Mönch US correspondent Marty Kauchak is attending the 2018 Surface Navy Association 30th Annual National Symposium in Arlington, Virginia/USA. He files this end of day report with highlights from the exhibition floor and conference rooms.
One of the success stories in the US Navy’s unmanned underwater systems portfolio has been the turnaround of the General Dynamics Mission Systems’ KNIFEFISH, a medium-class mine countermeasure UUV intended for deployment from the US Navy's Littoral Combat Ship and other Navy vessels. KNIFEFISH has been designed to reduce risk to personnel by operating in the minefield as an off-board sensor while the host ship stays outside the minefield boundaries.
This SNA symposium saw a programme having righted itself from the technical setbacks in recent years. In an exclusive interview with Captain Jon Rucker, Program Manager at the US Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command for Unmanned Maritime Systems, in the office of Program Executive Office (PEO) for Littoral Combat Ships, MONS was told the major challenge of the vehicle has been, “the advanced sonar and that capability it has to bring, must be an integrated solution – to get the full vehicle to work with that sonar payload. Where we are today is moving to final testing.”
For 2018, as soon as the General Dynamics-led team completes its internal testing, the development regimen will pass to the PEO for service development testing and operational assessment. The development testing will conducted under the oversight of Cpt. Rucker’s office on different bottom types and using different, unspecified mine types. Part of the testing will be in Boston Harbor, the other part along the Florida coast to provide different environments. The next service acquisition phase will be operational assessment – independent tests completed under the oversight of Operational Test and Evaluation Force (OPTEVFOR). “Once that work is done and we get a report from them that says, hopefully, and we expect to, the vehicle is ‘good to go’, that allows us to go to [US DoD Acquisition Phase] Milestone C now scheduled for third quarter of this year. That in turn, allows us to go to low rate initial production,” the service expert said.
While the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2019 budget has not been enacted as this article went to press, budget “marks” by the US Senate Appropriations Committee add two systems (one system has two vehicles) to this fiscal document for consideration and deliberations by budget conference committees.
Members of this GD-led programme team include General Dynamics Bluefin Robotics (vehicle), and Ultra Electronics Ocean Systems (sonar) as well as Metron, Oceaneering International, Inc. and others.
Will there be room for other companies, including non-US companies in future KNIFEFISH work? Carlo Zaffanella, Vice President and General Manager of Maritime and Strategic Systems for General Dynamics Mission Systems, responded: “Let’s broaden the question to the broader UUV market. There are obviously ITAR [International Traffic in Arms Regulations] restrictions. Within the framework of the ITAR regulations, I don’t see why not.”