The Navy declared initial operational capability on the Independence variant of the Littoral Combat Ship last month, a formal step after years of the ship operating off the U.S. coast.
The LCS has two distinct ship hull variants and three separate mission packages, each of which has to have its own IOC declaration before deploying. The Lockheed Martin-built Freedom variant spent its early days testing the surface warfare mission package, and after extensive testing both the mission package and the ship hull reached IOC in November 2014.
The Austal-built Independence variant, however, has spent most of its time at sea with the mine countermeasures mission package, which experienced problems last summer and had its initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) and IOC declaration indefinitely delayed.
USS Coronado (LCS-4), the second Indy-variant ship in the fleet, spent several months last spring and summer testing the surface warfare package at sea and in September completed phase one of its IOT&E.
Program Executive Officer for LCS Rear Adm. Brian Antonio told USNI News on Jan. 14 that after the test finished he received an interim evaluation from the Commander of Operational Test and Evaluation Force, worked with the fleet and the surface warfare directorate to review the findings, and got their concurrence to declare IOC. Antonio formally signed the IOC declaration on Dec. 24, 2015.
Antonio said the surface warfare mission package increment 1 and 2 were used during the IOT&E – meaning 30 mm and 57 mm guns, a SeaRAM anti-ship missile defense system, small rigid-hull inflatable boats and more were incorporated in the test plan.
Antonio said Jan. 14 during a panel presentation at the annual Surface Navy Association national symposium that the PEO is testing the increment 3 version now – which includes a surface-to-surface missile – and hopes to have that addition to the mission package fielded in 2017.
Antonio said the PEO is preparing for a slew of accomplishments in the near future: in March the Navy will buy LCS-25 and 26, the last two ships in a 22-ship block buy; the 2017 acquisition strategy will be finalized soon, pending details in the Fiscal Year 2017 president’s budget request; hulls 7 through 10 will deliver to the fleet; and the service will award a contract for sustainment of the East Coast-based LCSs, which will be homeported in Mayport, Fla.
The future of the mine countermeasures mission package is still unclear. The Navy set up an independent review board in October to assess reliability issues still affecting the Remote Minehunting System (RMS) and the mission package as a whole. Antonio said it would still be another few weeks until that panel reports back on how the LCS program should proceed.
“The delay of IOT&E will enable the Independent Review Team to report their findings, which will inform the Operational Test Readiness Review and the way ahead for [the Remote Multimission Vehicle in the RMS] and the MCM mission package in general,” Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman Dale Eng told USNI News.
“The Navy is not yet announcing a revised schedule for MCM [mission package] IOT&E. The Navy is coordinating with all stakeholders, particularly the Fleet, in developing courses of action for IOT&E. The Navy will inform Congress once a determination has been made.”