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U.S. Navy pleased with improvement, function of new towed minehunting sonar

By Allen Cone
hTe AN/AQS-20C towed mine-hunting Sonar is streamed into Gulf of Mexico waters of the Naval Surface Warfare Center test range. in Panama City, Fla. Testing was completed on Feb. 12. Photo by Eddie Green/U.S. Navy
hTe AN/AQS-20C towed mine-hunting Sonar is streamed into Gulf of Mexico waters of the Naval Surface Warfare Center test range. in Panama City, Fla. Testing was completed on Feb. 12. Photo by Eddie Green/U.S. Navy

April 9 (UPI) -- U.S. Navy personnel believe its new towed minehunting sonar is one step closer to joining the littoral combat ships' fleet.

The AN/AQS-20C, known as Q-20C, completed development testing in February at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City, Fla.

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"We're excited to finally finish developmental testing after the 'pause' caused by Hurricane Michael. This test marks a major milestone in delivering this capability to the fleet," lead project engineer Joe Thomas said in news release Monday.

Findings from a final report will be used for future performance improvements of the system.

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The C-variant of the Q-20 includes upgraded acoustic array technology with an integrated, electro-optic identification sensor.

"This is a multi-modal search sonar," Thomas said. "When you put the Q-20C sonar sensor in the water, it looks down, to each side, and is also forward-looking. ... With the latest improvements, it's essentially looking everywhere in the surrounding volume of water."

Thomas said previous versions of the sensor needed to swap the volume-search module for an electro-optic identification module.

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Raytheon produces the AN/AQS-20, which incorporates four separate sonars in a compact, lightweight and hydro-dynamically stable towed body.

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The sonars, using signal processing and computer algorithms, provide real-time, computer-aided detection and classification against the full spectrum of threat mines. The system also provides the operator with a visual image and a contact data list.

"By reducing the size of the platform and the number of crew required to deploy the system, the AN/AQS-20 safely and efficiently consolidates expansive mine-sweeping operations that previously required a large warfare ship manned by more than 80 crew members," Raytheon said on its website.

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The Panama City site is considered the nation's premier technical center for mine warfare and mine countermeasures. The subject matter experts partnered with Q-20C post mission analysis operators during this phase of development testing to evaluate the system performance with these latest improvements.

Plans are for the sonar to be integrated with its intended tow platform in a mine warfare and mine countermeasures' unmanned surface vehicle, in Fiscal Year 2020.

The MCM USV, which was designated on Oct. 8, 2018, is a long endurance, semi-autonomous, diesel-powered, all-aluminum surface craft that supports the employment of various MCM payloads.

Post mission analysis operators also are optimistic about the Q-20C's potential future naval capabilities.

"As part of the Littoral Combat Ship's MCM Mission Package, this sensor, when deployed by the MCM USV, can help to clear minefields," Aerographer's Mate Chief Petty Officer Larry Pacquer said.

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"Once integrated with its intended tow platform, the Q-20C has the potential to facilitate ships safe passage through maritime channels," Mineman Petty Officer First Class Jonathan Roden said. "It's going to be technologies like these that will enable the Navy to remove Sailors from the minefields."

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