WASHINGTON — The complicated job of testing and evaluating the major warfare modules for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program is making strides, said a key US Navy officer, but reliability and weight issues still need to be solved, particularly with the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and mine countermeasures (MCM) warfare packages.
Key problems with the MCM module revolve around reliability issues, while the ASW package is overweight, Capt. Casey Moton, program executive officer for LCS mission modules, said July 30 at a Mine Warfare Association luncheon near the Pentagon held by the Mine Warfare Association.
The MCM module began tests and evaluation in April aboard the LCS Independence in the Gulf of Mexico, Moton said, and had been was scheduled to wrap up in September. But more time is needed to work out get the bugs out.
"We've been pleased with the performance of individual systems — they are finding mines," Moton told the audience. "We're happy with the crews' performance, and the shore support structure is going well."
Yet, he noted, "we've experienced ship and mission system failure that has hurt reliability."
Among the issues, Moton said, were problems with various ship systems, the Remote Minehunting Vehicle, launch and recovery of the RMV, and integration systems.
Some of the problems, he added, were "wear and tear." Some of the RMVs being used for the tests, he noted, have been in service for up to a decade.
Other issues are in getting procedures right. "The crews can make mistakes, and we need some refinement," he observed.
"Sometimes it's not just what failed, but how long does it take to get new parts and all that," Moton said. "Some failures cause us more downtime than others. I'm not going to get to more specifics.
"Things are going to fail, things are going to break. It's making sure that when it does fail we can respond quickly, that we have the right spare parts there."
As a result, he said, tech eval will need to continue at "least a couple months. I'm still confident we'll get there. We just need to do more."
Moton couldn't yet say how much more testing will be needed.
"Frankly, we need to go talk with Congress some more about things we've seen. I don't mean money," Moton said to reporters after the luncheon address. "The schedule is being looked at in the Pentagon right now. It's not going to be another year of testing, but it's not going to be another two or three weeks. It's going to be X number of months."
Moton said he remains confident the problems will be solved.
"I do not see any deal breakers," he said. "There is not a single failure that has caused me to look at a certain system and say, 'I better go to Plan B.' "
Current p Plans still call for the first MCM module to deploy aboard an LCS in fiscal 2018.
Problems with the ASW package are not about reliability — Moton noted that most of the key systems already are in service — but with the overall weight of the package when those existing systems are brought together.
"My package has to be less than 105 metric tons," he told reporters. "The variable depth sonar is good. The multi-function towed array is the sonar the Navy fleet is using right now. When I package all that together, it puts me over 105 tons."
To find a solution, Moton said, the Navy awarded contracts in July to three companies, Advanced Acoustics Concepts, L-3 and Raytheon, to "give us a lot more insight" into the problem. "All three companies propose schemes that would get us to [105 metric tons]," Moton said. Each company already has proposed a solution, and the short, two-month contracts are to develop a transition plan. "All three companies propose schemes that would get us to [105 metric tons]," Moton said.
Once the transition plan studies are complete, Moton said, "we'll use the next few months to build an engineering development model."
Key components of the ASW package are a Type 2087 Thales variable depth sonar being used for evaluation purposes, and the multi-function towed array under development for LCS and the fleet's destroyers.
Moton also signaled a major success for the surface warfare module, citing successful tests of the Longbow Hellfire surface-to-surface missile system. Widely used by helicopters in the fleet, the AGM-114L Hellfire is being adapted for use aboard LCS.
Using a modified launcher similar to those used on MH-60 helicopters, Hellfires were launched from the test ship Relentless at a variety of targets.
The tests "were very successful," Moton told the MWA audience, and were conducted against "high-speed maneuvering targets off the Virginia Capes."
While "minor adjustments" continue to be made to what is known as the Surface-to-Surface Missile Module, Moton said, the system is on track to be fully integrated and ready to deploy aboard LCS in late 2017.
According to a statement released by his office shortly after Moton's talk, the mid-June tests saw the missile system hit seven of eight targets engaged, "with the lone miss attributed to a target issue, not related to the missile's capability."
The test scenarios, said the statement, "included hitting targets at both maximum and minimum missile ranges. After a stationary target was engaged, subsequent targets, conducting serpentine maneuvers were engaged. The tests culminated in a three-target 'raid' scenario. During this scenario all missiles from a three-shot 'ripple fire' response struck their individual targets."
Another round of testing from the Relentless will take place in 2016.
Moton also said his office is currently conducting a technical evaluation of the surface warfare mission package on the Coronado. The package has already deployed twice, but both times on Freedom-variant LCSs. Coronado is an Independence-variant ship, with the same interfaces for the mission package but a different physical layout. Moton said the evaluation is "going very well."