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.
(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,