General Dynamics has successfully demonstrated the capabilities of its Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) at the 2016 Annual Naval Technology Exercises (ANTX), sponsored by the US Navy.

During the ANTX exercise, Bluefin-21 AUV launched Bluefin SandShark micro-autonomous underwater vehicles (M-AUV).

The Bluefin SandShark M-AUVs surfaced and operated independent of the heavyweight-class Bluefin-21 AUV.

"A Bluefin-21 can be reconfigured for multiple missions with varying payloads."

As part of a simulated mission scenario conducted during the exercise, the two Bluefin SandSharks received target imagery and other information transferred by the Bluefin-21.

After receiving the target information, the Bluefin SandSharks emerged to the surface to communicate with a Blackwing unmanned aerial vehicle, which then transferred the information back to a submarine combat control system, located ashore for decision-making authority and subsequent command of Bluefin SandShark M-AUVs.

General Dynamics Mission Systems autonomous undersea vehicles Tracy Howard said: “Our successful ANTX demonstrations showed that unmanned vehicles can deliver capabilities across the undersea and air operating domains.

“This system of systems approach leverages Bluefin-21’s larger payload delivery, longer endurance and superior navigation capabilities to deliver smaller payloads such as autonomous underwater vehicles or unmanned aerial vehicles and sensors, providing the navy with additional mission capabilities.”

The modularly designed Bluefin-21 AUV can carry and launch a variety of AUVs in various configurations such as M-AUVs, larger AUVs, and unmanned aerial vehicles.

A Bluefin-21 can be reconfigured for multiple missions with varying payloads, namely intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensors, and communications nodes to expand maritime network communications.

The Bluefin-21 AUV is deployed as the base vehicle for the US navy’s Knifefish programme, which is a surface mine countermeasure unmanned underwater vehicle.

Image: A Bluefin-21 being moved to be deployed for a mission. Photo: courtesy of Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter D Blair/US Navy.