systems and the 24 others will be split between the two Engineer squads. The Amphora has already been adopted by the Polish army, and according to the Russian news agency TASS, is being considered by the combat divers of the Russian Black Sea fleet.
Directly inspired by the FROGS (Full Range Oxygen Gas System) which has been in service in the French navy since 2002, the Amphora is a hybrid breathing apparatus that allows the diver to switch rapidly from breathing pure oxygen in a closed circuit to an oxygen-nitrogen (or Nitrox) mix in a semi-closed circuit. The former enables the diver to work discreetly – because there are no bubbles – at a depth of seven metres for four hours whilst the latter allows him to descend to 24 metres for one hour but emitting bubbles of carbon dioxide. “This depth broadens the tactical applications such as emerging from a submarine or avoiding anti-diver nets,” explains Captain Robin Van de Weyer of the System Division Support Section of the Belgian Defence Ministry managing the project.
If the total weight of the system varies from 18.5 to 19.5kg according to its configuration, the mass can be spread by the diver by fixing the Nitrox bottle either on his leg or on his back. Compared to its competitors the “Amphora turned out to be easier and more agreeable to use and also had the advantage of being able to be carried on the back,” says the General Directorate of Material Ressources, the Belgian defence procurement agency.
Whilst awaiting delivery of the first systems, SFG and Engineer personnel will be following a training programme at the Belgian Defence Ministry’s diving school in order to adapt to the Amphora and its hybrid breathing system.