by KRIS OSBORN
Congress has frozen the construction of several new Littoral Combat Ships until the Navy provides the House and Senate defense committees with specific analytical reports on the program, according to a newly released Congressional budget agreement.
The agreement on the National Defense Act for Fiscal Year 2015, which Congress will vote on before Christmas, emerged from conference session between House and Senate committees responsible for passing the defense budget.
Regarding the LCS, the agreement prevents the Navy from spending money toward the construction of LCS-25 or LCS-26 until certain reports are submitted by the Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.
The Congressional road block is the most recent in a string of controversies and disagreements on the LCS’s future. Many have criticized the platform on the ground that it is not lethal or survivable enough to address the current global threat environment and is poorly suited to perform its intended missions.
Proponents of the LCS have long maintained that the ship’s 40-knot speed and mission packages provide it with the requisite tools to perform its intended range of primarily littoral missions.
The Congressional agreement prevents the Navy from spending money next year on the LCS’s mission modules until the Secretary of the Navy submits a report regarding the acquisition and testing of the program. The Navy must submit goals, cost and schedule information for each increment of the LCS mission modules related to Milestone B, an acquisition developmental benchmark prior to formal procurement.
Also, the Congressional restrictions require that the director of Operational Test and Evaluation to certify the “total number for each module type that is required to perform all necessary operational testing.”
The LCS mission modules are groups of integrated technologies engineered to perform certain maritime combat functions such as surface warfare, mine-countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare. Testing and development of these mission packages has been underway for quite some time – and a combat-ready version of the surface warfare package recently left for deployment aboard the USS Fort Worth, or LCS 3.
Designed to swap on and off Freedom and Independence LCS variants, the Congressional language halts additional spending upon new mission packages until the requested reports are submitted.
The surface warfare package includes MH-60 helicopters, two 30mm guns and 11-meter RIBs, or rigid hull inflatable boats, for fast-attack, rescue or maneuver operations. Future SUW increments will also include the Fire Scout UAS for additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technology. In fact, the Fire Scout UAS recently deployed aboard the USS Fort Worth.
The Navy has also been testing its Mine Countermeasures and Anti-Submarine mission packages. For instance, the LCS recently searched for submarines and sailed through a dummy mine-field off the coast of San Diego, California, to assess whether the vessel’s anti-submarine and mine-countermeasure technologies could find enemy submarines and successfully detect and destroy underwater mines, service officials said.
The anti-mine developmental and operational tests this past summer took place on board the USS Independence, or LCS 2. The tests involved many aspects of the LCS’ Mine-Countermeasures mission package, a collection of integrated mine-detecting technologies engineered to swap on and off the platform.
“The real purpose of the test was to stress the operational tempo. This is the first time we’ve really done end to end missions on the ship,” said Capt. Casey Moton, LCS mission modules program manager.
Using a suite of counter-mine technologies, the ship travelled twice through the mock-mine field, successfully detecting the mines in each instance. The test was the first time all three elements of the MCM package were integrated on-board the ship, Moton explained.
The elements consist of a Remote Mine-hunting System below the surface and an Airborne Laser Mine Detection System, or ALMDS, above the water to locate the mines alongside an Airborne Mine Neutralization System, or AMNS, designed to destroy the mines once they are found, he added.
The RMS is comprised of an AQS-20 underwater sonar mine detection system which launches from an autonomous semi-submersible called the Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle, or RMMV. The RMMV, which has both line-of-sight and over-the-horizon capability, is launched from the back of the LCS, Navy officials said.
As many as two RMMVs can operate from the LCS at one time. The RMS works in tandem with the ALMDS, an airborne laser designed to scan the surface and shallow water for mines. Data from both the RMS and ALMDS are assessed at a command center on-board the ship, he said.
The ASW mission package, slated to be operational by 2016, is earlier in its development than the other two LCS mission packages, the Surface Warfare and Mine-Countermeasures mission packages.
The technologies for the ASW package include use of an active sonar called Variable Depth Sonar deployed off the back of the ship and a passive detection system called a Multi-Function Towed Array, or MFTA.