AUVSI: Navy’s LCS Minesweeper Plans

USS Freedom gets underway from Changi Naval Base, Singapore, on July 19. The ship suffered a temporary power loss two days later while at sea and returned to port for repairs. (U.S. Navy photo by MC1 Jay C. Pugh)

At Wednesday’s Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) conference in Washington DC, two Navy officials laid out a long-term plan for how the Navy’s littoral combat ship (LCS) will neutralize the threat from underwater mines.

The plan is structured around an Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) launched from the LCS. That USV will be equipped with capabilities that can detect, identify and neutralize mines in shallow waters of 40-200 feet deep.

The first design mode, or “flight,” as Capt. Michael Tesar put it, is currently up for bid, with an RFP on the government contracting site FedBizOps. “We’re excited about our prospects with this, and we’re fielding questions regularly,” he said.

That first flight is focused on minesweeping. Flight-2 will add mine hunting capabilities, while Flight-3 will add mine neutralization abilities. Flight-4 is when things get really interesting, with the service eyeing anti-submarine or anti-ship capabilities as a possibility.

Right now, a manager of the USV has to plan out a route before releasing it into the water. While it would have certain pre-programed responses to situations, such as losing contact with the LCS, it falls short of true autonomy, something the Navy hopes will eventually be realistic.

“We want to be completely autonomous but we’re not there yet,” John Dudinskey, of the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, said.

In the meantime, the design team is looking emphasizing modular capabilities. “The Navy is investing now in payload development and integration to enable the modularity concept to come to fruition on USVs,” Tesar said.

While the technology sounds good, don’t expect it in the near-term.

“We expect to do a demonstration in FY17, notionally in June or so,” Dudinskey said.

The LCS, a frequent target for criticism from watchdog organizations and members of Congress, is viewed by the Navy as a key platform for the future of the service.

Aaron Mehta

Aaron Mehta

Air Warfare Correspondent at Defense News
Aaron covers the Air Force for Defense News. In his spare time, he tweets about the Air Force for Defense News. Follow him @AaronMehta
Aaron Mehta