| June 20
June 20 An unmanned minehunting vehicle
developed by Lockheed Martin Corp has shown improved
reliability in new tests, moving it a step closer to use on U.S.
warships, Navy officials said on Thursday.
An improved version of the Remote Minehunting System has
completed 850 hours of testing, paving the way for 10 weeks of
development and operational testing this fall, which should
allow the system to go into use in 2015.
"Ultimately, this system is going to take sailors out of the
minefield," Steve Lose, the Navy's program manager for the
Lockheed system, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Hunting for mines in harsh, murky waters is a critical
mission for the Navy. It is keen to shift that work to unmanned
systems and keep sailors out of harm's way. Sea mines are
inexpensive weapons that are readily available to terrorists,
rogue nations and potential adversaries.
Lockheed's Remote Minehunting System combines a
diesel-powered, stealthy unmanned vehicle, or Remote
Multi-Mission Vehicle (RMMV), with advanced sonar sensors to
help Navy ships search for mines faster and more efficiently.
The RMMV sends real-time visual images back to the ship and
allows them to be collected for future analysis.
Lose said the testing completed last week showed the
equipment operated successfully, on average, for 115 hours
before breaking down, up from 45 hours previously and far
exceeding the Navy's 75-hour requirement.
The system is a key part of the mine countermeasures package
planned for the Navy's new Littoral Combat Ships, relatively
small vessels used close to shore. Early technical and
reliability issues prompted the Navy to require improvements.
Delays in fielding that system, and a separate anti-submarine
warfare package, have sparked concerns in Congress, which is
keeping a close watch on the LCS program.
Lockheed and Australia's Austal are building two
different models of the new warships, which are designed to help
patrol coastal areas, find mines and chase down potential
The Navy decided three years ago to halve its planned order
of RMMVs to 54, which raised the cost of each of the remaining
vehicles and triggered a review. The reliability improvements
were imposed as a condition for allowing the $1.4 billion
program to continue.
Completion of the extensive at-sea testing of the system,
coupled with a recent contract for its integration onto the new
LCS warships, is good news for Lockheed, which is also one of
two companies building the new warships.
If the next phase of testing goes well, Lockheed stands to
receive orders for 44 more RMMVs in coming years, Lose said.
Lockheed said it would work closely with the Navy to get the
new equipment on board the ships as quickly as possible.
"With the completion of the reliability testing, we are a
big step closer to addressing the need for a safe, efficient
mine warfare capability for the U.S. Navy," Steve Froelich,
program director at Lockheed's mission systems unit, told
Reuters in an emailed statement.