Knifefish Surface MCM Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (SMCM UUV)
The Knifefish is a self-propelled, untethered, autonomous underwater vehicle designed to find underwater mines. The Knifefish is capable of operating independently in shallow ocean water, and is launched and recovered from the Littoral Combat Ship — a fast, agile ship designed for operations in environments near the shoreline.
The knifefish, like the Black ghost knifefish, is a model for use of electricity to navigate. It can both produce and sense electrical impulses. Electrogenesis occurs when a specialized electric organ in the tail of the fish generates electrical signals. Electroreception occurs when sensory cells in the fish’s skin detect the electrical charge. Their electric organs create an electric force field that surrounds the fish as it swims. It is modified by the relative conductivity of objects close to the fish. These electrical fluctuations are detected and interpreted by the fish through electroreceptors embedded in its body. This provides an electrical image that changes in real time. This is effective when navigating in low visibility environments or in the dark.
Knifefish emit their own continuous electrical impulses. This allows the fish to determine the presence of nearby objects by sensing perturbations in timing and amplitude of its electric field. The electric fields generated by external sources are detected by ampullary organs. This is called passive electrolocation.
The Knifefish was an Acquisition Category III program in the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the acquisition process. The Navy established the Knifefish as an acquisition program in September 2011, as part of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Mine Countermeasure Mission Package. The Navy was developing the Knifefish in preparation for the low-rate initial production (initial production) decision planned for the fourth quarter of FY 2017. The LCS is a fast, agile ship designed for operations in environments near the shoreline. There are two types of LCS and each is equipped with mission packages that provide unique warfighting capabilities in three areas: antisubmarine warfare, surface warfare, and mine countermeasures. The Knifefish is one system in the LCS Mine Countermeasures Mission Package. The Navy is planning to deliver the LCS Mine Countermeasures Mission Package in four increments and plans to deliver the Knifefish in increment four.
Program Management Office Unmanned Maritime Systems (PMS 406) is responsible for the planning, execution, and reporting of all test and evaluation activities associated with the Knifefish program. In addition, PMS 406 is responsible for coordinating with the LCS Mission Modules Program Office (PMS 420) to make certain that Knifefish integration with the LCS is successful.
The Program Executive Office LCS is the Knifefish milestone decision authority for the program. As the milestone decision authority, the Program Executive Office LCS is responsible for approving entry of the Knifefish program into the next phase of the acquisition process and for cost, schedule, and performance reporting to higher authorities, including congressional reporting. In addition, the Program Executive Office LCS provides oversight of the LCS and the LCS Mission Modules through its program management offices. One of those mission modules is the Mine Countermeasure Mission Package.
The Knifefish is a minehunting system designed as a self-propelled, untethered, autonomous underwater vehicle. The Knifefish uses low-frequency broadband sonar sensors to detect, classify, and identify buried and bottom mines. The Knifefish is capable of operating independently in shallow ocean water, and is launched and recovered from the LCS or craft or ship of opportunity. The Navy intended to use the Knifefish instead of marine mammals, such as dolphins and sea lions, which are currently used to detect mines on the ocean floor.
The Navy did not effectively establish capability requirements and plan and execute testing to procure the Knifefish. Specifically, the Knifefish requirements developer (Expeditionary Warfare Division, N95) did not fully define requirements to support the communication interface and launch and recovery operations between the Knifefish system and the Littoral Combat Ship. This occurred because the Knifefish requirements developer and the Littoral Combat Ship requirements developer (Surface Warfare Division, N96) did not coordinate to develop specific Knifefish requirements during the development of the two programs. The lack of coordination resulted in the Knifefish program office issuing engineering change proposals to redesign the Knifefish vehicle to correct communication interface and launch and recovery problems between Knifefish and the Littoral Combat Ship. These engineering change proposals increased program costs by $2.3 million. Additionally, the Knifefish program office did not effectively plan and execute testing because of funding shortfalls, which resulted in a 14-month delay in meeting program milestones.
For the Knifefish program to fully accomplish its mission of detecting, classifying, and identifying buried and bottom mines, the Knifefish must be able to be launched and recovered from the LCS. While the CDD did not include a launch and recovery requirement, the performance specifications document included a requirement for a device to launch and recover the Knifefish vehicle from the LCS deck. Furthermore, the performance specifications document stated the launch and recovery device must be able to independently move the Knifefish vehicle to the ship’s launch area for launch and recovery. During the Preliminary Design Review in May 2012, the contractor presented a launch and recovery device design that created numerous LCS interface problems, including loading the launch and recovery device on the LCS deck and maneuvering the launch and recovery device on the ship. The Navy tasked the contractor to identify alternate recovery methods compatible with the Navy’s operational procedure that requires the LCS not to travel below 3 nautical miles per hour while recovering the Knifefish.
Almost 3 years later, the Knifefish program office acknowledged that there was still moderate risk that the launch and recovery design would not meet LCS operational requirements and could result in the Knifefish not being deployable from the LCS. According to the program office’s risk mitigation plan, the launch and recovery risk will be recommended for closure when the launch and recovery system successfully completes testing and can demonstrate the launch and recovery capability.
As of February 2016, the program office had received approximately $91.0 million of the program’s estimated acquisition program baseline for research, development, test, and evaluation funds. However, the Knifefish program had not demonstrated the system’s ability to perform the key performance parameter of single-pass detection, classification, and identification of bottom and buried mine capabilities. DoD guidance states that a failure to meet a primary requirement threshold (minimum) may result in a reevaluation or reassessment of the program or a modification of the production increments.
The Navy could spend an estimated $58.2 million procuring three Knifefish Unmanned Undersea Vehicle engineering developmental models and up to five initial production systems without having demonstrated the system’s ability to perform the key performance parameter (primary requirement) of single-pass detection, classification, and identification of bottom and buried mine capabilities. These initial production systems could require costly retrofits of existing structural design if problems are not corrected and may not satisfy test requirements in support of the full-rate production decision planned for the fourth quarter of FY 2018.
If the Knifefish cannot meet its primary requirement to detect, classify, and identify mines, the Navy could spend an additional $751.5 million in remaining funds for Knifefish research, development, test, and evaluation; procurement; and operations and maintenance to procure and sustain a system that may not achieve the capability the Navy originally planned.
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