Monday, February 11, 2013

LCS Mine Module Status Update

The DOT&E 2012 Annual Report sheds some light on the status of the LCS mine countermeasures (MCM) module.

The MCM Increment 1 module includes both a manned airborne (helo) component and a remote controlled underwater vehicle component.

The airborne helo (MH-60S) component was intended to operate the following equipment.

-Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) for detection of shallow mines.  Testing demonstrated that the system failed to meet Navy requirements.

-A towed sonar (AQS-20) for detection of deeper mines.  Testing revealed that the MH-60S helo has insufficient power to safely tow the sonar and this function has been deleted from the module.  This is a real head-scratcher.  Wouldn’t you think somewhere around Day 1 of the module development someone would have thought to ask whether the helo could handle the load?  In any event, the sonar will now be deployed only by the underwater vehicle resulting in a significant reduction in speed of coverage and rate of detection.  If that’s not bad enough, testing also revealed that the sonar itself fails to meet Navy requirements.


AMNS - Archerfish Success

-A towed Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS) for destruction of mines.  This is a towed, underwater frame carrying four Archerfish mini-torpedos which swim up to the mine using operator guidance via a trailing cable and detonate themselves and the mine.  This is a nice concept and the Archerfish portion appears to work.  The only drawback is that the helo can only destroy four mines and then it has to return to the LCS to be rearmed – a very time consuming process.
 
The underwater component is centered on the Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle (RMMV) which tows the AQS-20 sonar.  Anyone who has seen film of the RMMV being launched and recovered will cringe at the sight.  The launch/recovery mechanism and procedure is a gimmicky, finicky, problem-prone system that requires near perfect weather and calm seas to have any chance of success.  This is the farthest thing from a robust, rugged system that can be launched and recovered under combat conditions and varying sea states.  The launch/recovery system is an abortion and should have been evident as such from the first back-of-the-napkin sketch.

In summary, the MCM module, despite being dumbed down from the original concept, is still very much a developmental system and is nowhere near ready for deployment.  Most of the equipment fails to meet Navy requirements.  The Archerfish component appears to be the one bright spot but it’s useless without reliable detection systems.  It’s clear that the LCS minesweeping operations will be a very slow process and very labor intensive.  This does not exactly fit with the concept of a forward deployed, combat minesweeper.

Eventually, future Increments of the MCM module hope to add the Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) system to detect mines and obstacles in the beach and surf zones.  Even further down the road, an Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) is planned which will activate mines and cause them to self-destruct.  Given the numerous failures of the various MCM equipment tested to date, I wouldn’t count on these wish-list Increments to be successful.

Contrast this assessment with the Navy’s glowing PR statements about the MCM module.  I’m losing what little faith I have in the Navy’s integrity.

4 comments:

  1. If so much of the MCM package is dependent on the H-60 platform, why can it only be on an aluminum nightmare like the LCS? Couldn't any ship with a flight deck (FFG, LPD, JHSV) do the same job and act as a stand-off mother ship?

    As for the underwater part we already have six Burkes fitted to carry a single WLD-1 Remote Mine-hunting System. This same system is supposed to go into the initial LCS MCM package and has problems with generating numerous false targets. The LCS will carry two RMS; not much better than a modified Burke.

    I still think there is a need for some dedicated MCM ships like the Avenger and the now discarded Osprey classes.

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    1. Well, you've touched on a couple of uncomfortable truths about the LCS program.

      First, you're correct that if the modules are independent of the seaframe (hull) as the Navy claims and many are carried by the -60 series helo then, yes, any ship in the Navy can conduct MCM. Unfortunately for the Navy, that would seem to negate the justification for the LCS, wouldn't it? So, the Navy is not pushing that fleetwide approach.

      Second, the LCS can only carry a single -60 helo (some say two but structural strength issues with the flight deck and a desire to embark UAVs limits the practical helo det to one) which means a very, very slow rate of clearance. A single helo can only operate for a relatively short period before it has to stand down for maintenance.

      Third, Burkes were given the ability to do MCM but did you notice that that capability was deleted when the LCS came along? Was it because of a technical problem or because the Burkes would have negated the justification for the LCS????

      Fourth, the entire MCM system is currently a failure in that every component, according to the DOT&E report, fails to meet Navy requirements. This is being dealt with largely by redefining the requirements!!!!

      If you view your entire comment/question through the filter of its impact on the acquisition of LCSs, the Navy's actions become quite readily understandable (though unwise!). The Navy will kill off anything that poses the possibility of negatively impacting its LCS acquisition justification. Remember, they SINKEX'ed the entire Spruance class because they posed a threat to the Aegis program.

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    2. The systematic downgrading/redefining of new system capabilities in all the branches is unacceptable. Any officer who is responsible for such revisions should face a court marshal hearing to validate the officer's action or overturn them and censure the officer. Many US Armed Forces greats have be court marshaled in the past, found innocent and gone onto glory (Billy Mitchel for one). It can be a positive, career annealing and pivotal moment in a career.

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  2. It does seem that way. I'm reminded of the way some people are described: He shoots himself in the foot in the morning, them hobbles around all day complaining about his limp.

    After Iran and Iraq used mines effectively in the Persian Gulf between 1980-1991 the Navy took MCM seriously.

    USN MCM capability seemed to peak in the late 1990's with the helo carrier Inchon turned into a MCS, 14 Avengers and a dozen Ospreys, plus two active and one reserve MH-53E squadron. Now all that's left is 13 Avengers and the two squadrons. Tragic, especially if we need that capability in the future.

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