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Knifefish mine countermeasure (MCM) unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) is designed and built by General Dynamics Mission Systems’ subsidiary Bluefin Robotics to improve the US Navy’s mine hunting capability.
The high-speed UUV is intended to be operated in co-ordination with the US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) MCM mission package. It can also be deployed from other naval surface ships.
The UUV’s mission capabilities include detection, identification and classification of floating or buried naval mines in large volumes at various depths and at the sea floor. The UUV also provides intelligence support for other mine warfare systems.
Developmental tests and operational assessment of the Knifefish UUV are underway as of 2018.
Knifefish UUV development and testing
A scale model of the Knifefish was unveiled in April 2012. The UUV passed its preliminary design review in July 2012 and critical design review in January 2013. It entered the engineering and manufacturing development phase in March 2013.
The UUV configuration item test, which concluded in August 2013, involved testing and verification of the propulsion systems, payload components, and software interface components.
Bluefin Robotics and the Naval Research Laboratory together conducted a long-endurance test on the Reliant UUV, a prototype of Knifefish, from Boston to New York for more than 100 hours in October 2013.
The US Navy and General Dynamics Mission Systems Knifefish team carried out at-sea mine-hunting testing of the vehicle off the coast of Boston in March 2017. The vehicle successfully engaged the US Navy’s mine test targets submerged at various depths during the tests.
The Knifefish team completed contractor trials in October 2017, while the formal sea acceptance testing was completed by the US Navy in June 2018. The team also completed initial Knifefish training to the first group of Navy fleet operators in the same month.
The tests were conducted using the US Navy mine test targets under high-clutter environments in multiple simulated minefields.
Knifefish UUV design and features
The Knifefish UUV is designed based on the Bluefin-21 deep-water autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). The system comprises two heavyweight UUVs, operator console, support container, vehicle maintenance cradle, base pallet, and a spare battery system.
Featuring an open-architecture design, the Knifefish underwater vehicle can be integrated with a variety of mission-specific payload systems. It measures 264in-long, 21in in diameter and weighs approximately 920kg.
The UUV’s nose section allows it to glide to the water surface during the recovery process, while its tail cone incorporates propulsion and steerage systems.
A data acquisition system and a computer placed in the middle section provide autonomous operating and data processing capabilities.
Sensors and communications onboard Knifefish UUV
The Knifefish unmanned undersea vehicle incorporates low-frequency broadband synthetic aperture sonar, two-way iridium communications, graphical user interface software tools, and specialised sensors.
It also features acoustic payloads such as reacquisition sensor, low-frequency broadband sonar, transmitter, and towed receiver array.
The sonar system is used to detect and track mines and mine-like objects in the sea. The acoustic information is converted into digital data and stored in the UUV’s database and analytical computer, which features ultra-high-density data storage.
The information is then transmitted to the launch ship using 3Pi’s high-bandwidth panel array telemetry system through standard Ethernet interfaces.
Propulsion and performance
The Knifefish MCM unmanned undersea vehicle’s sonar and electronics systems are powered by lithium-ion batteries.
The UUV uses propellers to sail through the water and is capable of operating autonomously for approximately 16 hours.
Contractors involved with the Knifefish programme
The Naval Sea Systems Command of the US Navy selected General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems as the prime contractor to develop Knifefish as part of its Surface Mine Countermeasure Unmanned Underwater Vehicle programme in September 2011.
Other contractors involved with the Knifefish programme are Bluefin Robotics, Ultra Electronic Ocean Systems, 3 Phoenix, General Dynamics Information Technology, Oceaneering International, ASRC Research Technology Solutions, Metron, and the Applied Research Laboratory at Penn State University.
Bluefin Robotics was responsible to design and build the vehicle, under a subcontract from General Dynamics.
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