Knifefish

Unmanned Systems

Navy minehunting undersea drone passes test

The Navy’s Knifefish underwater mine hunting drone recently helped identify and destroy a number of mine-hunting targets in a key test of the system off the coast of Boston, service officials said.

Simulating mine-hunting missions, Knifefish located and classified mine test targets submerged at various depths and on the seafloor. The Knifefish drone is also capable of locating and identifying mines buried in the seafloor, its developer General Dynamics Mission Systems said in a statement. 

"The system performed well against a variety of surrogate targets," Capt. Jon Rucker, Program Manager for the Navy's Unmanned Maritime Systems Program Office said.

Prior to this most recent test, the Navy conducted an assessment in Narragansett Bay, R.I., in which the 21-foot Unmanned Underwater Vehicle used low-frequency broadband synthetic aperture sonar to find hidden undersea mine targets.

“We put eight targets down across a range. The vehicle went around to detect the targets,” Rucker explained.

The concept of the Knifefish drone is to allow a manned surface ship to remain at a safe distance away from the risk of mine explosions, while the drone searches for and finds floating and buried mines in high-clutter environments. The drone also gathers environmental data to provide intelligence support.

Although initially planned for the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, the Knifefish is designed to operate from any surface ship, according to Rucker. The drone is part of a multi-pronged plan to replace the Navy’s Remote Minehunting System, or RMS. The Navy effort includes transitioning from the RMS to a mine-searching surface ship and then the Knifefish UUV.
Rucker explained that the Knifefish exceeded expectations finding six of the eight mines during the test and that the Navy is still working on a timing improvement with some of the drone’s software.

Synthetic aperture sonar sends an acoustic ping forward before analyzing the return signal to obtain shape, size and distance of enemy targets. Data from the UUV is downloaded from a Removable Data Storage Module for shipboard, analysis, according to information General Dynamics Mission Systems.

Knifefish is slated to be operational sometime later this year. 

About the Author

Kris Osborn is editor-in-chief of Defense Systems. He can be reached at kosborn@1105media.com.

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