A Pentagon watchdog agency is urging the Navy to reassess or even cancel its Knifefish unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) program, saying the mine-hunting effort is struggling.
The Knifefish has been in development for almost five years but has yet to show it can meet its primary requirements for mine detection and identification, according to a report released Nov. 10 by the Defense Department’s inspector general office.
“The Knifefish program is at risk of not being ready” for its low-rate production decision, slated for August 2017, the report says. Moving the system into its initial production as scheduled could result in the need for “costly retrofits of the existing structural design of the Knifefish.”
The Navy defended the program, saying that the Knifefish had to withstand years of “funding instability” caused by congressional budget cuts but is now making “encouraging” progress with engineering development models in in-water testing. The Navy also insisted that it will not move into low-rate production without demonstrating the program’s key performance parameters.
“The Knifefish program is on track to meet” its low-rate production decision, Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) wrote in comments included in the report. “Cancellation of the program at this stage would be premature and would lead to a mine warfare capability gap.”
The self-propelled, untethered Knifefish, built by General Dynamics [GD], is supposed to be launched and recovered from the Littoral Combat Ship. It is intended to replace dolphins and sea lions now used to detect mines on the ocean floor.
The Navy plans to spend $842.5 million to develop, buy, maintain and operate Knifefish. A full-rate production decision is scheduled for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2018.