The country’s maritime services last week said goodbye to four long-serving warriors, with over 130 years; worth of pennants between them.
USCGC Mellon (WHEC 717) sits in full dress at the pier before a decommissioning ceremony in Seattle on Aug. 20, 2020. USCGC Mellon was a High Endurance Cutter homeported in Seattle and served as an asset in completing Coast Guard missions around the world for 52 years. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Clark)
Besides the 52-year-old Coast Guard Cutter Mellon— who fired 5-inch shells on NGFS in Vietnam and is the only USCGC to have fired a live Harpoon missile— the Navy laid up a trio of Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships last week: USS Ardent (MCM 12), USS Scout (MCM 8), and USS Champion (MCM 4) at Naval Base San Diego.
NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Lt. Cdr. Sam Moffett, commanding officer of the Mine Countermeasure ship USS Ardent (MCM 12), delivers remarks during the decommissioning ceremony of the Ardent at Naval Base San Diego. Ardent was decommissioned after nearly 30 years of distinguished service. Commissioned Feb. 8, 1994, Ardent assisted in the recovery of a downed F/A-18C in the North Arabian Gulf and provided support following the bombing of USS Cole (DDG 67) in Port of Aden, Yemen. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kevin C. Leitner/Released)
The good news is that at least the Coast Guard’s 12 1960s-era 378-foot Hamilton-class cutters have been replaced by 11 (with a possible 12th on the horizon) much more capable 418-foot Legend-class National Security Cutters, the Avengers were supposed to be phased out in favor of LCS-based MCM platforms. Just going to leave that there.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert tours the Lockheed Martin undersea systems facilities in Riviera Beach. While there, Greenert viewed a littoral combat ship remote minehunting system test module and underwater autonomous vehicles. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer Peter D. Lawlor
The Littoral Combat Ship is a sausage program that was envisioned to replace the Navy’s diverse minehunters/sweepers, frigates and patrol craft with 50+ ships on a single hull that could do it all (after all, any ship can be a minesweeper once, right?) through a series of plug-and-play modules.
Remote Minehunting System (RMS) to be used on the LCS, in theory
Well what we have almost 20 years into the program are two hulls (Freedom and Independence classes) that can do some of the same tasks as the frigates and patrol craft (except for ASuW or ASW against a modern opponent), but there’s a thing about that $706 million mine module program…
At issue are recent reports on the reliability of a core component in the MCM package, the Remote Minehunting System (RMS) — comprised of the Raytheon AQS-20A towed array sonar and the Lockheed Martin remote multi-mission vehicle (RMMV).
The 7.25-ton semi-submersible RMMV — designed to deploy from the LCS and autonomously scout mines with the AQS-20A — in particular has had a history of persistent reliability problems.
SASC Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and ranking member Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) cite an early August memo signed by director of the Office of Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) Michael Gilmore that “assessed the current Remote Mine Hunting System and RMMV reliability as being 18.8 hours and 25.0 hours between mission failures… which is well below the Navy’s requirement of 75 hours” and that the Navy provided “no statistical evidence that the [system] is demonstrating improved reliability, and instead indicates that reliability plateaued nearly a decade ago.”
Worse, the Navy put their low-mileage Osprey-class coastal minehunter (with some hulls just being eight years old) on the chopping block back in 2007 (Taiwan, Egypt and Greece picked them up lighting fast) and is planning on retiring the Avenger-class mine sweepers and vaunted MH-53 Sea Dragon MCM helos in just a few years, making the LCS/MCM program “it” for U.S. Navy mine sweeping.