The U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program will largely sink or succeed on the basis of how well its unmanned systems fare in upcoming tests and operations.
While previous U.S. Navy ships went to sea with organic combat and operational systems aboard, the LCS vessels are outfitted with mission module packages allowing the ship to conduct surface warfare (SUW), mine countermeasures (MCM) or antisubmarine warfare (ASW) missions.
And the strength of those systems — indeed the major selling point for the LCS, especially in conducting some of the more dangerous missions like MCM or ASW — rests largely on the effectiveness of the LCS’s unmanned systems and components.
Much the same can be said of other Navy and Pentagon programs that are investing greater amounts of resources into unmanned systems development. “Anything autonomous is growth,” says Stephen Froelich, Lockheed’s director and general manager of mission and unmanned systems. “Getting humans out of the danger zone is a growth industry.”
And no unmanned system shows more promise to do just that than the MCM mission module package slated for LCS.
“With LCS, there is a lot less danger,” says Peter Adair, = head of the analysis and tactics division at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Panama City, Fla. “The sailors are out of the minefield, using these new remote sensors and systems in the minefields.”
The LCS mine-hunting system sensors — such as the AN/AQS-20A sonar towed by the unmanned and autonomous remote multi-mission vehicle (RMMV) — are meant not only to keep the ships out of danger, but also to manage the missions better.
“With the semi-submersible [RMMV] it’s not just the speed of getting there, but also [the] speed of being inside the mine field,” says Bob Benjamin, the MCM technical program manager for the Panama City NSWC.
MCM operations currently involve detecting mines and then classifying them. But the AN/AQX-20A can detect and classify in the same mission, Benjamin says. When fully implemented, the LCS MCM package will include an AN/AES-1 sonar, the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) and AN/ASQ-235 Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS), making the LCS a potentially formidable MCM platform compared to the current Avenger-class ships.