Raytheon’s AN/AQS-20 Mine Detection Sonar (AMCM)
Advances made in American mine detection technologies during the mid 2000s included the AQS-20A mine detecting sonar array and airborne laser systems mounted to MH-60S helicopters. All of this is in the service of the USA’s new naval emphasis on littoral warfare and accompanying doctrinal changes. So, what’s the AN/AQS-20? And how is it also related to a new US ship class, not to mention a new undersea robot?
- The AN/AQS-20, AMCM, and Future Fleet Capabilities
- AQS-20 Contracts & Key Events [different article]
The AN/AQS-20, AMCM, and Future Fleet Capabilities
The AN/AQS-20A uses sonar and electro-optical sensors to provide high-resolution images of mine-like objects and high-precision location information, and can operate in shallow or deep waters. The system is towed under water to scan the water in front and to the sides of the vehicle, as well as the sea bottom. This task is especially important in littoral and shallow-water zones, including critical global trade chokepoints like the Straits of Malacca, the Persian Gulf and Straits of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and Panama Canal regions, etc.
The AN/AQS-20’s modular design is being produced under spiral development, which means a continuous series of improvements are being applied and tested. The use of commercial off the shelf (COTS) components alongside proprietary technologies makes this process easier, and will improve the future upgrade process as electronics continue to advance.
The U.S. Navy Program Executive Office for Littoral and Mine Warfare is acquiring the AN/AQS-20A mine detecting sonar as a component of the MH-60S Seahawk helicopter’s new organic Airborne Mine Counter-Measures (AMCM) systems that will support America’s Carrier Strike Groups and Expeditionary Strike Groups.
It is also a critical component of the new Littoral Combat Ship‘s mine warfare mission module. The new ships will operate MH-60S helicopters, and can take on an MH-60S AMCM helicopter as part of the MIW mine warfare mission module. The AQS-20 sonar can also be attached to the AN/WLD-1 semi-submersible autonomous vehicle, which comes as part of the LCS ship’s swappable mission packages and has been installed in some DDG-51 destroyers as well.
A remotely-operated USV adds an extra dimension and creates the US Navy’s Remote Minehunting System (RMS). Lockheed Martin’s AN/WLD-1 snorkeling USV will tow the AN/AQS-20 behind, while also using its own maneuvering power and sensors to scan the sea bottom and the water in front and to the sides for anti-shipping mines. Adding this USV option helps to provide more comprehensive shallow water coverage and puts deep water coverage within reach, without requiring purpose-built minesweeper ships or placing large and expensive ships at risk.
Note that even though the mission packages are designed to work with the Littoral Combat Ships, many of their components can be freely deployed on other ships. The mine warfare module is one of the most flexible in this regard, as most of it resides on MH-60S helicopters fitted with the AMCM suite. In 2009, however, the US Navy reportedly decided to confine the RMS combination to its Littoral Combat Ships.
AQS-20 Contracts & Key Events
These contracts are now covered as part of a broader set. Read the DID FOCUS article “MH-60S Airborne Mine Counter-Measures Continues Development.”