The DoD Inspector General said the Navy improperly declared initial operational capability (IOC) for three Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) mine countermeasures (MCM) mission packages, according to a report released July 25.
The DoD IG looked at three of seven systems planned to be used in LCS MCM mission packages to detect, localize, and neutralize various mines. The office focused on the Raytheon [RTN] AN/ASQ‑235 Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS), Northrop Grumman [NOC] Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS), and Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) Block I systems, which the Navy had all declared met IOC.
The LCS MCM mission packages are systems being developed to support counter-mine operations by using air assets as well as unmanned surface and underwater vehicles (USVs and UUVs). The AMNS is deployed and towed from MH-60S helicopters to neutralize bottom and moored mines using an expendable mine neutralization device; ALMDS is mounted on the MH-60S to detect, classify, and localize near-surface mines; and COBRA is mission hardware and software to be used on the MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV that provide surface-laid minefield and obstacle detection in the beach zone.
The Inspector General’s office was investigating whether the Navy is effectively managing the development of the MCM mission packages. According to Defense Department regulations, IOC is supposed to be achieved when the selected user has been equipped and training and is determined to be capable of conducting mission operations.
In this case, the IG found the Navy declared IOC “prior to demonstrating that the systems were effective and suitable for their intended operational use.”
Specifically, the IG said this occurred for several reasons. First, the director of the Expeditionary Warfare Division (N95) declared IOC for the ALMDS and AMNS after officials from the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition (ASN-RDA) offices approved a plan to pursue IOC to gather data and lessons learned.
The report said N95 used the results of a technical evaluation and previous test events to justify IOC decisions without proving it corrected known performance problems. The IG underscored the Navy said the programs had not executed a complete initial operational test and evaluation as defined by IOC rules in the memorandums declaring IOC for ALMDS and AMNS.
“Therefore, the ALMDS and AMNS programs have not demonstrated that the systems are operationally effective and have met the requirements for declaring IOC.”
Moreover, N95 used data gathered during the first of five test periods to justify the IOC decision for COBRA Block I, despite the program not fully meeting a key performance parameter/prime requirement. The IG said it determined N95 declared the COBRA Block I system IOC to avoid requesting a sixth change to the IOC date, further delaying delivery of its capabilities to the fleet.
The office said as a result of these decisions, the Navy delivered units “that have known performance problems to the fleet for use aboard the Littoral Combat Ship and other platforms.”
The Inspector General said all seven systems have to work together at full capacity to accomplish MCM missions and if the Navy keeps on the same course it will spend money on production units for these three systems that cannot fully perform their missions.
This “could lead to degraded mission performance, delayed delivery of needed capabilities, and the need to pull those units off-line and spend additional money to correct shortcomings in the fielded units.”
The office recommended that N95 delay future procurement of AMNS, ALMDS, and COBRA Block I until ASN-RDA and the CNO requires the Mine Warfare Office program manager to complete operational test and evaluations, demonstrating the systems are effective and suitable to support full-rate production.
The Navy’s top acquisition executive and ASN-RDA James Geurts, disagreed with the findings. He said test results in 2015 and 2017 demonstrated these systems met or exceeded their primary requirements. Geurts added, “the testing balanced comprehensiveness with speed of delivery to the fleet and is aligned with the national defense strategy tenet of delivering performance at the speed of relevance.””
Geurts also highlighted procurement needs to continue to make sure something can replace the legacy Avenger-class (MCM-1) ships and MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters. Those capabilities are planned to be decommissioned in FY 2022.
In a meeting with the Inspector General’s office, Navy officials argued having the trained squadrons use the systems was the best way to find and correct performance gaps, enhance lethality, and more quickly change the MCM force paradigm. They said training squadrons working with the ALMDS and AMNS systems have not reported any problems and the service took actions to address the performance shortcomings found in the earlier tests.
The officials also told the IG that a “preliminary analysis of additional testing conducted on the COBRA Block I system supported that many of its performance shortcomings had been corrected.”
The IG said although these approaches may let these MCM systems transition into the Navy faster, the service still has to mitigate the negative impacts.
“Entering full-rate production without demonstrating a system can perform as required may require costly retrofits to fix undiscovered system deficiencies. In addition, the approach could also result in having to delay the planned decommissioning of legacy ships, helicopters, and associated equipment if deficiencies also render the new system unable to perform the full MCM mission set.”