After years of testing and consideration, the United States Navy is beefing up its arsenal with a new unmanned underwater vehicle.
The Knifefish is a remotely operated underwater vehicle designed to conduct sweeps of the ocean floor and provide anti-naval mine capabilities.
The Navy’s approval of the Knifefish Surface Mine Countermeasure Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Program was announced Monday through a Naval Sea Systems Command media release. This now opens the system to low-rate initial production and eventual use by the Navy.
“The Knifefish system is designed for deployment from the littoral combat ship (LCS), vessels of opportunity or from shore to detect and classify buried, bottom and volume mines in high-clutter environments,” the Navy release said.
“Knifefish is a critical element of the LCS Mine Countermeasure Mission Package and will reduce risk to Navy personnel and equipment.”
Using “cutting-edge low-frequency broadband sonar and automated target recognition software technology,” the underwater drone is able to operate in minefields and other areas while its operators are a safe distance away.
Official tests of the system’s capabilities were completed in early 2019 in multiple locations, including the waters off the coasts of Florida and Massachusetts. The tests pitted the Knifefish against a “simulated target field,” according to the media release.
The company behind the sub, General Dynamics Mission Systems, explained how the unmanned vehicle operates in a YouTube video released last year.
The Navy plans to field 30 of the drones, with full production slated for 2022.
What Knifefish and other similar underwater drone systems are intended to replace is a Cold War favorite — the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program.
The program, which saw marine mammals like dolphins and sea lions trained for military purposes, was phased out after improved drone technology made unmanned vehicles a cheaper and easier option, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported in 2017.
The Navy isn’t the only military branch to embrace the seemingly endless capabilities of drones.
Army units equipped with tiny Black Hornet drones celebrate the system for its ability to give soldiers an unparalleled view of the battlefield. Coupled with its lightweight and tough frame, these flying cameras are expected to end up as a regular part of infantry warfare.
The Air Force is particularly fond of drones, with systems like the Global Hawk and the retired Predator making their mark on the War on Terror and other conflicts.
Every leap in drone technology means less American lives in danger. With the rate at which the military is adopting this new field of technology, future wars will likely look much different for our troops.
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