The General Dynamics Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) successfully launched multiple Bluefin SandShark™ micro-autonomous underwater vehicles (M-AUV) as part of several capability demonstrations at the U.S. Navy sponsored 2016 Annual Naval Technology Exercises (ANTX) in Newport, R.I.
Through several ANTX demonstrations, the Bluefin SandShark M-AUVs surfaced and functioned independent of the heavyweight-class Bluefin-21. In one mission scenario, the Bluefin-21 simulated data collection and transfer of target imagery and other information to two Bluefin SandSharks. Those Bluefin SandSharks then surfaced to communicate with a Blackwing unmanned aerial vehicle. The Blackwing relayed the information back to a submarine combat control system ashore for decision-making authority and subsequent command of Bluefin SandShark M-AUVs.
In a separate demonstration during the ANTX exercise, the Bluefin-21 hosted acoustic sensors from industry and academia.
“Our successful ANTX demonstrations showed that unmanned vehicles can deliver capabilities across the undersea and air operating domains. This system of systems approach leverages Bluefin-21's larger payload delivery, longer endurance and superior navigation capabilities to deliver smaller payloads such as autonomous underwater vehicles or unmanned aerial vehicles and sensors, providing the Navy with additional mission capabilities,” said Tracy Howard, a senior manager for Autonomous Undersea Vehicles for General Dynamics Mission Systems.
The Bluefin-21 AUV is modular and designed with the flexibility to carry and launch a variety of AUVs in configurations that include M-AUVS, larger AUVs, and unmanned aerial vehicles. A Bluefin-21 can be reconfigured for multiple missions with varying payloads including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensors and communications nodes to expand maritime network communications. For example, the Bluefin-21 AUV is the base vehicle for the Navy's Knifefish program, a surface mine countermeasure unmanned underwater vehicle.
The Bluefin SandShark M-AUV weighs approximately 15 pounds without sensors and its potential missions include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, mine countermeasures, sea-floor mapping and imaging.
Sponsored by the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Newport Division, 2016 ANTX is a forum for industry to join with academia and Navy laboratories to demonstrate new technologies that will accelerate technology from development, to in-water testing, to fielding the new capabilities for the Navy's fleet. The theme for this year's exercise was Cross-Domain Communications, Command, and Control and took place at the Navy's Narragansett Bay Test facility in Newport, Rhode Island.