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General Dynamics awarded $45 million Knifefish mine countermeasure drone contract

General Dynamics was awarded an almost $45 million contract for low-rate initial production of the Surface Mine Countermeasure Unmanned Undersea Vehicle, also known as Knifefish, the U.S. Department of Defense said in a release.

The $44,595,146 modification to a 2011 contract (N61331-11-C-0017) “will provide the initial systems for the Navy to test and operate,” the Monday, August 26 release said.

The 19 feet (5.8 m) torpedo-shaped Knifefish autonomous underwater drone is part of the Littoral Combat Ship Mine Countermeasures Mission Package but it can also be deployed from vessels of opportunity or from shore.

“The Knifefish program is an ongoing effort to provide a UUV that detects and classifies undersea volume, bottom and buried mines in high-clutter environments,” the release added.

The modular Knifefish system consists of two UUVs along with support systems and equipment, and uses low-frequency broadband sonar and Naval Research Laboratory-developed automated target recognition software technology. It is designed to act as an off-board sensor, enabling the host ship to stay outside mine fields.

The propellor-driven craft is powered by lithium-ion batteries and is capable of approximately 16 hours of autonomous operation.

Knifefish UUV test
Members of the Knifefish mine countermeasure unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) test team, man tending lines during crane operations as part of an operational test, May 13, 2019. Image: US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Brooks

Knifefish replaced the U.S. Navy’s Sea Mammal Program, which used dolphins and sea lions to help locate and destroy sea mines.

The LRIP contract announcement came three days after Naval Sea Systems Command announced that the Program Executive Officer for Unmanned and Small Combatants granted Milestone C approval to the Knifefish program.

“Formal Developmental Testing and an Operational Assessment were conducted from January through May 2019 in multiple locations off the coasts of Massachusetts and Florida,” NSSC said, adding that the “tests involved end-to-end operational minehunting missions against a deployed, simulated target field.”

Operations performed during the testing from vessels of opportunity included mission planning, launch and recovery, monitoring and data processing.

A full-rate production decision is expected in fiscal year 2022 following further testing of the LRIP units, and the Navy plans to procure 30 Knifefish systems – 24 in support of LCS and six systems for deployment from other vessels, NSSC said.


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