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Navy Wraps Up Testing on Drone-Based Minehunting System

A common unmanned surface vehicle patrols for intruders during Trident Warrior 2011 on July 20, 2011. The experimental boat can operate autonomously or by remote. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Scott Youngblood)
A common unmanned surface vehicle patrols for intruders during Trident Warrior 2011 on July 20, 2011. The experimental boat can operate autonomously or by remote. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Scott Youngblood)

The Navy has completed developmental testing of an emerging drone-base mine detection system designed to identify surface mines and beach or coastal obstacles after launching from a Littoral Combat Ship, service officials said.

The Coastal Mine Reconnaissance system, now much closer to operational status, supports the mine-countermeasures mission package for the LCS, a collection of integrated technologies geared toward finding and destroying sea mines.

The CMR mission module consists of an MQ-8B Fire Scout drone and the AN/DVS-1 Coastal Battlespace Reconnaissance and Analysis, or COBRA, sensor. COBRA reached operational status last year after completing Initial Operational Test and Evaluation on the MQ-8B.

Operating aboard the USS Coronado, or LCS 4, the CMR conducted developmental testing by performing nine specific missions. According to a Navy statement, testing points consisted of mission-tasking from a shore-based commander, flying planned missions, and downloading and analyzing collected data.

The CMR also uses a web system called MINEnet Tactical, which supports mine warfare command and control, Navy developers said.

Given that the LCS is engineered to use its shallow draft, speed and maneuverability to conduct combat operations in littoral waters near enemy coastlines, having an improved technological capacity to find and detect enemy mines and submarines near the surface expands its mission envelope and provides needed protection for offensive ship operations.

Previously, such reconnaissance was possible only by putting sailors or Marines on the beach in advance of a landing, exposing them to casualties and revealing an intended landing zone, a Navy statement said.

The CMR is an integral part of the mine-countermeasures mission package for LCS, which also includes MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters, undersea drones such as Knifefish, and unmanned mine-hunting surface vessels.

Alongside CMR, the Navy plans to deploy fast, high-tech surface drones equipped with advanced wireless technology able to find, attack and ultimately destroy underwater enemy mines, all while operating at safe distance from a larger manned surface host ship such as an LCS, service officials said.

Naval Sea Systems Command is working with industry to develop, assess and analyze mine-neutralization technologies for its emerging Mine Countermeasures Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MCM USV) -- a multi-mission surface drone countermine platform slated to be operational by 2019, Navy developers said.

"MCM USV will 'take the man out of the minefield' when it comes to Navy mine countermeasures operations," said Alan Baribeau, spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command.

The current exploration of mine-neutralization technology is happening alongside the ongoing integration of advanced sonar mine-hunting payloads onto the USV -- the AQS-20 and AQS-24, Baribeau explained.

Overall, the MCM USV represents the next iteration of surface-drone technology, extending beyond the mine-detecting Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) now going through testing and builders trials, Navy developers said.

The developing technology is part of a longer-term Navy effort to go beyond detection and succeed in destroying mines as well.

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