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Groton Company Wins $5.9M Navy Contract

Groton — LBI Inc. on North Road has been awarded a $5.9 million contract from the Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego to begin production of a new type of mine-locating device that will be delivered by dolphins.

Two other companies bid for the five-year contract to manufacture and test the new systems, designated as Mark 33, Mod 0.

Company owner Peter J. Legnos, a naval architect and pilot, said while he cannot discuss the devices in detail, LBI has been developing the new systems over the last two-and-a-half years in cooperation with the Navy, to be smaller and more effective than the older versions.

“One of the key things is the shape of this unit,” Legnos said. “It can be moved through the water more efficiently by a marine mammal.”

LBI has also built simulations of shallow-water mines that Navy ships might encounter in foreign waters, and shallow water markers for the Navy.

The Navy's Marine Mammal program began in the late 1950s as a way to protect ports and Navy ships from mine damage or attack by swimmers. Although the program has worked with a variety of species over the years, including killer whales, pilot whales, belugas, Steller sea lions, grey seals, and fur seals, today it uses primarily bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions.

Mines are responsible for 14 of the 19 Navy ships damaged or destroyed since 1950, so mine detection is a particularly critical function of the Marine Mammal Program.

Dolphins are trained to wait until they receive a cue from a handler before they begin to search a specific area using its own sonar system, which allows it to emit a series of clicks that bounce off objects and return to the dolphin.

If a mine or similar target is detected, the handler sends the dolphin to mark the location of the object so it can be avoided by Navy vessels or destroyed by Navy divers.

Legnos said his company specializes in thermo-formed plastics, molded fiberglass and epoxy, which are the ideal materials to be used against mines, which sometimes are triggered by the presence of metals nearby.

He said his company is also working with the Scripps Institute at the University of California and the Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, under an Office of Naval research grant, to develop a prototype underwater glider.
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