Senior Chief Mineman Abraham Garcia, left, and Aerographer’s Mate 1st Class Joshua Gaskill man tending lines during crane operations in May as part of an operational assessment of the Knifefish mine countermeasures UUV system. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Brooks/U.S. Navy
Aug. 27 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy's Knifefish Surface Mine Countermeasure Unmanned Undersea Vehicle program has been approved to enter low-rate initial production, with the Pentagon awarding a contract for the work days later.
General Dynamics Missions Systems was awarded a $44.6 million contract on Monday by the Department of Defense to start production of the undersea drones. The Knifefish is part of the littoral combat ship's mine countermeasures mission package, though they can be launched from a variety of vessels if needed.
The Navy's Program Executive Officer for Unmanned and Small Combatants granted the approval on August 23, officially approving the start of production of the drones. The branch ran tests of prototype systems from January to May earlier this year, pitting the systems against deployed, simulated mine fields off the coasts of Massachusetts and Florida.
"Knifefish is a critical element of the LCS Mine Countermeasures Mission Package and will reduce risk to Navy personnel and equipment," Navy officials said in a press release.
The system consists of two undersea drones, with support systems and equipment, that uses low-frequency broadband sonar and automated target recognition software technology to detect and classify buried, bottom and volume mines. This allows the host ship to stay away from potential mine fields while still investigating the area.
Under the new contract, the full value of which was obligated to General Dynamics at the time of award, production of the initial systems for testing will be performed mostly in locations in Massachusetts, with the rest spread across the continental United States. Work on the contract is expected to completed in August 2021.
UUVs produced under the low-rate production contract are expected to be provided for the Navy to both test and operate as Knifefish development continues to move forward.
The Navy plans to eventually acquire 30 of the systems -- 24 for LCS vessels and six for others -- but said it will not make a decision on full-rate production until 2022.