Defense Acquisitions:

Overcoming Challenges Key to Capitalizing on Mine Countermeasures Capabilities

GAO-08-13: Published: Oct 12, 2007. Publicly Released: Nov 13, 2007.

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The Navy initiated a move away from traditional minesweepers in favor of putting new kinds of anti-mine capabilities aboard ships with a variety of missions--most recently, the Littoral Combat Ship. In addition to a new ship, this approach includes several new systems and new operational concepts. GAO assessed the Navy's progress in (1) developing new mine countermeasures systems, including the Littoral Combat Ship, and (2) introducing these new capabilities to the fleet. To accomplish this, GAO reviewed Navy and program documents and previous GAO work. GAO supplemented its analysis with discussions with Navy and Department of Defense officials and contractors.

The Navy has made progress developing individual mine countermeasures systems and the Littoral Combat Ship. The Navy expects 3 of the 19 systems it is developing to be ready for fleet use by the end of 2007, and recent test results have been promising. However, significant challenges remain to fielding new capabilities. Operational testing plans for four systems in limited production will not provide a complete understanding of how the systems will perform when operated from the Littoral Combat Ship. Other ships will be used in testing to inform full-rate production decisions on the individual systems. While other ships may serve as platforms for the anti-mine systems, the Littoral Combat Ship is their primary platform, and it will have different launch, recovery, and handling systems. In addition, Navy plans call for testing these systems in smooth, uncluttered environments, although operating environments are expected to be less favorable. The first two Littoral Combat Ships have encountered design and production challenges. Costs are expected to more than double from initial estimates, and the Navy anticipates lead ship delivery nearly 18 months later than first planned. This may slow the planned transition from current mine countermeasures platforms. The Navy has reduced its investments in intelligence preparation of the environment capabilities--including the capability to locate and map minefield boundaries--even though improvements in this area could reduce mine countermeasures mission timelines by 30 to 75 percent. These capabilities are especially important for the Littoral Combat Ship, as it must stand clear of suspected minefields. The Navy has refined its concepts of operation for the Littoral Combat Ship, increasing awareness of operational needs. However, the Navy has not yet reconciled these concepts with the ship's physical constraints, and the trade-offs involved ultimately will determine the ship's capabilities. For example, operation of mine countermeasures systems is currently expected to exceed the personnel allowances of the ship, which could affect the ship's ability to execute this mission. In addition, the Littoral Combat Ship will have only limited capability to conduct corrective maintenance aboard. However, because the Navy recently reduced the numbers of certain mission systems from two to one per ship, operational availability for these systems may decrease below current projections. Moreover, the mine countermeasures mission package currently exceeds its weight limitation, which may require the Navy to accept a reduction in speed and endurance capabilities planned for the Littoral Combat Ship. It is important that the Navy assess these uncertainties and determine whether it can produce the needed mine countermeasures capabilities from the assets it is likely to have and the concepts of operation it can likely execute.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The agency concurred with our recommendation, but it did not take substantive actions to address it. In October 2007, at the time we issued our report, the Navy planned to field the Mission Reconfigurable Unmanned Undersea Vehicle in 2016 -- a system that would have provided some intelligence preparation of the environment capability in support of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). However, the Navy's fiscal year 2010 budget submission subsequently terminated funding for this program, citing technical and engineering limitations facing the vehicle. Other candidate systems remain in early research and development phases, and the Navy has not completed an analysis of its intelligence preparation investments and planned LCS mission timelines.

    Recommendation: Given the importance of intelligence preparation of the environment for enabling Littoral Combat Ship operations, the Secretary of Defense should analyze whether capabilities resulting from current intelligence preparation investments will enable the Littoral Combat Ship to meet required mission timelines. If necessary, the Secretary of Defense should assess options for improving intelligence preparation of the environment capabilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Navy has updated Littoral Combat Ship concept of operations documents to refine plans for (1) integrating mine countermeasures mission systems, (2) manning the ship, and (3) providing logistical support. These revised documents reflect an increased understanding of seaframe characteristics and anticipated performance limitations.

    Recommendation: Given the importance of well-developed manning and sustainment concepts to achieving mine countermeasures timelines, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Navy to determine the extent to which concepts of operation and the likely performance of the Littoral Combat Ship and other assets can be reconciled to provide the needed mine countermeasures capability.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2008, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition requested that the Navy conduct an analysis of alternative platforms and develop a concept of operations for mine countermeasures capability with or without the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). This analysis was to be submitted with the fiscal year 2010 Mine Countermeasures Master Plan. In a November 2008 draft of that fiscal year 2010 Mine Countermeasures Master Plan validated by the Joint Requirements Oversight Committee, the Navy indicates this analysis was conducted. The resulting analysis identifies amphibious and seabasing platforms as providing the greatest capability and least risk in the event LCS were not available as planned.

    Recommendation: In light of delays facing the Littoral Combat Ship program, as well as the planned decommissioning of existing mine countermeasures ships and helicopters, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Navy to evaluate the need for and feasibility of fielding mine countermeasures systems currently planned for the Littoral Combat Ship on alternative ship platforms as well.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Navy now plans to conduct initial operational test and evaluation of the mine countermeasures (MCM) mission package onboard the Littoral Combat Ship prior to anticipated full rate production decisions for several systems within the package. This decision can be attributed, in part, to ongoing technical challenges -- and subsequent operational testing delays -- facing a number of MCM systems currently in low rate initial production.

    Recommendation: To ensure an accurate understanding of operational suitability for new mine countermeasures systems, the Secretary of Defense should delay approval of full-rate production for systems contained within the mine countermeasures mission package, pending successful completion of operational testing onboard their primary platform, currently identified as the Littoral Combat Ship.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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