The US Navy has recently given General Dynamics the green light for placing the Knifefish drone system into production. The system will be used for locating and mapping minefields using drones. It has been in development for a couple of years now and even faced cancellation at some time. However, it is on its way to production and will be deployed on the Littoral Combat Ships. The news comes at a time when Iran is being accused of mining the Persian Gulf.
The Navy gave the go-ahead for Knifefish on 23 August for low rate initial production. This is only one step short of mass production. The Department of Defense further announced a $44 million LRIP contract on 26 August. The service will be buying Knifefish systems each comprised of two drones – 24 for the Littoral Combat ship class warships while the remaining six will be utilized on other ships.
Sea mines are also known as weapons that wait and prove to be quite an effective weapon system. They are not only cost-effective but also easily deployable and possess the potential of damaging or even sinking ships that are considered to be the most sophisticated ones. Out of 19 US Navy warships that have either been seriously damaged or sunk since WWII, fifteen fell victim to the sea mines. That is where Knifefish comes in with its ability to sweep mine infested area and chart minefield.
According to a 2016 Department of Defense Inspector General report, ‘The Knifefish uses low-frequency broadband sonar sensors to detect, classify, and identify buried and bottom mines. The Knifefish is capable of operating independently in shallow ocean water and is launched and recovered from the LCS or craft or ship of opportunity. The Navy intends to use the Knifefish instead of marine mammals, such as dolphins and sea lions, which are currently used to detect mines on the ocean floor.’
The drone is equipped with automated target recognition software technology as well. This has been developed by the Naval Research Laboratory and helps the Navy by determining the exact kind of mines thus allowing the Navy to commence the process of disposing of the mines before they can cause any kind of harm. Furthermore, Knifefish is the only mine hunting system aboard the Littoral Combat Ships that can detect mines which are buried in the seabed.