U.S. Navy Knifefish Unmanned Mini-Sub Completes Seaworthiness Test
Matthew Greenwood posted on June 12, 2018 |

The General Dynamics Mission Systems team successfully completed the formal Sea Acceptance Testing (SAT)—commonly referred to as a “shakedown cruise”—for its Knifefish minehunter vehicle.

The Knifefish underwater drone. (Image courtesy of General Dynamics.)
The Knifefish underwater drone. (Image courtesy of General Dynamics.)

The Knifefish is an underwater drone that will serve as a roving, mine-detecting scout for Navy surface forces—reducing risk to military personnel and equipment by operating in a minefield as a remote sensor while the host ship stays a safe distance away. The device will be tasked with detecting, identifying and analyzing undersea mines, including elusive targets such as mines that are buried or have been planted in cluttered environments. The Knifefish will also gather environmental data and provide intelligence support for other mine warfare activities.

“The information and situational awareness Knifefish will deliver to sailors is a quantum leap in clarity and accuracy over other mine-hunting systems currently used by the Navy,” said Carlo Zaffanella, vice president and general manager of Maritime and Strategic Systems for General Dynamics Mission Systems.

The Knifefish unmanned undersea minehunter.

Unlike other autonomous vehicles that tow a sonar, Knifefish has a sonar built into its body. The device boasts a common open systems architecture design, which allows for a variety of setup options and rapid reconfiguration to respond to mission changes. The drone also allows for “plug-and-play” integration with ship systems and mission modules of various kinds. It can be deployed from, and coordinate with, multiple types of Navy surface craft.

In addition to conducting the SAT tests, the Knifefish team also completed initial Navy Fleet operator training in preparation for the next phase of the drone’s testing. This training gave the operators a chance to familiarize themselves with the operation and maintenance of the sub. The next step will involve developmental testing and additional operator training.

“Knifefish provides the Navy a critical means to find and identify bottom, buried, and volume mines, providing a much-needed capability for the warfighter,” said Captain Jon Rucker, unmanned systems program manager in the Navy’s Program Executive Office for Unmanned and Small Combatants, in a 2017 General Dynamics news release.

The Navy recognizes the increasing importance of unmanned craft in its ranks. Last year the Navy created its first-ever drone squadron, and in early 2018 the service took possession of the first prototype of the Sea Hunter—an autonomous sub-hunting surface ship. 

Read more about autonomous submarine drones at Transforming Undersea Robot Could Help Explore Ocean Floor.

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