In response to pressure from Congress, the Navy has launched an independent review of the remote minehunting system (RMS) built by Lockheed Martin [LMT], the centerpiece of the Littoral Combat Ship’s (LCS) mine countermeasures mission package.

The RMMV. Photo: U.S. Navy
The Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle. Photo: U.S. Navy

The service grew concerned about one component of the RMS system, the Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle (RMMV), which performed poorly during technical evaluations that wrapped up this August, Capt. Thurraya Kent, a Navy spokeswoman, told Defense Daily. The review is meant to help the Navy decide whether to move forward with procurement and how to get the program back on track.

“Focus areas of the team’s review include validating the requirements and mission concept of operations, assessing the RMS against the requirements, evaluating alternatives, assessing the program’s technical risk, schedule and cost, and evaluating the program’s management structure,” she said. “The progress of this review will also help inform the Navy’s operational test decision and subsequent actions critical to the future of the Navy’s mine countermeasures capability.”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition Sean Stackley signed off on the review on Sept. 25, 2015, and the team will have 60 days to provide its results.

The remote minehunting system is the core of the LCS’s mine countermeasure mission package, providing the Navy the ability to detect, classify and identify bottom and moored mines by using unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV). The autonomous, unmanned RMMV tows an AQS-20A variable depth sensor, and together the two systems find mines and send their location to the LCS crew, who can neutralize them.

In an August memo to the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer Frank Kendall, Director of Operational Test and Evaluation Michael Gilmore said the RMS has shown no significant improvements in reliability. Afterwards, the top members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.), wrote Defense Department leaders and implored them to look at alternative systems.

Kendall informed McCain about the RMS review in an Oct. 8 letter, in which Kendall said he shared the senators’ concerns about the program. The review will inform the department’s decision to move forward with RMMV initial operational test and evaluation, and the Pentagon will not go ahead with a Milestone C production decision on the program until the review is complete and a “risk-appropriate strategy” is agreed upon, Kendall said.

In a written statement, McCain said he was encouraged by the Navy’s decision to conduct the review.

“However, I will also note that in an August 2015 memorandum, the independent DoD weapons tester [Gilmore] found the Navy has inflated operating time estimates for the RMS by assuming that post-mission analysis time (when the vehicle is not in the water and not operating) could be counted toward reliability goals, as well as dismissing several critical failures that precluded continuation of operational missions,” he said.  “I expect that both ongoing department reviews will fully explore these concerns and others raised by the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation in the course of their work.”

Lockheed Martin spokesman Keith Little said the company was working to address problems with RMS.

“Specifically we are improving maintenance procedures by adding inspection checkpoints to avoid potential issues. We’re also modifying maintenance schedules to ensure the optimal frequency of inspection that proved effective during Technical Evaluation testing,” he said. “While we acknowledge the challenges encountered during the evaluation, it’s crucial to recognize that the RMS exceeded or met key performance parameters during a Navy-led development test conducted in early 2015.”

Alternatives to the RMS system would take up to five years and “significant investment” to reach same level of maturity, he said.

In the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act conference bill, Congress proposed a cut of $34 million to the program, which was authorized $53 million.