Meet the Navy’s Knifefish Mine-Hunting Robot

So, what’s this thing that looks like a digicam’d torpedo? It’s what the Navy is hoping will be it’s next-gen anti-mine robot called the Knifefish.

Yup, the Knifefish is going to be a 20-foot, 3,000-pound robot that will go on 16-hour missions snooping around for sea mines using low-frequency bandwidth synthetic aperture sonar that’s so effective that it can even penetrate beneath the ocean floor depending on the makeup of the sediment on the seafloor, according to Navy Capt. Duane Ashton of the Navy’s Maritime Systems Program Office who unveiled the beast during the Navy League’s Sea, Air, Space Conference in National Harbor, Md., today.

The Knifefish is designed to prowl the seas autonomously and can scan “high-clutter” environments using its sonar to tell the difference between all sorts of sea mines or even random debris, like say a refrigerator, on the sea floor by comparing the shape of an object with a database of known sea mines. The only downside for now is that the fish has to come back to its mothership — Littoral Combat Ships to start and eventually “ships of opportunity” — to upload the information that it vacuums up on its missions. Eventually, the craft will be able to transfer data back to to its motherships.

The torpedo-looking minehunters will be in service by 2017, according to Ashton.


  • Jake

    Is this the same low freq sonar that kills whales, dolphins, ect every time they use it?

    • blight_

      Edit: I’m not sure which navy sonar systems are the ones that kill animals, but if it’s the LFA it would be the SURTASS system deployed only a few specialized vessels.

      Would have to look up SURTASS for more info…

      From a luddite perspective, SAR uses pings from multiple positions and processes the signals to form a high fidelity image, which differs in signal processing from your standard sonar setup which pings once, stops and collects all the return information from the first ping and then refreshes repeatedly.

      In any case something in a torpedo is going to be smaller, and thus less likely not powerful enough to blow out whale eardrums. The Navy wants super powerful sonar to scan the ocean for submarines. This is something short-ranged for mine clearance. So unless a pod of dolphins wants to make friends with the USV while it pings…

    • Michael Hughey

      REALLY? I can see your concern if we are just talking about routine training missions, but TODAY, there is an inherent threat to our interests in the Strait of Hormuz, and Naval personnel that may be involved. I think that the Whales and Dolphins would prefer the sonar over the explosion of the mines as they destroy innocent vesels and people.

    • Jacob

      I’m pretty sure you use high frequency sonar to sweep for naval mines. Mines are probably smaller than the wavelength of low or medium frequency sonar and probably won’t be picked up. But don’t quote me on that.

      • Eric

        90% of the time high frequency sonars are used for minehunting. In this case a low frequency is used for greater range and ocean bottom penetration. High frequency sonars will not penetrate the ocean floor. The trade off, and its a big trade off, is the quality of the sonar image.

    • Curt

      No, not even close. No threat to marine life.

    • dan

      An aircraft carrier with its air wing aboard exceeds over 5000 sailors. How many of people dying equals a whale or a dolphin. Pull your liberal head out of your ass and look at the big picture,

  • TMB

    Sounds like the robot they used to scan and map the Titanic debris field recently. If you didn’t watch it last night, the History Channel showed an expedition where they took two torpedo-looking robots with downward looking sonar on pre-programmed patterns to map the entirety of the 15 square mile debris field. It took about a week for the two robots to do it.

  • Mastro

    Cool- just hopes it works for under $2 billion-

    A module that does what its supposed to do for the LCS would be nice-

    • tiger

      Mr. Limpet worked for a lot less. We should hire him again.

    • blight_

      My interpretation of the “modules” system is that those plug and play modules are just the command and control equipment for USV’s. Knifefish might plug right in.

  • RCDC

    It can be an anti submarine or anti missile boat too if they place camera on it.

    • Jacob

      It wouldn’t work, a submarine would easily outrun a UUV. This thing would have to trade speed for endurance in order to do its job: hunting mines. We do have a torpedo-like unmanned drone that kills submarines though, and it’s called a torpedo!

      • RCDC

        I think it would be neat if we make it multi role-task torpedo, than just a mine hunting.

        • Curt

          Yeah, like finding buried mines is not good enough.

  • anantoniusbauwens

    Yeah we have a torpedo wich can follow the……..think of our dolpins or do some think we onlly needed them for Navy to rain??

  • Sgt_Buffy

    Neat toy.

  • Hickelbilly

    Is that KNIFE to kill a super FISH.

  • tiger

    Why do you need camo underwater??? It could be pink with polka dots. Nobody but the fish will see the thing.

    • Curt

      This actually is the only application for “Aquaflag” that I have seen. The UUV will have to surface (or at least get close to the surface) periodically to update position with GPS. Not being able to see it from the surface will be valuable. Not seeing a man overboard, not so much.

      • Curt

        Sorry I meant to say,

        “This actually is the only application for “Aquaflag” that I have seen that makes sense.”

    • SWO

      It is simply a marketing thing. Digital Blue (Type-1) camouflage of the Naval Working Uniform (NWU) is in style right now thanks to it being worn by Rihanna and cast of the movie, Battleship and the uniforms worn by most of the actors in the television show Last Resort. You are right in that it can be made any color. It will probably be painted international orange for the production version like most other deployable sonar systems. That way it can be more easily found if it goes astray and gets itself lost on the sea floor.

  • Banning

    Having served on sweeps in the 70″s, wooden ones, and watched as helo’s were trying to use cable from above surface, I have to wonder about this High tech toy, what about the removal of the mines or will the navy just locate and hope to send the ships in a different direction? I’m all for saftey of vassels but there are times when you have to be hands on to accomplish the mission.

    • Navig8r

      Once this finds the mines they send a helo equiped with Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS) to kill it. Google AMNS if you want more details. It is a two-step process, first you find them, then you kill them. Of course, you don’t need to kill all the mines in a field, just clear a channel for passage and don’t worry about the rest.

      • Curt

        Except if the mine is buried, you won’t be able to find it with the Archerfish neutralizer, Seafox, or an EOD diver. Which leaves you with sweeping which may not work, but at least you know where it is and you can avoid it.

    • Eric

      This is a detection and localization tool only. The actual removal/neutralization of the mines will be done by other means. AMNS is only one option - the most expensive and unreliable one.

  • Eric

    This thing is going to be a beast to handle. The picture is only 1/4 model representation. At 3000lbs, it’ll be almost twice as heavy as a Bluefin 21 and 65% heavier than a Remus 6000. Good luck with that guys.

  • Stash

    This looks like the same thing my fellow shipmates and I tested several years back, on the HSV the test bed platform for what is now the LTC. It worked good had a lot of promise, but also had it’s fair share of issues.
    Seven years and what is no doubt millions in research and upgrade dollars hopefully will have improved it dramatically.
    This could be available for any ship platform.
    but I do agree that it does ignore the question of what to do once it locates mines, however that is why the US Navy still has minesweepers, even wooden ones.

  • Chris

    This post is unclass. A magician never reveals his secrets, especially when an adersary could be in the auditorium. A small package like this will likely not have the battery life to supply a high enough SPL (sound pressure level) to pose a threat to sea life. If you dropped your Ipod in the water while listening to screamo, would that infuriate the whales? Hardly (aside from it shorting out when the salt water penetrated the casing).

  • Deres

    This is the hunter part of an hunter/killer team. Another killer vehicle/team will have to come and neutralize the mine, usually by detonating explosives just next to it. In fact, it is just a classical heavy torpedo without explosive charge, with an optimised sonar and a low speed propeller and maybe more computing power.

  • A. N. Onn Finn

    To those pointing out that there are US interests or threats to “your interests” thousands of kilometers from nearest US border:

    Yankee Go Home. Or perhaps GTFO is something you understand better.

    Stop stealing and exploiting other countries, grow up and become independent.

  • Erin

    The LCS already has the RMMV/RMS which runs on diesel fuel and therefore can operate a long time at fairly high speeds towing an advanced AQS-20 Raytheon sonar that’s already proven (was towed from helos originally).