Monday, May 16, 2016

LCS and RMMV

The LCS program continues to rack up failures at an almost unbelievable pace.  The latest is the Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle (RMMV) that was supposed to be the core of the Mine Counter Measures (MCM) module.  The RMMV, you’ll recall, was the remote, unmanned, autonomous, high endurance vehicle that was intended to tow the AQS-20A sonar which would detect and classify mines from seabed to surface for subsequent neutralization. 

Despite a long history of unreliability, the Navy was about to purchase many more RMMVs and was preparing to declare Initial Operating Capability (IOC) for the system.  DOT&E stepped in and documented the magnitude of the failure of the RMMV.

“… Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) assessed the current Remote Minehunting System and RMMV reliability as being 18.8 hours and 25.0 hours between mission failures, on average, respectively, which is well below the Navy’s requirement of 75 hours. Moreover, DOT&E noted that, ‘Recent developmental testing provides no statistical evidence that the [Remote Minehunting System] is demonstrating improved reliability, and instead indicates that reliability plateaued nearly a decade ago.” (2)

The Navy then commissioned another of its infamous panels to look at the problem and make a recommendation.  At the time, ComNavOps expressed a large degree of skepticism about the panel’s objectivity and usefulness.  Much to my surprise, the panel has, apparently, recommended that the Navy drop the RMMV – or has it? 

“The Navy will halt procurement of the Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle included in the Littoral Combat Ship’s mine countermeasures (MCM) mission package and will instead compete several unmanned vehicles over the next three fiscal years, officials decided this week.”

Dropped?  Not quite,

“According to a Friday evening statement from Navy spokeswoman Capt. Thurraya Kent, the Navy will halt production of the Lockheed Martin-built RMMV, 10 of which the Navy owns but have long struggled to meet reliability requirements. The Navy will upgrade the vehicles it already owns and then compete the upgraded RMMVs against the Textron Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV), which is already slated to join the LCS mine countermeasures package as a minesweeping vehicle, and the General Dynamics Knifefish unmanned underwater vehicle, which will join the mission package for buried and high-clutter minehunting.

In the short term, the Navy will continue to operate the MCM mission package from two Independence-variant LCSs – both locally and in deployments abroad in Fiscal Year 2018 – to gain operational experience and lessons learned …” (1)

While it seemed as if the RMMV was dead, a careful reading of the above shows that the RMMV is not terminated.  Note that development will continue, the RMMV will continue to operate, and the RMMV will “compete” for production at a later date.  So, is the RMMV dead or is this merely cover for the Navy to continue pursuit of yet another immature and unreliable component of the MCM module?  I guess my skepticism of the review panel was not without merit.

The larger point, here, is that the MCM module has been in active development for a decade or so and has yet to come even remotely close to meeting specs.  While the Navy has consistently trumpeted the amazing success of the MCM module, DOT&E has consistently panned the module and proven that both the individual components and overall module suffer from poor performance and unreliability.


RMMV - Not Quite Gone


We’ve got around 24 LCS built or on order and no MCM module for them.  The earliest LCS ships are already burning through their service life of 20-25 years (does anyone really think these extremely thin skinned and poorly maintained vessels will last 20 years?).  The earliest ships are already a quarter of the way through their service and we see that the MCM module is still years away from operation.  We may see LCS’s retiring without ever having shipped a module!

Do you see the corner that the Navy is painting themselves into?  Because of the decision to terminate the modular LCS at 32, the maximum theoretical number of MCM vessels in the Navy will be 32 (the Navy has stated that the “frigate” versions of the LCS will not be MCM capable) and the actual number will be around 12 due to module quantity limitations, depending on how many are ultimately procured. 

The Navy has only grudgingly and sparingly been maintaining the Avenger MCM vessels due to the LCS’ on-going failure and once the LCS-MCM is operational the Avengers will be rapidly retired.

The Navy is still struggling with the larger question of how best to conduct MCM:  via helos or ships.  A decade ago, the Navy bet all in on ships (the LCS) and unmanned vehicles and the wisdom of that bet is increasingly suspect.  Even if the LCS MCM module works as intended, the clearance rate is very slow, probably too slow to be operationally useful.  Only helos have the speed and potential numbers required for rapid mine clearing operations.  I say “potential numbers” because the actual numbers are pitifully inadequate with NavAir listing only 28 MH-53E Sea Dragons in the inventory.  Those that survive are beyond their planned service life, having entered service in the late 1980’s, and have suffered badly from neglected and deferred maintenance.  To the best of my knowledge, the Navy has no plan to replace the MCM MH-53’s.  The Navy has badly ignored MCM for decades and we are now paying the price.

This is what happens when you commit to production of a ship class based on non-existent technology.


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(1)USNI News, “UPDATED: Navy Will Not Buy More RMMVs, Will Compete 3 Unmanned Vehicles For Future Use”, Megan Eckstein, February 26, 2016,

(2)USNI News, “UPDATED: Navy Launches Independent Review of Littoral Combat Ship Remote Minehunting System”, Megan Eckstein, October 13, 2015,


9 comments:

  1. Okay, I'll bite...

    I'm not sure what a better course of action would be with the RMMV. If you accept that LCS will be the MCM platform of the future, the options are to hold on the MCM Mission Package until the RMMV replacement is developed and tested, or to start working with the mission package "as is", and use the vehicles that represent a significant sunk investment (pun intended). As I understand it, the PEO approach is to conduct early deployments with the RMMV and the other MCM Mission Package capabilities (ie, ALMDS and AMNS), and then experiment with adding new capabilities with the UISS vehicle and Knifefish. Knifefish was always intended to be a complementary capability to RMMV, so the decision with Knifefish would be better described as finding the best approach to integrate that capability with the MCM Mission Package capabilities. The identified alternative to the RMMV is to look at using the UISS USV with either the AQS-20A sonar (from the RMS) or the AQS-24B/C sonar (from the MHU and airborne MCM).

    While everyone is quick to bury RMMV, I'm not sure the best approach is to completely drop RMMV and run to the next shiny object. There are technical and programmatic risks with the next shiny object, and the Navy at least knows what they have with the RMMV.

    But to your bigger point, there certainly has been a neglect in MCM that has only recently been reversed. There is a strange mix of legacy equipment and next generation equipment, and lots of RDTE/S&T work on filling other gaps, much of which is focused on the LCS platform. With the unmanned and manned systems, if you want to keep the man out of the minefield, the key will be to generate enough sorties of those systems to clear the field. And that would require either multiple LCS working together or a larger platform with a larger flight deck and well deck.

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    1. You've pretty well grasped the basics of the issue. The main problem with continuing to pursue the RMMV (or any of the LCS MCM modular approach) is that it's always "just out of reach but almost here". That leads to poor decisions like neglecting the maintenance of the Avenger ships or upgrading existing MCM equipment to the point where you wind up with almost no MCM capability, as now, because you're continually believing that the "solution" is just around the corner. We've been working on the MCM module for a decade and have almost nothing to show for it while we've allowed our conventional MCM capability to wither.

      My problem with the LCS unmanned vehicle approach, even if it worked, is that the clearance rate is too slow by a huge margin. At the moment, only helos have the speed and potential numbers to clear a field in a timely manner. The Navy has limited themselves to about a dozen LCS/MCM total. That's woefully insufficient for any major operation.

      Overall, a nice comment.

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    2. "My problem with the LCS unmanned vehicle approach, even if it worked, is that the clearance rate is too slow by a huge margin."

      Is there a source or background data to support that statement, particularly when compared to legacy systems? Clearance rate with an MCM ship and MH-53 cannot be very high...the MCM is limited in speed while conducting a search and the MH-53 is limited by range and supporting platform, and neither platform has a rapid method of clearing mines that have been detected. The MCM is either using divers (EOD) or the SLQ-48 or SeaFox neutralization systems, both of which require an investigation run before the neutralization run. The MH-53, after conducting a search with the sonar, has to return to a facility to load a neutralization system or to load sweep gear.

      The MCM Mission Package on LCS would include the search capability and either neutralization through EOD or use of the AMNS, which has to be more rapid than current capabilities.

      That said, clearance rates are always going to be slower that desired unless in-stride capabilities are developed, significantly more assets are allocated to the program (ie, quantity of platforms), or organic sensors are deployed on combatants (ie, CG, DDG, L-class, other) that mitigate the minefield effect.

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    3. There is no rapid mine clearance technology!

      I saw a Navy slide show early in the LCS history that pegged the LCS mine clearance rate at half that of the Avenger and this was before the failures of the MCM module. Unfortunately, before I could copy the presentation, it was taken off the Internet and I haven't seen it since. The reason seems obvious.

      For, say, a mile wide channel clearing, a single LCS can clear at a rate of advance of about 1 kt. Ships drift faster than that!

      The answer to slow rates from individual platforms is numbers. Only helos potentially have the numbers to clear at a high cumulative rate.

      I thought you were clear of the hype but you fell back into it with your embrace of the MCM module. On paper it sounds good - what doesn't? - but it has thus far failed miserably. DOT&E and the Navy have stated that the demonstrated failures now require the LCS to make multiple passes over the same area to ensure clearance, further slowing the rate of advance. We've been working on the MCM for the LCS for a decade and have nothing usable to show for it. You're on the verge of buying into the "just around the corner" pitfall. Don't fall for it!

      We have helos that work, we have Avengers that work, and we have a developmental effort that has produced nothing after a decade.

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    4. As far as clearance rates, you can get an idea for yourself. The speed of the RMMV, for example is known. Work out the coverage rate that gives and remember to allow for the hours spent launching, recovering, transiting to and from the mine field, and refitting the RMMV (because those impact the clearance rate). The RMMV is only good for several hours at a time (assuming no reliability issues!) and then it must return and be turned around. Then, remember to factor in second and third passes over the same area to make up for the poor detection performance as documented by DOT&E reports. Finally, factor in the actual mine destruction which takes about an hour or more per mine and you can estimate an overall clearance rate. It's slow!!!!

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  2. "that would require either multiple LCS working together or a larger platform with a larger flight deck and well deck."

    Maybe repurpose an old 'phib? That could be interesting. Maybe not cost effective. Just a spur of the moment thought.

    To me there are two things going on: First is that the more we look at this, the less suited the LCS seems to be even for missions that are in its conops. This wouldn't be horrible if, again, the LCS was a test platform to look into new ways of doing ASW/MCM, etc. Build a little, test alot, learn alot.... but instead the Navy went from giving MCM short shrift to the Navy throwing all its eggs into one new, unproven basket. So we run the very real risk of spending buckets of money on something that can't perform the mission, or performs it poorly.

    The second issue is why is this so difficult? This sounds like a Sonar hooked to a sled with a datalink. Is it just making it more reliable? Or does it just flat out fail to find the mines?
    I don't know the engineering issues involved, but it doesn't sound like the moon shot, or trying to stuff a nuclear reactor into a submarine hull. But we repeatedly seem to be unable to solve engineering problems anymore despite buckets of money and lots of time.

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    1. My personal opinion is that for the near future a helo carrier and helos are the way to conduct MCM along with surface vessel support (Avenger type vessels).

      Even if the LCS/MCM worked, it's just way to slow a clearance rate to be useful.

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  3. "Maybe repurpose an old 'phib?"

    That's the thought I have had...a throw-back to the use of the USS Tripoli during Desert Shield/Storm, only with a well deck to support USV/UUV operations. Perhaps in a more permissive environment, the MLP hulls would provide the flight deck space for MH-53, MH-60, or MQ-8 platforms, and well deck space for USV / RMMV-like platforms, as well as UUV operations. You would get the sortie generation rate up (when compared to a single LCS), raising the clearance rate.

    "First is that the more we look at this, the less suited the LCS seems to be even for missions that are in its conops."

    I'm not ready to throw out the LCS in this mission...is it optimized for the MCM mission? Of course not. But mission capability for the LCS is critically dependent on the operations of the systems in the respective mission packages, so if there is a shortfall in the mission package capabilities, that degrades the LCS mission capability. Even the current MCM platforms do not have the USV, UUV, and airborne platform support facilities, so those platforms would not be optimized for conducting MIW without having a nearby platform or base to support MH-53 operations.

    "The second issue is why is this so difficult? This sounds like a Sonar hooked to a sled with a datalink. Is it just making it more reliable? Or does it just flat out fail to find the mines?"

    You pretty much hit the nail on the head...it's a sonar being pulled by something, either an RMMV, USV, or an aircraft. You can only pull the sonar so fast, so something like an RMMV offered longer endurance in the search mode, reducing the need for additional aircraft sorties, but with the inherent limitation of having to be relatively close to the minefield when launched because the transit time would be higher than an aircraft. Where RMMV failed was the reliability of the vehicle pulling the sonar. The sonar worked decently well...some issues in localization but nothing that couldn't be fixed (time and money) and/or worked around with tactics. The navy has two primary sonar tow vehicles (the AQS-20 and AQS-24), so the IRT appeared to direct that the navy look at different options for towing the sonar and figure out which sonar can perform the mission better.

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  4. The LCS also uses a less capable MCM helicopter. The MH-53E can conduct MCM operations at night whereas the UH-60S cannot. Also, the MH-53E has twice the operational endurance.

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