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.