Home » News & Analysis » Stackley: RMMV, CUSV, Knifefish Will All Play a Role in LCS Minehunting; Not a Competition


Stackley: RMMV, CUSV, Knifefish Will All Play a Role in LCS Minehunting; Not a Competition

Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle. Textron photo.

Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle. Textron photo.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Navy will rotate three different unmanned vehicles into its Littoral Combat Ship mine countermeasures mission package to fill a primary minehunting role, rather than competing the three vehicles as the service previously announced.

When it became clear the Remote Multimission Vehicle (RMMV) could not meet reliability requirements last summer – the vehicle was only reaching about 40 hours mean time between operational failure instead of the required 75 – the Navy paused testing on the MCM mission package until it could decide on a new path forward.

In February the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition (ASN RDA) said the Navy would “evaluate and compete three capabilities to perform the volume and bottom minehunting function”: an upgraded Lockheed Martin RMMV towing the mission package’s AN/AQS-20A sonar; the Textron Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV), which will tow a minesweeper in a later increment of the mission package, towing the AQS-20A sonar; and the General Dynamics Knifefish unmanned underwater vehicle, which will hunt for buried and high-clutter mines in a later increment, using its built-in sonar.

However, after an April 6 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, ASN RDA Sean Stackley told reporters that all three systems would be used as the Navy incrementally improves the mission package.

“I wouldn’t call it a competition,” he said. “I don’t see them as competing, I see it as an incremental approach: what we’ve got today for near-term, what we see as a mid-term, but where we ultimately want to get to is a single unmanned vehicle” that doesn’t have to tow its sensor package.

Stackley explained that the rest of the MCM mission package works fine, but that the RMMV – despite going into a Reliability Growth Program in 2011 to get up to the 75-hour requirement – couldn’t get past the 40-hour mark. The growth program produced several solutions, but not all can be backfitted onto existing vehicles. Therefore, the Navy would have to build new vehicles and then start testing over to see if the improved vehicles actually achieved the reliability requirement – about a three-year process with a cost of about $15 million per vehicle, he said.

“That’s a significant investment, a three-year period of time, and [does] not close the loop in terms of certainty that we’re going to pass,” he said.

Instead, the Navy will upgrade the 10 RMMVs is already owns and field them around 2018, “because that’s better than what we’ve got out there today (with legacy MCM systems), so we’ll have an operational capability that doesn’t fully meet our requirements.”

The littoral combat ship USS Independence (LCS-2) deploys a remote multi-mission vehicle (RMMV) while testing the ship's mine countermeasures mission package (MCM) off the southern California coast in August 2013. Austal USA Photo

The littoral combat ship USS Independence (LCS-2) deploys a remote multi-mission vehicle (RMMV) while testing the ship’s mine countermeasures mission package (MCM) off the southern California coast in August 2013. Austal USA Photo

In parallel, the Navy expects to receive its Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV) this August and will begin testing it to see if it can tow the AQS-20A sonar. In 2011, prior to sending the RMMV into the reliability growth program, the Navy considered ditching that vehicle in favor of using an unmanned surface vehicle to tow the sonar – but at the time the movement of the unmanned vehicle on the water’s surface rendered the sonar inaccurate, Stackley said. Today, software exists to correct for the movement of the unmanned vehicle, and isolation devices can minimize how much the bobbing CUSV actually moves the towed sensor.

Stackley said the CUSV costs a third of the RMMV, coming in at $5 or $6 million apiece, and testing can begin this summer. The Navy wouldn’t be ready for initial operational test and evaluation until 2020, however, and so the upgraded RMMVs will fill the volume and bottom minehunting role for two years until the CUSV could take over, he said.

Finally, he said, the smaller Knifefish vehicle has performed well in testing but does not have enough endurance to cover large minefields.

Artist's rendering of the Knifefish unmanned underwater vehicle. General Dynamics image.

Artist’s rendering of the Knifefish unmanned underwater vehicle. General Dynamics image.

“Knifefish … doesn’t have the legs that the RMMV has. RMMV is a truck, you put that thing out in the water and it just goes goes goes. It’s got long endurance,” Stackley said.
“Well the Knifefish doesn’t have the same degree of endurance. So for certain mine countermeasure missions, it’s actually better than the RMMV, but for long endurance … we need to up the endurance on Knifefish.

“If we succeed in getting the endurance that we need out of Knifefish, now you have further simplified the mine countermeasures mission package because now you don’t have a vehicle towing a sensor, now you have a sensor embedded in a vehicle,” Stackley continued. In that case, the CUSV would remain in the mission package to tow the influence sweep system only.

“If a version of Knifefish, if we can get that to provide the degree of endurance that we need, we will probably end up buying more of those,” Stackley said.
“I don’t know about CUSV, we haven’t done the analysis yet. Because we’re already going to have CUSV as part of the mission package, what we’re going to have to do in the analysis is determine, since we’re going to be multitasking the vehicle, we have to look at the various [concepts of operations].”

Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources, added that it was still unclear if a single CUSV could tow a sweep and a sonar in the same run or if two separate vehicles would have to conduct two separate missions in the same minefield. He said he hoped to complete that analysis in time to inform the Fiscal Year 2018 budget request – by about this fall – though he acknowledged this was a tight timeline given all the other moving pieces in the LCS MCM mission package.

Mulloy also added that the FY 2017 budget requests includes $634 million for unmanned underwater vehicles, some of which will fund research on improved power and energy systems that will increase the endurance and reach of all UUVs in the fleet.

  • CuddlyCobra

    Great that there is a bigger focus on minehunting.

    Sucks that everything with the LCS seems to have issues.

    • USNVO

      WLD-1 problems predate LCS by at least a decade. In fact, since 6 DDGs have unused RMS hangers, you could say it was an AEGIS problem!

  • NavySubNuke

    After all why have 1 logistics tail when you can have 3! That way you can spread the pork to more congressional districts, buy 3X the amount of spare parts and require 3X the amount of maintenance and other contractor support —- hurray!

    • PolicyWonk

      The navy will do just about anything at this point, just to keep the miserable, so-called, and deceptively named “Littoral Combat Ship” from being an even more obvious disaster than it already is.

      But we can all cheer up, because before long the navy have to figure out which one of these blatant corporate welfare programs stinks less: a better/more reliable/more versatile design built of aluminum, or a notoriously unreliable and less versatile design with lot more steel.

      One thing is certain – if the navy had defined these things for what they really are: hyper-expensive non-combatant utility ships that are far too large to be effective in the littorals, and poorly designed for blue water – not even one would’ve been built.

      • NavySubNuke

        Yes but making (the correct) decision to not buy any little crappy ships requires a SECNAV who actually cares about the capabilities of the fleet instead of the current one who only cares about social engineering and artificially inflating the ship count.

        • PolicyWonk

          Given the demographics of the nation (much lower population growth), allowing females into more assignments was going to happen anyway (there simply aren’t enough males: 30% of which are too obese, others going to school, and the rest the navy has to compete with the growing economy and civilian job market). Whether they should’ve gone as far as they did is an entirely different matter – and thats too far off topic.

          But that latter part is 100% on-target. I wonder if they’re telling those who they assign to serve on these floating death traps that if they end up in a real fight with a naval opponent in either variant of LCS, their chances of living to tell about it are very poor indeed.

          Serving in any LCS variant should be all-volunteer, and be given hazardous duty pay in return. At a minimum.

          • What does demographics have to do with this?

          • PolicyWonk

            Note the part of the paragraph of NavySubNuke’s posting where he refers to “social engineering”.

          • NavySubNuke

            I’m not worried about expanding the roles of women — except for the extra costs associated with the decision since female sailors have historically retained at 50% of the rate of their male counterparts and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. My concern is more the explosion of “social justice” (for lack of a better name) training – at the expense of actual work, tactical training, and unit cohesion/morale – we are wasting countless man hours every year between the repeated SAPR initiatives (hint: If they haven’t figured out se*ual assaulting people is wrong after the first 10 hours of training 2 more hours aren’t going to help), the diversity bullies, and other “social justice” causes.
            As to Little crappy ships – I think bonus pay while deployed is a great idea. I don’t necessarily agree with all volunteer crews though – certainly we should take volunteers first but at the end of the day if the needs of the Navy require people to be forced to serve on them in order to fill out the crews than its time for those sailors to suck it up.

        • What?

          • NavySubNuke

            Which part confused you?

  • Ed L

    the one with the least amount of breakdowns will become the winner

  • MarlineSpikeMate

    “because that’s better than what we’ve got out there today (with legacy MCM systems)”

    This statement is completely inaccurate.

  • RobM1981

    I can’t say whether the CUSV works worth a fig, but have you seen it in motion? Hull flare puts up sheets of water on either side. At speed, it is the coolest looking vessel on the water – and not bad tied to the pier, either.

    At $5M or more per hull, it had *better* work.