Providence Journal: RI company, MIKEL Undersea Warfare Systems, leads the way for nuclear submarines

February 18, 2022 | Categories: News

MIDDLETOWN – When you’re driving a nuclear submarine, perhaps through hostile waters, and need to know exactly where you are, it’s not like you can pull over at the next convenience store and hope the clerk is good with directions.

And your GPS won’t work — because GPS doesn’t work under the sea.

But Kelly Mendell and her Middletown company are working on a solution.

The company, MIKEL Undersea Warfare Systems, makes beacons based on sonar technology that can be dropped to the ocean floor to provide waypoints for submarines.

“In layman’s terms, it’s underwater GPS,” Mendell said at her year-old, 21,000-square-foot Fall River manufacturing plant, one of three MIKEL worksites in the area. “It improves the submarine’s navigational capabilities.”

The technology is known as SANS — Submerged Acoustic Navigation System — and it’s more affordable and more portable than previous technologies that did the same job: an undersea grid of sonar equipment connect by a network of cables.

Mendell, who declined to talk about specific figures for competitive reasons, said that one SANS beacon costs less than a tenth of the previous technology.

And, unlike a grid that’s hardwired on the ocean floor, a SANS beacon can be repositioned easily.

The guts of the beacon is a 17-inch-diameter, half-inch-thick glass sphere containing computers, batteries and communications devices. Each beacon, weighing about 100 pounds, sits in a plastic housing — the protective container in which the sphere was shipped to MIKEL.

The beacon has sonar equipment and other sensors attached to it, as well as an anchoring system that can be released remotely. Once freed from its anchor, the beacon floats to the surface, where it can be retrieved and returned to Fall River for cleaning, fresh batteries, upgraded software and any other equipment enhancements needed. Then it can be taken back to sea and deployed over the side of a surface ship.

MIKEL got its start in 1999 when Mendell’s father, Brian Guimond, retired from a civilian career working for the federal government. He had developed a network of contacts in the Navy and expertise in target-motion analysis. He named his consulting company after his two children: Michael and Kelly.

Guimond’s connections were key to launching the defense-industry company, a sector where it’s difficult to get started.

“Small companies are often seen as riskier, and the Navy is pretty risk-averse,” said Mendell.

Her father is still with the company, as chief technology officer, and Mendell’s brother works in corporate development for the company. Mendell, 50, is president.

MIKEL has about 230 employees — with 26 current openings and plans to expand by 100. About 25 work in Fall River and 40 to 50 work in the company’s Middletown offices. The rest — except for a handful who work in Washington, D.C. — work on the campus of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, a Navy research and development facility.

Employees include former submarine crew members and people with Ph.D.s in technical fields, but jobs are available for those with less-specialized backgrounds, too. Candidates must be U.S. citizens and be able to get security clearance.

Mike Dyson, the company’s chief operating officer, described MIKEL’s workforce:

“The team is young. They’re very passionate about what they do. They like to innovate.”


Read the story on