General Dynamics Mission Systems (GD) has opened a new Knifefish UUV (unmanned underwater vehicle) manufacturing facility at its Taunton, Massachusetts site.(1)
As a reminder, Knifefish is intended to be part of the LCS mine countermeasures (MCM) module and will be used to search for buried or bottom mines. Suspect mine locations and data are recorded to the UUV’s onboard data storage module for later upload to the host LCS for analysis. More recently, a data transmission capability has been added to try to streamline the data transfer process.
Knifefish is a 21” diameter, torpedo shaped UUV with a length of around 19 ft and a weight of 1700 lb. It uses a low frequency, broadband, synthetic aperture sonar. Knifefish is capable of operating for around 16 hrs (3) which, depending on the distance to and from the area of operation allows for perhaps 10-12 hrs of actual search operations. Its operational speed is a maximum of 4.5 kts(4).
GD is currently building five systems, with each system consisting of two UUVs, launch and recovery equipment, and control equipment.(1) The Navy is planning to procure 48 Knifefish UUVs with two allocated to each of 24 MCM modules the Navy hopes to buy.
We’ve often discussed the need to produce weapons and systems quickly during a time of war. So, what’s the production rate of the Knifefish?
The facility, approximately 8,000 square feet in size, will be capable of producing one system per month after receiving long-lead-time materials, said Craig Regnier, the manufacturing operations manager at the Taunton plant. (2)
One system per month? I hope we have a very slow war!
Unfortunately, Knifefish epitomizes the problem with the LCS MCM module. Knifefish is not a one-step mine disposal system as you might expect. Instead, Knifefish is just the first step in a multi-step process that requires a great deal of time. The major problem is that detection is not even remotely a real-time operation. The Knifefish UUV runs its scan pattern (at 4.5 kts!) and is then recovered aboard the LCS where the data is then analyzed. Carlo Zaffanella, vice president and general manager of the GDMS Maritime and Strategic Systems business noted this problem and identified it as something he wants to improve.
The next step is finding ways to make UUVs operationally more useful. A top focus here, he said, is the ability to analyze data while the UUV is still in the water, for something closer to real-time threat identification.
“Clearly, you would like to get to where more of that analysis were possible in real time, or at least as close to real time as you can make it,” Zaffanella told reporters. “If we could get the devices to provide not just essentially a map of what’s out there but perhaps detects or even tracks and say, ‘This is really what you want to be concerned about in real time,’ then the operational utility will go up.” (1)
So … even the manufacturer recognizes that the UUV has only limited utility and yet the Navy still wants it. Hmm …
The overall LCS MCM process involves multiple initial scans by various methods, followed by confirmation scans, followed by individual mine disposal. The mine clearance rate is something on the order of 1 per hour or less which is far from being combat-useful. For leisurely, peacetime clearance operations that can span weeks or months, that process might be fine but for combat operations that clearance rate is a non-starter.
Setting that aside, do you find the following as disturbing as I did?
Capt. Gus Weekes, the Navy’s LCS mission modules program manager, said he had watched GD staff launch a Knifefish at the waterfront in Quincy earlier in the week. During the testing, he said the UUV experienced a failure but praised the company for its ability to recover the drone despite the issue. (2)
So, let me get this straight. At a planned PR showcase event, where the UUV undoubtedly was exquisitely fine-tuned for the event, the UUV fails and the Navy program manager praises it? Shouldn’t this raise some red flags? Shouldn’t this prompt suspicion and criticism instead of praise?
Unfortunately, the current trend is that the Navy routinely accepts delivery of damaged and incomplete ships and equipment. Now, we’re extending that trend to praising malfunctioning MCM components. Shouldn’t the Navy have slammed the brakes on the program instead of praising it? This is how you get EMALS and AGS and LCS failures – by not questioning and holding manufacturers accountable. I’d have suspended all contracts and payments and demanded proof of success before resuming production.
This is yet another system whose effectiveness and value seem exceedingly questionable. Time after time, the Navy rides questionable systems right down the drain until they’re total failures instead of cutting their losses and terminating questionable systems early on. This is how we wound up with the LCS, Zumwalt, and so many other useless systems.
Even if Knifefish worked perfectly, it’s not suitable or effective for combat mine clearance operations. It’s time to cut the cord on this one.
(1)Defense News website, “General Dynamics opens new unmanned underwater vehicle manufacturing center”, Megan Eckstein, 16-Aug-2021,
(2)Breaking Defense website, “GD Mission Systems Launches Knifefish Production Facility ”, Justin Katz, 17-Aug-2021,