Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Mk54 Torpedo and UONS

In Mar 2010, Fifth Fleet issued an Urgent Operational Need Statement (UONS) to address an emerging submarine threat.  I’ve never found an actual detailed description of the threat but given the Fifth Fleet’s area of operation, the Mid East, the threat is presumably diesel-electric submarines operating in shallow water.  The Navy’s standard anti-submarine torpedo, the Mk48 is not shallow water capable and the smaller Mk54 torpedoes were, apparently, inadequate.  The Mk54 lightweight torpedo Block Upgrade (BUG) was the Navy’s answer to the threat.

The Mk54 has been in production since 2004.  The BUG program began testing in 2011 and continues today with persistent problems.  The program’s focus has been software development, presumably to allow better interpretation of shallow water sonar performance.  The sonar seeker is also being replaced, again, presumably, to allow better shallow water performance.

DOT&E (1) has been quite critical of the Navy’s test program, citing unrealistic target surrogates among other problems.  On the plus side, the test program has uncovered numerous documentation, maintenance, and training issues which have been present since the torpedo’s introduction and which prevent operators from achieving full benefit of the weapon system’s capabilities.  As DOT&E notes in the 2013 report,

“In preparation for the May 2013 test, Navy operational testers uncovered inconsistencies in tactical guidance, documentation, and training for the employment of the Mk 54 BU torpedo, some of which date from the introduction of the Mk 54 Mod 0 to the fleet in 2004. These problems could prevent fleet operators from effectively presetting and employing the Mk 54 BU.”


“Testing also discovered some required weapon presets were not selectable by crews using the MH-60R combat control system introduced to the fleet in 2010. The Navy’s early fielding and Quick Reaction Assessment processes did not identify these critical shortfalls. The Navy investigated and found it had a problem in communication between the torpedo developers, platform fire control system developers, tactics developers, the training community, and the fleet users.”

Note that the Navy’s test processes failed to identify critical problems.  This is why the independent DOT&E group is so vital.  The Navy has insufficient technical competence to even spot obvious and critical problems.

Mk54 - Urgently Needed

DOT&E’s 2013 assessment included this,

“Almost two years after the early fielding, the Navy has not yet provided fleet operators and trainers adequate employment guidance or completed required operational testing.”

Two years!  And this is for an URGENT Operational Needs request.  Thank goodness it wasn’t a normal request or they’d still be in the paper study phase.

The 2011 DOT&E report has this to say about the Navy’s test protocols,

“To date, the Navy’s emerging threat test scenario execution was structured and attacking crews had perfect knowledge of the target’s location. Also, the Navy conducted testing in a relatively benign area where torpedo interactions with the bottom or false contacts were minimized.”

DOT&E also notes that there are leftover problems with terminal homing, among others, from the Initial Operation Testing & Evaluation (IOT&E) when the Mk54 entered service.

As part of the test program, the Navy has developed a Steel Diesel Electric submarine surrogate target.  Unfortunately, the surrogate does not have the characteristics of the actual threat and is used as a static target – hardly realistic.  Even today, going on four years after the UONS, DOT&E notes,

“The Navy continues to investigate possible surrogates; however, the proposals are unfunded.”

We have an urgent need and nearly four years later we still don’t have a realistic threat surrogate target or even a plan to obtain one.  Who’s responsible for this?

As of 2012, DOT&E reported that,

“… based on completed testing, crews employing the Mk 54 have a limited capability against the UONS threat under favorable targeting and environmental conditions. DOT&E also reported that the Navy’s testing was completed under best-case scenarios, and the Navy did not have an adequate threat surrogate for the UONS threat.”

DOT&E summarized the 2012 testing with these comments,

“Three weapons were fired by an Arleigh Burke class destroyer and five were dropped by MH-60R helicopters. Another five weapons were intended to be dropped by P-3C aircraft, but those events were cancelled due to aircraft material problems. After the testing, the Navy declared the MH-60R runs invalid due to testing irregularities.”

“The Navy conducted the second phase of BUG operational testing off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in August 2012. The P-8A aircraft delivered eight weapons; MH-60R helicopters dropped another six weapons. Three more planned torpedo runs were not completed.”

Seriously?  Who’s supervising this testing – Wile E. Coyote?  Is this a Road Runner cartoon?  While there are unknowns associated with any test that may cause problems, this level of failure to even complete the tests is gross incompetence.

DOT&E also threw out this gem,

“The time constraints associated with Mk 54 exercise torpedo employment and recovery often do not allow sufficient time for fully operationally realistic events.”

I have no idea what time constraints they’re referring to but given that this is a UONS program, I would think that whatever time is needed is should be allocated.

This is a common theme among the blog posts, isn’t it?  The lack of realistic testing, in particular realistic threat surrogates, for all programs, is putting the fleet at risk by fielding equipment that is needlessly flawed.  This is a consistent shortcoming by the Navy, spanning decades.  All systems will have flaws that can only be uncovered through combat but the tragic part of this is that many of the flaws can be uncovered simply with more realistic testing so that we don’t have to find them the hard way and pay for the knowledge in blood.

(1) Director, Operational Testing & Evaluation, Annual Report, 2011, 2012, 2013


  1. Has the navy truly forgotten the price paid for inadequately tested Mk XIV torps? I would have thought that issue would have instilled a Never Again attitude throughout the service.

  2. Anyone that has been involved, in any matter, with Navy testing and certification has seen this, and much worse, many times over. The unwillingness of the Managers to listen to bad news and to surpress it is unbelievable and is going to get people killed.

    I disagree that the Navy does not have people with teh expertise to find these issues. I have never seen that as a problem, it is the managers that refuse to listen becuase everything must remain rosy for them to get advanced.

    For example on a major software release on a Navy ship in development the Contractor's engineers faithfully reported that they had not tested and/or failed 15% of the that releases requriements. This was briefed at the TRR infront of the Contractor's management, Navy PM shop, and the Navy Certification team. System testing was held anyway, with the expected lack of functionality, the release was developmentally certified, and the Ship program continued unabated with promotions for all involved.

    It is a COMPLETE LACK of Leadership and Integrity that is the problem.

  3. What is the physical size of the submarine that is the threat?


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