Navy's Knifefish Mine-Hunting Drone Sub Approved for Production

A Knifefish unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) training model undergoes crane operations July 24, 2019, aboard the Military Sealift Command expeditionary fast transport vessel USNS Spearhead as part of a training exercise enabling mine countermeasure missions (MCM) from an EPF as a vessel of opportunity. Knifefish is a medium-class mine countermeasure UUV designed for deployment off the littoral combat ship. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anderson W. Branch)
A Knifefish unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) training model undergoes crane operations July 24, 2019, aboard the Military Sealift Command expeditionary fast transport vessel USNS Spearhead as part of a training exercise enabling mine countermeasure missions (MCM) from an EPF as a vessel of opportunity. Knifefish is a medium-class mine countermeasure UUV designed for deployment off the littoral combat ship. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anderson W. Branch)

The Navy recently approved low-rate initial production (LRIP) for a special, underwater drone system designed to conduct counter-mine operations for the service's littoral combat ship.

Program Executive Officer for Unmanned and Small Combatants recently granted Milestone C approval to the Knifefish Surface Mine Countermeasure Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Program, according to a news release from Naval Sea Systems Command.

The Navy is expected to award an LRIP contract to Knifefish prime contractor General Dynamics Mission Systems, the release states.

The Knifefish system is designed to deploy from an LCS as well as from other offshore vessels to detect and classify "buried, bottom and volume mines" in highly cluttered environments, according to the release.

Knifefish consists of two unmanned undersea vehicles, along with support systems and equipment. It uses cutting-edge low-frequency broadband sonar and automated target recognition software technology to act as an off-board sensor while the host ship stays outside the minefield boundaries, the release states.

The Navy hopes to approve a full-rate production decision for the system in fiscal 2021 after additional testing of LRIP systems, according to the release. The service plans to buy 30 Knifefish systems in all -- 24 in support of LCS mine countermeasure mission packages and an additional six systems for deployment from other vessels.

The Navy conducted formal developmental testing and operational assessment from January through May 2019 in multiple locations off the coast of Massachusetts and Florida, according to the release. The Knifefish tests involved operational mine-hunting missions against a simulated target field.

The Knifefish was developed from technology designed for General Dynamics' Bluefin Robotics Bluefin-21 deep-water Autonomous Undersea Vehicle, a system that was involved in the unsuccessful search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

-- Military.com's Richard Sisk contributed to this report.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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