Navy Working to Integrate New Mine-Hunting Technologies and Platforms

Navy Working to Integrate New Mine-Hunting Technologies and Platforms

The use of drones and unmanned systems is critical for finding and destroying naval mines that can be used to deny access to an area.

Naval mines can damage or destroy ships and submarines, but their mere presence can also be used to deny access to areas for enemy forces.

Mines can be tethered to the ocean floor to explode on impact, linger just beneath the surface, or be buried beneath the bottom of the ocean and set to detonate by undersea soundwaves. Areas that have been mined are often considered too dangerous for manned platforms to operate. Mines are ubiquitous, dangerous, and cheap to deploy despite their sophistication.

That makes the use of drones and unmanned boats increasingly important for detecting and neutralizing enemy mines.

The U.S. Navy is fast-tracking mine countermeasures systems. One system includes laser sensors that can scan areas of the water. Another is Raytheon’s semi-autonomous mine-killing Barracuda drones. The AQS-20C towed synthetic aperture sonar is also being refined.

Capt. Pete Small, the navy’s Program Manager for Unmanned Combat Vehicles, discussed these systems at the 2022 Surface Navy Association symposium. Small said lasers used to detect mines need to be integrated with surface and undersea technologies to optimize mine hunting and neutralization.

“Laser mine detection systems have a capability to coordinate a surface, and the AQS 20 has volume,” Small said. “We're demonstrating a tactic to determine the overlap that we could achieve, so that we can make sure we don't have any gaps in mine hunting coverage.” 

These kinds of technologies are increasingly networked to one another to share time-sensitive data across to enable a multi-domain countermine effort. Small said that a recent test in Panama City, Fla. included multiple surface drones, mine-hunting technologies, and command and control systems were networked to one another.

“We did an experiment showing two (unmanned surface vessels) in an unmanned suite configuration … with another one in a mine hunt configuration,” Small said. “...We had no problems with bandwidth and an ability to command and control those craft. One of the key capabilities that we're seeking to demonstrate is the ability to do multiple vehicles at the same time. And we hadn't done it previously.”

The Navy has worked with industry partners to develop and refine technologies like the AQS-20C and the Barracuda mine-hunting drone. When networked together, manned boats performing command and control benefit from a semi-autonomous mine detection and destruction process. A towed sonar system such as the AN/AQS-20C works in tandem with the Barracuda to find, identify and wirelessly detonate mine threats.

Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr.