The Navy is building a 40-foot-long unmanned surface vehicle designed to launch from a Littoral Combat Ship and detonate and destroy underwater mines while keeping ships and sailors at a safe distance, service officials said.
The first prototype, scheduled to be finished by 2016, will pave the way for initial production of the Unmanned Influence Sweep System, or UISS, Capt. David Honabach, program manager, unmanned maritime systems, told Military.com.
The Navy hopes to have the UISS in the fleet by 2019.
“UISS is a program to satisfy the Navy’s need for rapid, wide-area mine-clearance capability to neutralize magnetic and acoustic mines. We can hunt for mines, sweep mines and neutralize them,” Honabach explained.
The system consists of an unmanned surface vessel with an acoustic generator and magnetic cable underneath the boat, designed to emulate the acoustic and magnetic signature of a surface warship.
The technology is engineered to sweep an area for mines and spoof a mine into detonating by mirroring the acoustic and magnetic characteristics of an actual warship, Honabach said.
“Mines have different triggers. Some mines will detonate with an acoustic trigger and some with a magnetic trigger – and some with both. We generate a magnetic field that emulates a warship and we acoustically emulate a warship,” he said. “We use a Mark 104 acoustic generator and a magnetic cable that trails behind the boat with an electric current that passes through it.”
In September of this year, the Navy awarded Textron Systems a $118 million deal to build a prototype to be followed by six vehicles.
“Textron has two years to finish the final design and construction of the EDM (engineering design model). Then, there is a test program to validate the design before moving into low-rate initial production to deliver six UISS’,” Honabach added.
The Navy, which plans to have a deployable system by 2019, began development of the technology in 2008 by working on prototype vehicles and launch and recovery equipment. The unmanned surface vehicle is being constructed with special ruggedized materials so that the boat can withstand the shocks from the detonation of nearby underwater mines, he said.
“The shock factor has to be built into the craft so it can withstand those types of stresses. We toughened the USV beyond what you would see in a normal boat, giving it additional capabilities to withstand the higher shocks. It is unmanned. Equipment can withstand a lot higher G-forces than humans can,” Honabach explained.
The idea is to build an unmanned surface vehicle that can adapt to and embrace newer mine-clearing technologies as they emerge.
In total, the Navy plans to acquire at least 40 UISS systems, Honabach added.
Designed to be launched and recovered from an LCS, the UISS is networked with infrared sensors and communications gear to a command and control center on-board the ship.
The unmanned surface vessel is navigated with what’s called semi-autonomous navigation technology. It uses an inertial navigation system updated with GPS. The boat is pre-programmed to drive itself to specific areas or “way points” along a certain route, Honabach added.
“The vessel is executing a pre-programmed track and feeding back video, IR (infrared) and radar back to the operator,” he explained.
The LCS uses a multiple vehicle communications system which allows the ship to simultaneously communicate with other ships, sensors and unmanned systems.
The UISS is designed to fit in the mission bay area of a Freedom variant or Independence variant LCS.
The Navy already has several unmanned boats equipped with sonar to detect mines and plans to acquire several more next year.
“We’re switching from sweeping systems with men to mine systems that are sweeping without people,” he said.