Home » Aviation » Navy Thinking Beyond Littoral Combat Ship for Future Mine Warfare

Navy Thinking Beyond Littoral Combat Ship for Future Mine Warfare

Petty Officer 2nd Class John Christner assigned to Commander, Task Group 56.1 (CTG 56.1), Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit One, embarked aboard RFA Lyme Bay (L 3007), examines an inert mine training shape on Oct. 15, 2016, during UK/US Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2017 (UK/US MCM-Ex 17). US Navy photo.

THE PENTAGON – The Navy is moving to further divorce mine warfare capabilities from specific platforms, going even beyond the modular setup of the Littoral Combat Ship.

The service already moved away from legacy equipment, which paired mine-hunting and mine-neutralizing gear with dedicated Avenger-class mine countermeasure ships and MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters. The Littoral Combat Ship created a new dynamic, where a prepackaged kit of MCM tools could be installed on the ship, or it could be taken off and swapped wholesale for a mission package for a different warfare area.

Now, according to Director of Expeditionary Warfare Maj. Gen. David Coffman (OPNAV N95), that mission package will be deconstructed. Instead of aiming to deliver to operational commanders a cookie-cutter set of MCM tools in a box, the Navy will focus on developing sensors and effects that are applicable to mine warfare; that can be mixed and matched with various manned or unmanned offboard vehicles; and that are employed from an LCS, from ashore or from other vessels of opportunity.

As an example, a key piece of the mine-hunting capability today is the Knifefish unmanned underwater vehicle with its synthetic aperture sonar. While it has performed well in testing, officials have previously told USNI News that the UUV itself is limited in endurance and may not be able to operate in areas of the world with strong underwater currents. However, with this piece of gear, the sonar and the UUV are a package deal, meaning an operational commander’s hands are tied in certain areas of the world.

USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) is pierside at Naval Base San Diego and preparing to conduct final contract trials (FCT) in 2017. US Navy Photo

Going forward, Coffman said, the Navy would prioritize the development of families of unmanned air, surface and undersea vehicles – not built for any specific mission set – with known performance parameters, towing capacities, space for sensor packages and other specifications. An operational commander could then select the right unmanned vehicle, select the sensor or effects package needed for the mission, and tailor that combination for the physical environment and threat environment he faces.

On the one hand, this approach frees up the Navy to field bits of capability as technology evolves, rather than waiting for a whole package of equipment to all be ready. The Navy previously broke its LCS mission packages up into increments, to address a widening gap in expected fielding timelines for the pieces of the package. As warfighters are constantly asking to experiment with the latest and greatest gear, moving away from the idea of a mission package altogether may increase the ability to put new sensors out into the field for demonstrations and experiments faster.

On the other hand, the MCM community already struggled to get sufficient funding in the Navy budget request – and then keep that funding as the budget went through Congress – and deconstructing the mission packages into individual sensors or unmanned vehicles runs the risk of exacerbating the funding challenges.

“It’s a typically historically under-resourced warfare area. It does not have a strong ownership of governance in terms of people waking up every day saying, we are going to work on this,” Coffman said.
“I think it’s going to be very challenging. … The services, Washington, Congress, everybody’s choking a little bit on this divorce of platforms, payloads, sensors. The system tends to like, ‘I bought one of these and one of these and it does this one thing.’ In mine warfare, as I’ve articulated, our thesis is that’s definitely not the right approach for this warfare area. … That typically doesn’t translate well in the rough world of the marks” to the budget request.

U.S. contractors with the Navy Mine Hunting Unit (MHU) depart the well deck of the RFA Lyme Bay (L3007) to test a common unmanned surface vehicle (CUSV) in the Arabian Gulf as part of U.K.-U.S. Mine Countermeasures Exercise 17-1 on Nov. 15, 2016. US Navy photo.

Despite the potential drawback of having to work even harder to help the Navy, the Defense Department and Congress understand an even more complex budget request, Coffman said the total decoupling of capabilities from offboard vessels from ships and aircraft is a natural move that was bound to happen as the LCS program matured.

“When you start the program, you’ll say, I need 24 MCM mission packages, and they’re each going to have this, this, this, this and this,” he said.
“And then when you do your exercises and your experiments, you’ll overlay an environmental and they’re like, 7th Fleet will say, ‘why are you sending that over here? That stuff doesn’t work either in my threat environment or my environmental environment.’ So we’re going to have to move from the idea of nascent programs to the real world of operational employment.”

He likened the deconstructed mission packages to his time leading Marine Corps units.

“Warfighting has always been a mix-and-match capability. So when I’ve been a commander at the [Marine Expeditionary Unit] and [Marine Expeditionary Brigade] level and supporting the [Marine Expeditionary Force]-level commanders, you have the diversity of your portfolio. So you find the [capabilities] and [limitations] across those portfolios” and use people and gear to best accomplish your mission, without having any kind of homogenous pre-packaged answer available.

Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5 conduct floating mine countermeasures training in the Philippine Sea, May 2, 2018. EODMU-5 is assigned to Commander, Task Force 75, the primary expeditionary task force responsible for the planning and execution of coastal riverine operations, explosive ordnance disposal, diving engineering and construction, and underwater construction in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations. US Navy photo.

Just as the Navy intends to separate the sensors from the manned and unmanned vehicles that carry them – the Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle, the MH-60S manned helicopter and the MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, among them – so too is the Navy trying to separate these offboard vehicles from the LCS.

Coffman acknowledged the Navy would still deploy LCSs with mission packages and acknowledged that the Program Executive Office for Unmanned and Small Combatants – formerly PEO LCS – would still oversee the development of many of these sensors and offboard vehicles.

“But, we are not going to have the mine warfare mission area hostage to LCS as unique, only, primary platform,” he said.

As the mine warfare community branches out from the LCS as a host platform, it is looking for closer ties to the Expeditionary Sea Base, like USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3) operating in the Middle East today – whose original mission set was to serve as an afloat staging base for mine warfare operations but instead has forged closer relationships with the special operations community and the Marines Corps’ land-based units serving in U.S. Central Command.

Coffman called the Puller-class a “high-quality afloat forward staging base for mine countermeasures and other mission sets, but really trying to strengthen the hand in terms of their mine warfare interface.”

  • Duane

    This sounds a bit like a catfight over bureaucratic turf – “we’re not going to be held hostage by LCS” – rather than a discussion about widening the scope of the MCM capability. While it is true that the LCS has already demonstrated that using primarily aircraft, both manned and unmanned, along with unmanned surface and subsurface vehicles means that any ship with available space and the ability to launch and retrieve these vehicles can do the work, the Congress is only going to fund so many packages of equipment. Divvying up the equipment is a recipe for getting unfunded altogether.

    • Splitting the MCM package from LCS is a great idea – there are plenty of places where defensive MCM could be performed without needing to tie down a ship. However, I agree that not having it linked to a ship risks it going unfunded.

      • Curtis Conway

        LCS has specific design qualities that make them perfect for the mission. They are much more defended than any previous MCM ship.

        • I fully agree – but if someone mines a friendly harbor or shipping lane there really isn’t a need to tie down a $500m ship when you can just put the module on shore.

          • Curtis Conway

            The system being designed as it is, and the MCM teams being organized appropriately, does not preclude that from happening. The MCM tasked LCS will still have a home port, and a runway nearby. Most all that equipment is C-130 transportable. There will certainly be more than one ship-set. We must keep our minds open to operational flexibility, and possibilities of operations, NOT limiting ourselves to a specific mindset.

          • It doesn’t preclude it. But it does make it likely that decisions will be made in favor of usage aboard LCS rather than as an independent system.

        • PolicyWonk

          This is a good point, and if the ever figure out how to resolve the reliability problems with the propulsion systems, the LCS should be able to cruise with the amphib fleets, and perhaps deliver some value.

  • Ed L

    Don’t forget the guys in the wooden boat August 30, 2018. A Navy explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team was called in to detonate a naval mine that appeared in the waters near Kitsap Naval base in Washington State. Like the Russians and there RBU-6000 Smerch-2 while primary an anti submarine weapon can also be used as a shore bombardment system. depth around a thousand meters. Range 5000 plus meters

    • USNVO

      Well, you could say it was a mine if you consider a hollow, MK6 shape as a mine. I had to laugh at the news coverage because it was clear from how high it was floating and the markings that it was an exercise MK6 (which was confirmed by the people at Keyport shortly after it was destroyed). Other than as a training exercise for the EOD guys, blowing it up served no purpose.

      • Ed L

        While participating in Operation Nimbis Star I saw mines washed up on shore. Many which we pulled off the beach and Denotated in deep water. While it was a practice mine it could have been the real thing There were over an estimated half million sea mines laced during WW2 and the according to the military powers they never found them all. Then again if it was a training mine why was it blowed in place? I will tell you why because according to the various news articles officials were never sure it was a training mine. They were always quoted using the words, maybe, if, could be, etc.

        • USNVO

          All that may be true but the shape recovered near Naval base Kitsap was clearly a MK6 shape without Hertz horns or galvanic wire detonators, was clearly painted white and orange, and was floating so high in the water it was obviously empty. After it was destroyed, the people from Keyport reported exactly what it was and when, where, and why it was laid. So yes, it was blown up but probably because the people who knew what it was were never consulted.

          • Ed L

            Just saying the Public Relations Officers were not saying that. We might know better but Mary and Joe Civilian doesn’t know that. That’s why I don’t talk Acronym’s around my family and friends Unless they are former military. Now the retire army and airforce guys I know. we educate each other.

  • RunningBear

    Sad, one man with too many hats.

    As others here have said, get the present LCS program with modules in service, then…and only then…should the obvious future developments begin.

    You can’t DEFEND! this country with future weapons.

    Too many toys to play with!

    Fly Navy

    • PolicyWonk

      The idea of LCS, modularity, and mission package standardization for easy upgraeds, is perfectly sound and makes a lot of sense.

      Its the execution of the idea that failed: two different sea-frames and propulsion systems, so double the logistical, maintenance, and training problems; crazy expensive; crazy complex; poor growth characteristics; too big for the littorals – too small for blue water; and, commercial construction – all make for poor ROI.

      • RunningBear

        Aside from your aversion to the LCS, the MCM program as a whole has “too many cooks in the kitchen” and it is mis-managed by CNO and on down the chain.

        Typical of a technology that has little time, budget or scope for completing the existing challenge . All of the above are responsible for “Oh but what about the new…..whatever” without getting a weapon program in service.

        Scope, schedule and budget is the only way MCM will ever be successful; regardless of all the “Lookee Louees”, none of which are responsible for the program delivery/ completion.

        Fly Navy

  • airider

    Still too expensive. Mines are a cheap weapon targeting an expensive weapon. Countermeasures for mines must be even cheaper if we’re going to afford waging war in this arena. We need to go back to the drawing board and re-look at how to address eliminating this threat with the simplest of means.

    The two things I’d look at for a start is line charges and electromagnetic pulses. Almost all modern mines are influence mines, so I’d investigate deploying CM that increases the influence effects … perhaps even very low yield nuclear devices …

    • This idea doesn’t get a favorable reaction in the pentagon because it isn’t a large enough number to rise to a line item in the budget which means that those in favor of this path will not fair well in the flag board.

  • PolicyWonk

    The Littoral Combat Ship created a new dynamic, where a prepackaged kit of MCM tools could be installed on the ship, or it could be taken off and swapped wholesale for a mission package for a different warfare area.
    I concede here was definitely a “new dynamic” created by the “littoral combat ship”.

    That dynamic consisted of: being “never intended to venture into the littoral to engage in combat”, according to former CNO Greenert; and being spoken of in the past tense when the “prepackaged kit of MCM tools” hasn’t been fully tested/deployed yet as if it is deployed and functioning, while the parts that have been approved by the USC PEO were recently scorched by the DoD’s own watchdogs as woefully insufficient, according to an article recently published on these very pages.

    The hyper-expensive LCS does little without its mission package, and even when it does have one they have so far delivered little to no value whatsoever. If either of the LCS classes is ever able to get around the propulsion system reliability problems (among countless others), it might deliver some tiny value to the taxpayers – the roles of which remain to be seen. So far, MCM has to be the most promising because there are few alternatives as far as the USN is concerned.

    The new dynamic of funding this blatant corporate welfare program has had one positive development: and that was sending weapons designers back to the drawing board to create new (or repackage existing) weapons to dramatically reduce weight due to the limited room for growth of both LCS variants. The USN had no choice but to start this effort to find a way for these glorified ferry/yacht conversions to defend themselves when it became obvious both designs were grossly inadequate. While these efforts will pay eventually dividends for other ships in the fleet, as they come on line they will have the simultaneous effect of reducing the need for the existing LCS platforms to exist.

    The cost and complexity is far too high – the value far too small.

  • IMO, the LCS was never intended to be a Frigate. It couldn’t meet the standards for a Frigate, let alone a Corvette. It’s basically nothing more than a high end Patrol boat/OPV/MCM in one ship. The US Navy should bring back frigates and relegate the remaining LCS to the PC/MCM fleet.

  • c. sparks

    Sorry, the LCS has been a complete and total bust. The first three ships are so poorly designed and built that they have officially been designated for “training” (meaning they are useless for deployment). the Navy screwed the pooch on this.

    • airider

      That’s why they’re deconstructing the mission packages. If they can spread the tech around to most of the ships, they won’t be reliant on any one ship to support the mission.

      Also, the ESB’s look like a great ship to provide a forward staging capability for this mission. They could bring multiple sets of the tools forward, and then distribute them to the ships based on the real threat … just like N95 desires.

      • c. sparks

        Didn’t they make the same glowing predictions regarding multiple capabilities about the LCS? Let’s see.

        • Secundius

          They made the Same “Glowing Predictions” to the New “FFG(X)” too! And yet NONE have been Built Yet…

  • Graeme Rymill

    Of the twenty four MCM Mission Packages that are to be purchased ten will be placed on LCS destined to be deployed, five will be reserved for LCS used for training and nine will be reserved for “for use on other Vessels of Opportunity (VOOs) to meet the warfighting
    capability requirements and account for MCM maintenance cycles”. [USNI News April 3, 2018] Therefore only 41% of the packages will be deployable on LCS. In a crisis not all of those ten deployable MCM LCS will necessarily be available due to maintenance etc.

    Further disaggregation of the MCM Mission Package will only reinforce this policy of not relying exclusively on LCS. The USS Ponce has exercised as a MCM hub. Three Expeditionary Mobile Base ships will soon be available. USS Lewis B. Puller is already operational and two more are under construction. Each can each carry up to four MH-53s. Serious consideration should be given to funding the MH-53K as a replacement for the MH-53E.

  • Secundius

    There was an Artist’s conception a couple of years ago of a “Forward Staging Base” Ship (i.e. “Chesty Puller class”) and at least One “EPF” and One “LCS” assigned too it. Which probably means, it’s no longer a “Conception” and probably an “Assignment”…

  • Chesapeakeguy

    The article reads, to me anyway, that the Navy has arrived at the conclusion that the LCS experiment as THE answer to countering mines is something they are not completely confident in. I always agree with a policy to not put all of one’s eggs in the same basket. But I wonder if the Navy is setting the stage to completely ‘relieve’ the LCS of all defensive mine warfare missions in the future?

    I read an article in a fairly recent “Proceedings” article where employing surplus super tankers as ‘motherships’ for mine warfare and other tasks is worth looking into, and I agree with that approach. Their size and girth allow for enormous equipment and weapons loads to be carried. Their hulls, the ones constructed with double hulls anyways, are robust and and are known to be able to withstand considerable damage from mines. They aren’t fast, but some missions don’t require that. But sea control, amphibious warfare, and mine warfare missions are ones that those super tankers might be good candidates for. I think the mine warfare mission is certainly one worth considering.

    • tpharwell

      This is a program office declaration of independence. The mines working group within the PEO is declaring it. And by countenancing this, the CNO is abandoning Navy’s reliance on LCS as the vehicle for accomplishing the MCM mission requirement. This much is merely an acknowledgment of failure, which Navy was obliged to make, given the fact that the Congress had finally curtailed the funding requests in such a way as to pit the ship against the mission package.

      The rest is all song and dance.

      • Secundius

        You’re 100% sure about that! Apparently “Pork Floats”…

        ( http : // www . thedrive . com / the – war – zone / 23697 / pork – floats – congress – inserts – three – littoral – combat – ships – the – navy – doesnt – want – into – budget )

  • vetww2

    Why is it, if the LCS is so great, that EVERY other word, out of Navy is, After LCS………

  • Kelly J

    The drawback being that your MCM gear is now spread out among various other ships that already exist (CG/DDG/FFGX/LCS/etc). Ships that already have jobs.
    So now when I have an MCM issue I need to detach an AAW destroyer or ASW Frigate away from their primary role of defending the CVN because that ship just happens to have the piece of distributed kit in need.

  • You’re thinking about defensive mine warfare, which has predominated lately. However, offensive mine warfare is arguably the more dangerous threat – just look at what the US did to Japan or N. Vietnam. A similar campaign of mining friendly harbors could also be done on a smaller scale by terrorists or a minor power. Against threats like this there is absolutely no reason to deploy off board mine countermeasures systems from a ship – it just adds cost and risk for no gain.

  • veej7485

    $650 million dollar mine hunters….

  • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

    Sigh. This is (predictably) what happens when you plan on conducting MCM with $500+ million dollar vessels. You run out of money and hulls.

    I will also be surprised if LCS ever gets used operationally for MCM. Too big and expensive to risk.