New tech can transform naval mine countermeasures
Detect and engage.
Do it quickly and safely. Don’t make critical decisions when they're only based on fuzzy data.
In January, U.S. Marine Corps Major General David Coffman, the U.S. Navy’s director of expeditionary warfare said the Navy wants to accelerate the development of automated and unmanned systems as part of mine countermeasures.
The mission is clear: Rapidly identify and neutralize mines at sea to protect the surface fleet. The solution can be found in a transformative concept called “Single Sortie Detect-to-Engage.”
SSDTE combines the search-detect-identify and neutralize elements of a mine countermeasure mission on a single platform executing a single outing, or sortie, so mine detection and neutralization can be conducted in a single pass of an area.
“What used to take weeks or months will soon be done in a matter of days or hours,” said Randy Brandenburg, Seapower business development executive at Raytheon. “Being more efficient makes all the difference.”
Pass in action
Here's how it would work: An unmanned surface vehicle launches from a Littoral Combat Ship. In tow is a sophisticated sonar that can spot mines from any angles, and in high definition.
The towed pod, known as AN/AQS-20, incorporates four separate sonars in a compact and lightweight body. It uses advanced imaging sonars, signal processing and computer algorithms to provide real-time, computer-aided detection and classification against the full spectrum of mines. In other words, it pinpoints mine-like objects and provides a visual image.
If an object is determined to be a mine, a number of actions are available, including detonation. In the future, this could be done with an innovative mine-neutralization system called Barracuda.
“One problem with mine countermeasures the Navy faces is the expensive cost of the neutralizers,” Brandenburg said, adding that the goal is to lower the price while remaining effective.
The Barracuda is a semi-autonomous, unmanned, underwater vehicle that identifies and destroys near-surface, volume and bottom sea mines. It can operate in shallow water, using an expendable, modular neutralizer with a kill mechanism, propulsion, sensors and communications buoy, which transmits wirelessly back to the host ship. Initially, it will be launched from an unmanned surface vessel operating from the Littoral Combat Ship, but in the future could be launched from almost any platform with an A-sized sonobuoy launcher.
Raytheon won an $83 million contract for the design, test and deployment of the Barracuda mine neutralization system. If options are exercised, the total contract award could be $363 million.
State of the art
Barracuda is being prepared for a Preliminary Design Review, planned for the third quarter of fiscal 2019. The design draws from previous efforts of the Office of Naval Research SSDTE mine countermeasures operations.
Mine countermeasures is expected to be a key topic at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center’s 2019 Advanced Naval Technology Exercise.
“We are demonstrating new mine countermeasures techniques for the Navy at ANTX,” Brandenburg said.