The Knifefish unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV), a mine-hunter that General Dynamics [GD] is developing for the Navy, had a successful series of contractor tests last month, a service official said Jan. 10.

During the tests, Knifefish detected eight mine-representative targets in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, said Capt. Jon Rucker, program manager for unmanned maritime systems in the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program executive office.

A rendering of the Knifefish unmanned underwater vehicle which will be deployed from the littoral combat ship to sweep mines. Illustration: General Dynamics.
A rendering of the Knifefish unmanned underwater vehicle, which will be deployed from the Littoral Combat Ship to sweep mines. Illustration: General Dynamics.

The testing revealed only “minor kinks,” which are “nothing that we don’t expect to work through to finish contractor testing this year and then get into developmental testing to deliver that capability to the Navy,” Rucker said at a media briefing at a Surface Navy Association symposium in Arlington, Va.

For two targets, which were stealthy and considered “more difficult,” Knifefish had a software “timing issue,” which means it “saw them but it couldn’t necessarily fully classify them,” Rucker said. For the other six targets, Knifefish exceeded expectations.

“We’re very pleased with what it’s done,” Rucker said. It’s “not perfect yet. We have to work through the last few things.”

The self-propelled, untethered Knifefish is intended to be launched and recovered from LCS. It is supposed to replace dolphins and sea lions now used to detect mines on the ocean floor. The Navy has said it will test Knifefish aboard LCS in fiscal year 2017 and begin fielding it in FY 2018.

The program has come under fire from the Defense Department’s inspector general office, which wrote in a November report that the Knifefish was still struggling after nearly five years of development. The Navy defended the program, saying it was making progress despite years of congressional budget cuts.

Turning to other systems, Rucker said the Textron [TXT] Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS), a mine-sweeping boat, is scheduled to get underway Jan. 11 to begin contractor testing in Slidell, La. “Once we finish that up, it will shift over to the Navy to go through our formal developmental test and then eventually deliver the capability to the fleet,” he said.

Although Rucker is not involved with the Navy “ocean glider” UUV that the Chinese military briefly detained last month, he indicated he plans to get briefed on the matter so he can incorporate lessons learned into his own work.