Home » Budget Industry » Navy’s Knifefish Unmanned Mine Hunter Passes Sea Acceptance Testing

Navy’s Knifefish Unmanned Mine Hunter Passes Sea Acceptance Testing

Mine countermeasure Knifefish UUV . US Navy Image

The Navy’s Knifefish unmanned undersea vehicle, a key component of the Littoral Combat Ship’s mine-hunting capability, successfully completed sea acceptance testing off the coast of Massachusetts.

The Knifefish, built by General Dynamics and based on the Bluefin Robotics Bluefin-21 deep-water Autonomous Undersea Vehicle, is a self-propelled, untethered vehicle designed to hunt for mines without requiring an LCS or other manned ship to enter a minefield.

By successfully completing the sea acceptance testing, the program now moves to the next phase of development – developmental test and operational assessment – according to General Dynamics.

“These tests prove the Knifefish system can detect, classify and identify undersea mines in high-clutter environments,” Carlo Zaffanella, vice president and general manager of General Dynamics Mission Systems, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the first group of Navy fleet operators have completed their initial Knifefish training, conducted by the General Dynamics team, so they can operate the system during the upcoming developmental test and operational assessment.

Unlike other autonomous vehicles that tow a sonar, Knifefish has a sonar built into its body. But the Knifefish program has been hampered by previous concerns about its range and endurance.

In 2016, delays in reaching important production milestones, a $2.3-million fix to the communications system that helps Knifefish talk to operators aboard LCSs, and ongoing problems with Knifefish’s ability to accomplish its core mission – detecting mines – resulted in a 2016 Department of Defense Inspector General report recommending the Navy consider canceling the program if the problems could not be ironed out by the end of 2017.

If the Navy could not revalidate that Knifefish was the right solution to identify buried and other mines, then the IG recommended the Navy was better off canceling the program and finding a “better use” for the $751.5 million dedicated to Knifefish research, development, testing, evaluation and acquisition.

By the end of 2017, General Dynamics and the Navy had worked out the program’s bugs sufficiently to declare a successful completion of contractor trials, according to a statement released by General Dynamics at the time.

“The Navy is pleased with the Knifefish performance during the recent contractor trials, as the system demonstrated its ability to reliably find mines in different environments,” Capt. Jon Rucker, unmanned systems program manager within the Program Executive Office for Unmanned and Small Combatants (formerly PEO LCS), stated in the 2017 General Dynamics news release.
“Knifefish provides the Navy a critical means to find and identify bottom, buried, and volume mines, providing a much-needed capability for the warfighter.”

  • ElmCityAle

    Well, this is easy to predict: the LCS haters will complain that even this success is late, while the supporters will point out a long history of program challenges and delays for various ships/aircraft/systems that were eventually successful in many ways. Either way, this “package” will be useful to more than LCS, so that should make everyone happy. Ha – did I spoil the fun?

    • Bryan

      One of the problems with the LCS haters is they misplace there criticism. The Navy screwed up this program by not maturing it at all before building ships. That is a valid criticism for all Navy programs. Not just LCS.

      This module is one of the good things about LCS. If it works.

      • Jon

        Sort of the problem…”if it works”. If it does work, they’re still what, a decade at least of replicating existing capabilities? With the early built LCS ageing out of service as/before it comes on-line. If it doesn’t work, which given the LCS module track record to date is very likely, what then?

    • NavySubNuke

      To me the biggest benefit of this system is that it can actually be used on other ships besides LCS — ships that are actually capable of getting underway and going on deployment as well as ships that are designed to go into contested areas and survive.
      MCM is a hard but necessary mission and if this does actually work as advertised (a big if at this point even if it has passed initial acceptance trials) it will go a long way towards helping the Navy no matter what platform it deploys from.

      • PolicyWonk

        To me the biggest benefit of this system is that it can actually be used on other ships besides LCS…
        And, for a LOT less money. Lamentably, MCM has been ignored for decades, as naval planners prefer to prepare for the wars they want to fight, instead of those we are likely to fight.

        But this is a solid, and great development, providing it really works as advertised.

      • Bubblehead

        LOL, Breaking LCS news, USS Independence cannot attend Rose Festival because it is broken down…. AGAIN.

        I hope that Knifefish has some good range because the LCS will be in port.

        • NavySubNuke

          Yikes – just when you thought they were at least going to be able to drive up the coast and attend fleet week….

        • Duane

          Uhhh … how can you predict the Independence will be broken down again 7 months from now, on New Years Day 2019? It certainly is not and has not been “broken down” this year or last year or antmy year.

          The couple of engineering casualties were the fault of dumb operator errors due to insufficient training … the exact same kinds of insufficient training that killed 17 sailors last year on two separate DDG51s.

  • Centaurus

    The navy sure draws some convincing pictures for the Congressional committees, don’t they ?
    Its as though the ball of wax could really work, after $1B in overruns…..

  • DaSaint

    A billion dollar subsystem…

    Well, glad it finally works.

    • NavySubNuke

      $2.6B for the LCS MCM mission module R&D alone – never mind the $1.4B spent on the mission module common support equipment.
      Though at least this system can operate from a variety of Navy ships beyond LCS so there is that.

  • Bubblehead

    This is definitely a good sign. I have always said mine warfare would be an important task of the LCS and one that is ALWAYS under valued. The LCS is a horrible warship. In fact it is not a warship at all. But mine warfare will be critical in a time of war and with the LCS speed and shallow draft it might be the only task it can perform. While the LCS can barely defend itself, it can do so much better than Avenger class.

    There are other subsystems that must prove themselves before the LCS can be an effective Mine Warfare platform. Last I heard they were having issues with the helo lasers to detect mines? Not sure what the latest is. I also can’t help but wonder, did the USN try any shenanigans to get the Knifefish to pass? Did they perform one of their last minute secret change of requirements? The problem with the Knifefish was never that it could not perform the mission. The main issue was its reliability and constantly breaking down. Was this problem fixed or just covered up for the trial?

  • PolicyWonk

    Wait: a component for a mission package that might bring some small value to all those “littoral combat ship” sea-frames that have been welded to the piers since commissioning, actually WORKS?

    This might be the first time there’s some decent (and valuable) news coming out of this program! It’s admittedly hard to tell, given bad (LCS) news has become (by far) the rule (as the report says, the USN’s IG had all but recommended dumping the program and spend the money elsewhere, less than 2 years ago). I think its likely safe to speculate that General Dynamics got it to work *despite* PEO USC “management” (who probably set them back years).

    It’s long past the time *something* salvageable that came out of the LCS program, thereby enabling the USN’s profound neglect of mine warfare be finally swept under history’s rug.

    The Grand Admiral of The Fleet and Lazurus will no doubt take a victory lap, and tout this accomplishment as something justifying the entire LCS program (the finest, most bestest, most fearsome and terrifying of all warship programs – BAR NONE!!!), despite the fact that tools being designed for LCS mission packages could be installed on smaller ships costing a tiny fraction of what a single LCS sea-frame (of either class) does.

    For example, the USN could purchase commercial, sea-going trawlers (brand new) for $5M, and spend $10M altering them to handle deployment/recovery of Knife Fish (not counting the MCM gear and electronics, etc.). The result being we’d have 40 (cheap!) sea-going mine-hunters for the cost of 1 LCS sea-frame, representing far less juicy targets that are all but indistinguishable from a normal fishing boat.

    The above said, I’m in all seriousness happy about this piece of good news: but in no way does it negate or excuse the appalling waste that is the rest of the LCS program.

    • BWills

      “Actually WORKS?” — Careful, this announcement is just saying that a system that has been in acquisition for over a decade, that was originally supposed to go into operational test & evaluation by 2010*, is now … still not ready for operational test & evaluation. But the contractor says it works great!

      (* See GAO-08-13.)

      • PolicyWonk

        I stand corrected: I got carried away with the moment.

        It’s been so long that any good news came out of this wretched program…

    • Jon

      You can believe as much, or as little, of that as you choose. Recall how they cooked the tests for the last bit of kit?

      • PolicyWonk

        I stand corrected – you are right. I apologize for getting carried away with the moment of some tiny success ;-P

  • publius_maximus_III

    Umm.. this is a Knifefish success, not an LCS success. If anything, it sounds like the LCS was hampering its development with those earlier control com problems.

    Still, sounds like such a remote controlled vessel would be useful in the brown water regime intended for LCS operations, the confines of which (harbor entrances, channels, canals, the Straits of Hormuz) would be more likely to be mined than the high seas — particularly the ginormous Pacific and Indian Oceans, where a floating mine in blue water would be a statistical waste of time, just as likely to destroy ships of either side.

  • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

    Maybe the Chinese can steal one like the last UAV they stole?

  • Bubblehead

    That simply is not true. The LCS Independence is made from aluminum hulls. The USN was very clear its life is expected to be much less than other steel hulled ships. It will be lucky to serve anywhere close to 30 years. And the 1st ships are already approaching 10 years and it still cannot leave port. USS Independence just broke down…. AGAIN.

    And you are greatly exaggerating the SCS deployments (as you put it). One LCS did a TRIAL deployment to test the crew arrangements & ship. No other ships have deployed. That ship has returned, no LCS has taken its place, because they are un-deployable. They consistently break down. They serve no purpose. They are nothing but coffins.

  • NavySubNuke

    “Every bit of the unmanned MCM system is cutting edge technology”
    ** snicker **

    • Duane

      OK Ms. Snickers … name all of the other unmanned mine warfare ships that are in service on the planet … all zero of them.

      • NavySubNuke

        That isn’t what said – what you said was “every bit of the unmanned MCM system is cutting edge technology”
        Have you even looked at the photos? The propulsion system is hardly cutting edge for example.

  • NavySubNuke

    I did, here is just one head line that proves you wrong: “Navy May Not Deploy Any Littoral Combat Ships This Year”
    So unless you think 2018 isn’t a year you are (yet again) wrong when you claim that “Multiple LCS have made multiple deployments to SCS every year since 2013”.
    Never mind the fact that NO LCS has yet made “multiple” deployments….
    Nice try though!

  • NavySubNuke

    LOL. Oh dear Duane. It really is funny when you try to pretend you know what is going on.
    You should check out what is actually going on in UUV development sometime. There are amazing things happening all over the world both on the military side and on the commercial.
    If you had even the vaguest idea of what was actually happening in this arena you would understand why the one who should be embarrassed is you.

  • Ed L

    The amphibious forces will really benefit from this ability. And if the Navy brings back mine sweeping boats so that 3 or 4 of them can ride in an LSD or LPD. Back in the late 70’s the Austin class LPD’s did a test loading mine sweeping boats Charleston and took them to Norfolk offloading them in the Virginia Capes (weather was just right)

    • Duane

      Minesweepers wont be brought back. The reason the MCM MM was developed was to convert mine countermeasures into an unmanned task so that we don’t lose minesweepers and their crews. Manned minesweeping is dangerous work. The last time the US was engaged in sweeping enemy minefields to support an amphibious landing was in the Korean war. Most of the ships we lost to mines in that war were our minesweepers.

    • DG1988

      Unfortunately, a sufficient proportion of our potential adversaries’ mine stocks are sophisticated enough to make manned sweeping of the traditional sort a non starter (for a while now, really). Hunting still works, but is honestly too slow to meaningfully support operations in a hypothetical major conventional war (think about trying to characterize/clear 10,000 candidate objects at an hour or more per candidate). The UUV-based methods, really an extension of the mine-hunting paradigm, seem to be where everyone is headed now, but it’s going to be a while before there’s enough equipment and competence built up to meet the requirement, if ever.

  • PolicyWonk

    “No LCS were ever stranded on deployment.”
    Depends on your definition of “stranded”. The OMB report on the USS Freedom’s ill-fated junket to Singapore documented a major propulsion system failure in the middle of the Pacific ocean, leaving the ship adrift.

    Fortunately, it wasn’t during typhoon season, or during wartime.

    But IMO, stranding is a stranding, regardless of location. Its pretty simple: if you’re supposed to be moving, and you’re not, you’re stranded.

  • Kenneth Millstein

    Well done, mission accomplished, etc.

  • Kypros

    I look forward to the day when some of these 3 dozen or so ships have a mission which contributes to the security of the United States.