U.S. DoD Finds More LCS Mission Package Problems
The Department of Defense's Inspector General has issued a new report scrutinizing the U.S. Navy's "Knifefish" minehunting submersible, an $850 million mission package that is intended as a key component of the Littoral Combat Ship's mine countermeasures (MCM) capability.
According to its developer, Knifefish is a heavyweight unmanned undersea vehicle designed to detect and identify mine threats, and to reduce risk by operating in the minefield while the host ship stays at a stand-off distance. The system is not designed to destroy mines itself.
In its report, the IG alleged that the system cannot find mines as required. "The Knifefish program has not demonstrated the system’s ability to perform the key performance parameter of single-pass detection, classification, and identification of bottom and buried mine capabilities. DoD guidance states that a failure to meet a primary requirement threshold (minimum) may result in a reevaluation or reassessment of the program or a modification of the production increments," the Inspector General warned.
The IG further criticized insufficient Navy oversight in the design of the Knifefish's launch and recovery system and communications interface. Specifically, the launch/recovery capability requirements were not properly outlined in Navy documents, IG said, and the contractor's proposed design was not well suited for handling the submersible on deck – or for launching it while under way on a slow bell.
The IG recommended that the program offices for the Littoral Combat Ship and the Knifefish system work together to reassess whether to continue with development or cancel the program, "putting [the remaining] $751.5 million in research, development, test, and evaluation; procurement; and operational and maintenance funds to better use."
The Director of the Expeditionary Warfare Division and the Commander of Naval Sea Systems Command broadly disagreed with the IG's findings, and suggested that testing delays were due to funding constraints outside of the Navy’s control. Sea Systems Command asserted that the system would be ready for a final production decision in August 2017.
The IG countered that the Navy program offices had not provided a sufficient response as to how the system would be assessed going forward, and requested additional comments by early December.
The Knifefish is one of several proposed MCM and ASW mission packages for the controversial LCS classes. The Navy has already concluded that one other proposed minehunting drone package – the Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle (RMMV), a large sonar-equipped submersible – is not sufficiently reliable, and it has halted its procurement.