The AQS-24B uniquely combines a high-speed synthetic aperture radar sonar with a laser line scan optical system. The sonar provides long-range detection, localisation and classification capabilities, while the line scan system can identify whether or not a target is a mine.
“We’ve integrated the laser with the sonar so that we can just search that one path and not have to overlap that,” director of littoral and mine warfare for Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems Gene Cumm explained during a briefing at Pacific 2015.
“The system is the only one to merge these two different sensor data streams into a single operating picture for the user.”
The AQS-24B can be towed by MH-53E helicopters or deployed from unmanned boats – mine hunting unmanned surface vessels (MHUs).
“The benefit of the MHU is that it can operate ‘24/7’, as helicopters are not being able to tow at night,” Cumm says.
“The data is transmitted in real time back to your shore station or ship so the contacts can be prosecuted in a much faster timeframe. There are no sailors onboard so it gets them out of the minefield. It’s much more safety orientated than previous mine counter-measures systems.”
Speed is another benefit, Cumm notes: “It operates at 18 knots, so compared to other systems that will do this type of operation at three to five knots on a minehunter or even eight to 10 knots from some of the older synthetic aperture sonar approaches, it offers a considerable higher area of coverage.”
Endurance is another feature. During recent tactics development trials in Florida, the AQS-24B achieved a record long single sortie tow duration of 16.25 hours from a surface ship.
Four AQS-24B systems are now in service with the US Navy and Cumm says there is “a lot of interest” from potential international customers.
“This platform has much lower operating costs than mine counter-measure ships or even helicopters, which has created a lot of international interest.
“I see this has potential applicability to some of the new ship programs that are coming onboard: the SEA 1180 OPV would be a good potential candidate for this, possibly also the SEA 5000 Future Frigate.”
The AQS-24B is fully approved for export to Australia, says Cumm. “We’ve had discussions on this system with the Australian Navy.”