Fielding LCS Minehunting Mission Package Now a ‘Key Priority’
WASHINGTON: The senior officer overseeing the testing and fielding of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship mission packages said on Thursday that fielding the mine countermeasures portion of those systems has become a “key priority.”
“That’s one of our top priorities,” said Rear Adm. Casey Moton, program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants. “It’s hard to say frigate is not a top priority, but [the] MCM Mission package for me is a key priority of fielding that package, and we’re going to do it.”
The LCS has three mission packages comprised of dozens of capabilities that, when working in tandem, are designed to thwart a variety of surface and subsurface threats. However, the mission modules program’s history of subpar testing and schedule delays have made it a thorny subject with lawmakers, who have historically cut funding for it during various budget cycles — a start-and-stop funding stream that potentially exacerbated the existing issues.
The MCM capabilities include an unmanned surface vessel integrated with a sweep system and the AQS-20 sonar. While initially intended to be deployed from an LCS, the Navy has also been eyeing what other vessels might be suitable to employ it from. Collectively, the program is referred to as the Mine Countermeasure Unmanned Surface Vehicle.
While speaking at a conference in Baltimore today hosted by the American Society of Naval Engineers, Moton said the service just recently completed a three-week at-sea testing phase onboard the Manchester (LCS-14) with MCM USV.
“We’re still analyzing all the results, but I’m feeling like we came out of that with a good amount of risk retired and on track with that portion of the mission package,” the rear admiral said.
If the test results are positive, it will put the Navy in position to green light a full-rate production decision and move forward with a source selection to build the required 48 craft. While nothing is certain until the contract announcement is made, Textron Systems will be the vendor to beat, having designed the vehicle MCM USV is based on and won the low-rate initial production contract.
Separate from MCM USV, the service is also working on development for the Knifefish, an unmanned undersea vehicle focused on defeating buried and bottom mines. The first of those UUVs was delivered by General Dynamics earlier this year.
Bringing the mission packages through their final phases of testing development will be a milestone for the service both operationally and symbolically. The mine countermeasures mission modules are designed to replace the Navy’s aging, shrinking fleet of Avenger-class minesweeping ships, which began decommissioning in 2020.
But it will also allow the Navy to put behind them the failures of the Remote Multimission Vehicle, a mine hunting vehicle program that was ultimately canceled due to a litany of testing problems.
During the event today, Moton showed an image of that system hanging off the back of a ship with the crew unable to complete the recovery. He said he keeps a copy of that photo to remind himself of the potential issues that can arise when the engineering and testing behind a capability is not rigorous enough.
“This is unacceptable and it’s because we didn’t — the collective team didn’t think about off nominal conditions: what if a sailor does something in the wrong order? What are the downstream consequences to that?” he said.