The key to the utility of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is its ability to deploy different mission modules in response to changing requirements. The original concept for the LCS envisioned three mission packages, one for anti-submarine warfare, one for anti-surface warfare and one for mine countermeasures (MCM). Each package consists of a basic ship hull or “sea frame,” a crew with the training to conduct the mission and a set of specialized mission modules — twenty-foot containers that slide into the ship and carry the equipment needed to perform the particular mission. Unfortunately, the first two modules have experienced technical difficulties and their development has been slowed pending redefinition.
There is a silver lining to the story of the LCS mission modules. This comes from the MCM module, which continues to make progress. The Navy has just released its analysis of alternatives, which concluded that the LCS still provided the best platform to carry the MCM modules. The analysis did acknowledge that the MCM package was sufficiently flexible to be operated from a range of other surface ships as well as from shore sites.
The Navy has completed Phase III end-to-end testing of a basic MCM mission package. This testing included complete operations of its unmanned vehicles, including vehicle speed, sensor deployment and vehicle retrieval. Only a subset of all the nine distinct mission systems that will eventually constitute the MCM mission package were available for testing. But this is still an important step forward.
One important element of the MCM mission module is the Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) system. The COBRA is intended to provide a wide-area mine detection system for both green and brown waters. The Navy just conducted the first successful flight test of the COBRA system aboard the Fire Scout vertical take-off and landing unmanned aerial vehicle. The COBRA system is now scheduled to enter low rate initial production.
More work is needed on some of the MCM mission systems. In particular, the Navy needs to ensure the successful development of the Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System. This system will provide the first means to remotely detonate sea mines, thereby reducing the risk to ships and naval personnel. The job will only be half done if there are advanced ways of detecting mines but no new ways of neutralizing them.
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