We determined whether the Navy is effectively managing the development of a mine countermeasures (MCM) mission package that will allow the Littoral Combat Ship to detect and neutralize or avoid mines in support of fleet operations. For this audit, we focused on the MCM mission package systems that the Navy declared had met their initial operational capability (IOC) requirements. According to DoD Instruction 5000.02, IOC is achieved when the selected user has been equipped and trained and is determined to be capable of conducting mission operations.
The Littoral Combat Ship MCM mission package supports MCM operations through the employment of aviation assets and unmanned surface and submersible vehicles. These assets and vehicles are equipped with an array of sensors and systems to detect, localize, and neutralize surface, near-surface, in-volume, and bottom mines. The MCM mission package includes s even systems. Our review focused on three systems that the Navy had declared met IOC. Specifically, we reviewed the AN/ASQ‑235 Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS), Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS), and Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) Block I systems.
We determined that the Navy declared IOC for the three MCM mission package systems reviewed prior to demonstrating that the systems were effective and suitable for their intended operational uses.
This occurred because the Director, Expeditionary Warfare Division (N95) declared IOC for the ALMDS and AMNS after Chief of Naval Operations and Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development, and Acquisition) officials approved a plan to pursue IOC to gather data and lessons learned. To deliver the systems to the fleet, N95 used the results of a technical evaluation and previous test events to justify its IOC decisions without demonstrating that it had corrected known performance problems. Additionally, N95 relied on data gathered during the first of five test periods to justify the COBRA Block I IOC decision, even though the program did not fully meet a key performance parameter (primary requirement). We determined that N95 declared IOC for the COBRA Block I to avoid requesting a sixth change to the IOC date that would further delay the delivery of the system’s capabilities to the fleet.
As a result, the Navy delivered units that have known performance problems to the fleet for use aboard the Littoral Combat Ship and other platforms. The MCM mission package operates as an integrated family of systems. Each of the seven systems needs to provide full capability and operate in conjunction with each other in order to accomplish the MCM mission. Consequently, if the Navy proceeds as planned it will spend money on ALMDS, AMNS, and COBRA Block I production units that cannot fully perform their mine detection and neutralization missions. This in turn 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.
We recommend that the Director, Expeditionary Warfare Division, delay future procurement of Airborne Laser Mine Detection System, Airborne Mine Neutralization System, and Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis Block I until the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development, and Acquisition) and Chief of Naval Operations require the Program Manager, Mine Warfare Office, to complete operational test and evaluations demonstrating the systems are effective and suitable to support full-rate production.
Management Comments and Our Response:
The Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development, and Acquisition), responding for the Navy, disagreed with the report’s finding and recommendation. The Assistant Secretary stated that test results during 2015 and 2017 had demonstrated the systems either met or exceeded their primary requirements. The Assistant Secretary further stated that 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.”
The Assistant Secretary stated that the incremental approach to fielding each of the seven system in the LCS MCM mission package facilitates a more rapid and seamless transition from legacy MCM to the future modular MCM force. The Assistant Secretary also stated that the procurement must continue to ensure that a capability exists to replace the decommissioning MCM 1 Avenger Class ships and MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter, thereby saving the Navy operating and production costs.
We disagree that the systems met the requirements for declaring IOC. In the memoranda issued declaring IOC for ALMDS and AMNS, N95 stated that the ALMDS and AMNS programs had not executed a complete initial operational test and evaluation according to the IOC definition. Therefore, the ALMDS and AMNS programs have not demonstrated that the systems are operationally effective and have met the requirements for declaring IOC. For the COBRA Block I program, the production document defines IOC as delivery of one system, new equipment training, initial spares, and support equipment to the unit. While the COBRA Block I program met that limited definition, the COBRA Block I system does not meet DoD Instruction’s 5000.02 definition for declaring IOC. Specifically, the Navy has not yet demonstrated that the COBRA Block I system is able to conduct its full portfolio of mission operations.
After receiving the Navy’s comments to the draft report, we met with senior Navy officials to discuss the Navy’s position and received an update on the systems’ development. The officials contend that having the training squadrons use the systems was the best way to identify and correct performance gaps, enhance lethality, and more rapidly change the paradigm in the MCM force. The officials stated the systems provide relevant advantage over our adversaries and the Navy had taken actions to address the performance shortcomings identified during the aforementioned test events. The officials stated that the MCM training squadrons currently working with ALMDS and AMNS systems have not reported any problems. The officials also stated that preliminary analysis of additional testing conducted on the COBRA Block I system supported that many of its performance shortcomings had been corrected.
While this approach may allow for a more rapid transition to the future modular MCM force, the Navy still needs to mitigate the impact of its approach. 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.
If the Navy continues its procurement of additional ALMDS, AMNS, and COBRA Block I systems to enable the timely decommissioning of the MCM 1 Avenger Class ships and MH-53E, it should continually improve those systems based on feedback identified by Fleet users.
Based on management’s comments to the draft report and our follow on meetings with senior Navy officials regarding their comments, we consider the recommendation resolved. The recommendation can be closed once the Navy: (1) provides documentation that the performance deficiencies identified in prior testing of the ALMDS, AMNS, and COBRA Block I systems have been corrected; and (2) demonstrates progress towards achieving its full portfolio of mission operations, while mitigating the risk of costly retrofits.
This report is a result of Project No. D2017-D000AE-0147.000.