National Security

Navy Sunk $91 Million Into A Robot Submarine That Doesn’t Work

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Thomas Phippen Associate Editor
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The Office of the Inspector General warns that a U.S. Navy unmanned robotic submarine project may need to be scrapped if it continues to fail tests.

After five years of development and $91 million already spent on development costs, the Navy’s Knifefish underwater mine hunter technology will likely not be ready for a production decision — when the Navy will decide whether or not to order the technology — which is scheduled for late next summer, the Office of the Inspector General report says.

The Department of Defense estimates it will cost $842.5 million to bring the Knifefish into the Navy, but since the technology has not met most of the project benchmarks, the Office of the Inspector General is concerned the Pentagon will spend the remaining $751.5 million on a technology that doesn’t work.

Knifefish “has not demonstrated the system’s ability to perform the key performance parameter of single-pass detection, classification, and identification of bottom and buried mine capabilities,” the report found.

There are also problems with how the autonomous submarine launches and re-docks with the littoral combat ship (LCS), a new class of vessel that receives its own share of criticism for going over-budget, failing to meet technical requirements, and frequently breaking down at sea(RELATED: Top Senators Rip Navy’s $29 Billion Ships)

The project managers “did not fully define requirements to support the communication interfaces and the launch and recovery operations between the Knifefish and the LCS,” the OIG found in its investigation, which was conducted between April, 2015, and August, 2016.

The OIG recommended that the Pentagon choose one of two options: Either consider what is needed to make the Knifefish into the submarine as intended, or “cancel the program, putting $751.5 million in research, development, test, and evaluation; procurement; and operational and maintenance funds to better use.”

The Pentagon officials who responded to the OIG’s report said that while there could be better communication between development teams, the Knifefish program’s strategy was on track, and that the program should not be canceled, as it is “a superior alternative for providing a minehunting capability to the fleet.”

The commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, unnamed in the OIG’s report, said an independent review of the program recommended “accelerating the Knifefish program with additional capabilities and funding” to bring the technology into the force.

The Knifefish program lost around $10 million between 2012 and 2016 due to automatic sequestration budget cuts from Congress, the OIG notes. Leaders of the four services testified before the Senate Committee on Armed Services earlier this year that the Pentagon will be unable to protect America if sequestration persists, the Washington Free Beacon, which first reported the OIG’s investigation, notes.

President-elect Donald Trump promised to end sequestration and bolster the DOD within the first few months of his presidency.

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