LCS Fort Worth Completes Test as Congress Cools on Program

LCS Fort WorthNavy officials told reporters Thursday the third Littoral Combat Ship recently completed a successful operational evaluation of its surface warfare technologies days after Congress slowed down the production rate for the vessel.

The USS Fort Worth, the Navy’s third LCS, engaged in scenarios involving swarms of small boats, engagements with its 57mm gun, and search and seizure exercises, said Rear Adm. John Ailes, LCS Mission Modules.

“We destroyed all the targets and the crew’s performance was excellent. It was a great event and we are pleased with all facets of the surface warfare mission package,” Ailes told in an interview.

The House Armed Services Committee Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee has proposed legislation that slows the rate of purchase for the LCS from three to two per year.

The subcommittee supports the LCS program and the development of a new small surface combatant, but priorities such as refueling the USS George Washington and ensuring that the Navy can operate an 11-carrier fleet took precedence in the budget, said a congressional staffer close to the subcommittee.

The mark up is the latest in a series of setbacks for the controversial LCS program, which was truncated from 52 ships down to 32 by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in January of this year.

Formal results and grades from the commander for the operational test that took place at the Navy’s Point Mugu test range in California are expected within 90 days, Ailes added.

The operational evaluation was designed to further develop the LCS’ increment 2 of its surface warfare mission package. The LCS is engineered to accommodate specific mission packages to include surface warfare, mine-countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare.

The LCS has two variants, the Freedom ships built by Lockheed Martin and the Independence ships built by Austal, US.

The LCS’ mine-countermeasures, or MCM, mission package is slated for end-to-end testing this summer and its own operational evaluation in 2015, Ailes said. The MCM testing, to take place with the USS Independence, will assess a handful of technological upgrades to the mission package to include a new radio, he said.

“We’ve upgraded the radios to allow us to do multiple vehicles at the same time and we have a radio system that is a high bandwidth radio which we call the multi vehicle communications system. The new radio is a network radio. You could think of it as Wifi,” he said.

The centerpiece of the MCM mission package is a remote minehunting system, or RMS, which consists of a semi-submersible remote vehicle operating with a AN/AQS-20A variable depth mine-hunting sonar. The sonar is designed to detect, classify, identify and locate bottom and moored mines in shallow and deep water, Navy officials said.

Overall, the Navy has worked closely with RMS-maker Lockheed Martin to improve the reliability of the system.

“We made vehicle upgrades that would allow the system to operate with much less overall maintenance. We made design changes to allow the system to operate in a minefield. This reduces the sailors workload and increases operational availability of the system,” said Steve Froelich, director of remote minehunting systems, Lockheed.

Also, data collected from the remote minehunting system is intended to work in tandem with an airborne mine neutralization system on board an MH-60 helicopter, Ailes explained.

Prototypes of the third mission package for LCS, called an anti-submarine warfare package, are slated to go to sea this summer aboard the USS Freedom, or LCS 1, he added.

The ASW package uses what’s called Variable Depth Sonar, or VDS, and a Multi-Function Towed Array, or MFTA.

“Variable Depth Sonar allows us to put the sound down where the submarine is. If you look on current destroyers, they have a hull-mounted sonar on the bow. It turns out that there are acoustic layers based on temperature and pressure that bend the sound up. A submarine can dive below this layer and there is a lot of attenuation and signal loss from a hull-mounted sonar,” Ailes explained in an interview last year.

The Variable Depth Sonar allows sailors to place the sonar “beneath this layer,” he said.

MFTA is a towed array sonar system, tethered to the ship, that is able to receive and transmit signals, including sounds and signals emerging from the VDS, Ailes explained.

The VDS and MFTA, working in tandem, are able to detect submarines deeper and at further ranges than hull-mounted sonar systems currently on Navy cruisers and destroyers, Ailes added.

Ailes also said the ASW package technology can successfully detect submarines while traveling at high speeds.

“The Variable Depth Sonar puts the sound out, the Multi-Function Towed Array receives it. We take the data coming out of the Multi-Function Towed Array and run that through digital signal processing techniques,” he added.

The Navy is planning a competition to procure a new, smaller VDS in order to lower costs and decrease the size of the hole needed to be cut through the door, Ailes explained.

The MFTA, called the AN/TB-37, is currently fielded on 30 US Navy cruisers and destroyers

The ASW mission package is also configured to work in tandem with UAS such as the Fire Scout and airborne torpedoes on-board the Navy’s MH-60R helicopter.

The MH-60R can also lower active and passive sonar sensors using a sonobouy device; in fact, the MH-60R can make use of a dipping VDS which drops into deep water from the air, Ailes added.

An operational evaluation is slated for the ASW mission package in 2016, Ailes said.

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