Wednesday, October 11, 2017

COBRA Declared Operational

Apparently, the Navy quietly declared the LCS MCM Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) system operational during the summer as just reported in a USNI News website article (1).  COBRA is an aerial mine detection system that has been under development for many years.

Before we go any further, does anyone believe the Navy’s declaration of operational capability?  How many systems have we see declared operational and nothing short of magnificent only to find out the reality, as actually measured by DOT&E, falls far short?  To put it bluntly, I don’t believe the Navy and I don’t believe the COBRA system is operational.

Setting that aside, something else caught my eye in the article.  Apparently, the Navy plans to purchase a total of 30 COBRA systems. 

“… the Navy bought two systems in Fiscal Year 2017 and will continue to buy more as quickly as budgets allow.  … the plan is to buy 24 additional COBRAs, for a total of 30.” (1)

Now, you’ll recall that after the recent reorganization of the LCS fleet, there will be three functional squadrons of four ships each on each coast, one squadron for each type of module/function: ASW, MCM, and ASuW (see, “Navy Surrenders”). 

Thus, there will be a total of 8 MCM type LCS vessels.  Therefore, 30 COBRA systems is way beyond the minimum required.  For one system per ship, only 8 are needed.  Even with two, the maximum possible per ship, only 16 are needed.  Throw in a few for backups or maintenance unavailabilities and that still leaves a bunch extra.  Is the Navy planning for combat attrition?  That would be wise and very unlike the Navy.

MQ-8 Fire Scout

Recall that the COBRA system is intended to search for mines along the shore.  The host platform for the COBRA is the MQ-8B/C Fire Scout unmanned helo.  In an opposed scenario which, by definition, any mined shore would be, a large, slow, non-stealthy, hovering helo is going to have a very short life expectancy.  Additional COBRA systems will be required, for sure!  However, I’m unaware that the Navy is planning to procure additional UAVs so having extra COBRA systems would be pointless.

I’m a little puzzled by this.  Could the Navy be planning to mount the COBRA systems on some other platform in addition to the LCS/Fire Scout?  Alternatively, does the Navy already know that the reliability is such that 30 units will be required to keep 8 in service?

I’ll have to continue looking into this.


(1)USNI News website, “Navy Declares COBRA Coastal Mine Detection System Operational After Successful Test”, Megan Eckstein, 10-Oct-2017,


  1. Man, reading the article the whole thing comes across as even more pointless. It can only detect mines on the beach in daytime?!!!! That wouldnt even have been useful 70 years ago, although I am sure the Germans and Japanese would have appreciated the drone target practice.

    Any contested beach landing today (just like back then) would be preceded by SEALS going in to recon the beach and find those mines, followed by a shore bombardment with at the very least some landing craft mounted MICLICs clearing the way.

    This whole thing is so absurd.

  2. just dont ask how long its been in development

  3. Of course the number one reason to buy so many is that’s how is how many the company told the admirals to buy while they arranged a retirement package for them.

    Cynicism aside, as you said, attrition will be high. Insanely high in a contested harbor which is why you send a drone. But such a device should be multi platform. The Navy might also test it on GRP—hulled patrol boats or drone boats. One of the RHIb based drones or USV would be quieter stealthier way to clear a lane for US forces then the faster helo-drones could help clear the rest of the harbor.
    I’m probably giving the Navy more credit than it deserves but hopefully something similar but even better thought out is what they are planning. Hopefully.

    1. "Navy might also test it on GRP—hulled patrol boats or drone boats."

      COBRA is not applicable to boats. See the next post for a description of the system.


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