WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy has completed the initial operational test and evaluation of its Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) program, bringing a key element of the littoral combat ship’s mine countermeasures mission package closer to final approval and fielding.
The UISS system is a Textron-made mine countermeasures unmanned surface vessel (MCM USV) towing a minesweeper. The system works by sending the unmanned vehicle into a potential mine field — with the manned LCS or other host ship at a safe distance — and using the USV to “mow the lawn” up and down the area of interest, with the influence sweep setting off any magnetic, acoustic, or magnetic/acoustic combination mines in the area.
The sweep system is among the original requirements for the LCS mine countermeasures mission package, even as the mission package overall has seen several changes over the past decade of development and testing.
The Navy announced Aug. 24 it conducted at-sea testing aboard LCS Manchester off the coast of California in May and June. The test event included both “end-to-end minesweeping missions versus Navy Instrumented Threat Targets (NAVITTARs) and demonstrated UISS supportability and integration with the LCS seaframe,” according to a Naval Sea Systems Command statement.
Additional pier-side testing took place to look at requirements like maintenance ahead of the Navy declaring initial operational capability and beginning to field the USV and minesweeper to the fleet.
“Completion of this operational test event achieves a major milestone for the UISS Program of Record and demonstrates continued progress to fielding the full capability of the MCM Mission Package aboard LCS,” Capt. Gus Weekes, LCS Mission Modules Program Manager, said in the statement.
“The test event demonstrated for the first time both the capability and sustainability of a minesweeping capability using an unmanned system from an LCS in an operationally realistic environment,” he added. “I want to highlight the adaptability and dedication of the test teams across many organizations in executing these critical tests, despite the challenges imposed by COVID-19.”
LCS sailors performed all the operations throughout the test events, including launching and recovering the USV, command and control during the mission, maintenance of the system, mission planning and post-mission analysis.
The LCS MCM mission package has six components that come together to search for, identify and destroy mines in various parts of the water column. The three aviation-based assets were the first to be certified and are currently in use onboard LCSs Tulsa and Charleston in U.S. 7th Fleet. Those systems are the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System and the Airborne Mine Neutralization System that deploy via the MH-60 helicopter and the Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis system that deploys from the MQ-8 Fire Scout drone.
In addition to the UISS, in-water components include the Knifefish unmanned underwater vehicle, which finds buried mines and is already through its testing program, as well as the Textron MCM USV towing the AN/AQS-20C sonar for mine-hunting operations.
Weekes, during a presentation Aug. 3 at the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space conference, said the UISS system should reach IOC by the end of the fiscal year, or late September.
The MCM USV in its mine-hunting role would go through a separate developmental test and operational test program beginning in the first quarter of fiscal 2022, he said.
To support the MCM USV with both payloads, the Navy earlier this year conducted a risk-reduction event and sought to command and control two USVs at the same time as they conducted separate missions.
“The test went extremely well,” Weekes told Defense News during his presentation, noting the mission package command-and-control station had greater bandwidth than expected and allowed for separate MCM USV operations — which was part of the Navy’s operational plans for the MCM mission package but was, until the demonstration, just a theory.
The captain said all six mission package components will have to go through end-to-end testing as an integrated mission package, proving sailors could leverage each piece properly to find mines throughout the water column. This integrated mission package testing is slated to lead to an IOC decision for the whole MCM mission package around the fourth quarter of fiscal 2022, he said.
The LCS anti-submarine warfare mission package is moving on a similar timeline, he noted during the presentation. Whereas fleet assets have been helping with the MCM package testing, LCS Fort Worth, which was previously designated a test ship, has conducted the bulk of the ASW mission package testing, he said. The ship and the mission package tracked a submarine in early FY20, and the ship is currently helping test the hydrodynamics of the mission package, which includes a variable-depth sonar and a multi-function towed array.
Developmental and operational testing of the integrated ASW mission package will take place throughout FY22, culminating in an IOC decision by the end of FY22, Weekes said.
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.