Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM)

Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield demonstrated the need for mine hunting systems as an integral element of deployed forces. During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the Navy relied upon dedicated mine countermeasure assets to detect, classify, and localize sea mines. The time required for the arrival of these dedicated assets, however, demonstrated the need for the Carrier and Amphibious Groups to have an organic mine countermeasure capability.

As a result, the Navy began developing a suite of five airborne mine countermeasure systems to negate the identified threat. Deployment of these systems is intended on the MH-60S helicopters to provide organic airborne mine defense for Carrier Battle Groups and Amphibious Ready Groups. The Navy would use this capability in littoral zones, confined straits, choke points, and the amphibious objective area. The system as designed is portable and transferable and represents a capability that did not exist in the Navy's mine countermeasures inventory. The development of the Navy's suite of five airborne mine countermeasure systems to negate mine threats were based on the depth of the mine, the density of the minefield, and the conditions of the surrounding water.

The US Navy has planned for the Littoral Combat Ship to host all five of the developed AMCM systems, developed to provide aircraft carrier strike groups and expeditionary strike groups with full-spectrum organic mine hunting and neutralization capability.

The AN/AQS-20A (also previously referred to as AN/AQS-20/X) Sonar is a helicopter-towed, single-pass, mine hunting detection, classification, and identification sonar. The sonar identifies is designed mine-like objects under the water, but is not designed to identify near-surface mines. The Organic Airborne and Surface Influence Sweep (OASIS, now designated AN/ALQ-220) is a magnetic and acoustic influence minesweeping system. The sweep system is intended to be used where environmental limitations inhibit mine hunting.

The Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS) is a helicopter deployed, expendable, remotely operated, mine neutralization system that reacquires previously identified mines or locates mine-like objects. Military personnel would navigate the system using on-board propulsion and cameras. The operator locates the mines or mine-like objects and uses the Airborne Mine Neutralization System to detonate or otherwise destroy them. However, the associated ordnance as designed would also destroyed when the mine or mine-like object is neutralized.

The AN/AES-1 Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) is a mine countermeasure that would detect, classify, and localize floating and near-surface moored sea mines. The Navy would deploy the ALMDS on MH-60S helicopters to provide an organic airborne mine defense for Carrier Battle Groups (Carrier Groups), and Amphibious Ready Groups (Amphibious Groups).

The AN/AWS-2 Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System provides neutralization capabilities for ALMDS-detected, near-surface mines by firing a super-cavitating projectile at the objects from a helicopter. Like the Airborne Mine Neutralization System, the Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System would be used to neutralize previously identified mines. However, the Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance system could only be used at limited depths because of water penetration constraints.

In October 1993, the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Resources, Warfare Requirements, and Assessments) approved a mission need statement for mine countermeasures that laid the foundation for the AMCM program. The mission need statement presented several alternatives to address the need for mine countermeasures. As a result, the Navy began developing the suite of five airborne mine countermeasure systems.

The systems were designed to provide a full spectrum of functions for the intended mission. The ALMDS and the AN/AQS-20A Sonar are both mine identification systems. ALMDS would be used at near-surface depths. The AN/AQS-20A Sonar was not specifically designed to detect mines, but was designed for precise detection of underwater objects. Working together, the two systems would identify moored and bottom mines. The AN/ALQ-220 OASIS would be used where environmental limitations make mine hunting otherwise difficult. For mine neutralization purposes, the Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System would then be used to neutralize near-surface mines detected by ALMDS. The Airborne Mine Neutralization System would be used to neutralize mines below the surface and outside the range of the Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System.

The Center for Naval Analysis (CNA), a federally funded research and development organization, performed a mine countermeasure study to ensure that programming plans and strategies for evolving organic mine countermeasure systems were quantitatively balanced against future warfighting requirements. In June 1999, CNA published its study, "MCM [Mine Countermeasures] Force-21 Study Final Results." The study stated that the Navy and Marine Corps needed 42 AMCM units to fulfill the requirements stated.

The MH-60S helicopter is planned to be deployed on specific ships within Carrier and Amphibious Groups to meet the organic mine countermeasure requirement. The CNA assumed a specific number of MH-60S helicopters would be assigned to each Carrier and Amphibious Group. However, the deployment tactics of the MH-60S helicopters were still in development. The Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Resources, Warfare Requirements, and Assessments) described three scenarios for the use of ALMDS-equipped helicopters, including a single helicopter covering an entire area, two helicopters covering separate areas, or two helicopters covering an area in a grid-like pattern. The decision on the deployment of the MH-60S helicopters would impact the number of helicopters used for mine countermeasure missions and the number of ALMDS units needed. Also, there were competing missions for the MH-60S helicopter, including vertical replenishment and search and rescue. Consequently, the number of ALMDS units potentially needed to support the requirements of Carrier and Amphibious Group Commanders could not be accurately calculated until decisions were made on MH-60S helicopter deployment tactics and mission priorities.

The Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City, FL awarded in 2005 a sole source indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract [N61331-05-R-0070] to Northrop Grumman Corporation, Airborne Ground Surveillance and Battle Management Systems Integrated Systems Division, Melbourne, FL for engineering support services for preplanned product improvement (P3I) implementation, post mission analysis (PMA) development, integration of the developmental AN/AES-1 Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS), the AN/AWS-2 Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System (RAMICS) and the Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) System with existing or future fleet Command, Control, Communications, Computer, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems, and technology investigations related to improving these systems. The period of performance was scheduled for five years from the date of award (2010).

This acquisition was unsuitable for full and open competition. Northrop Grumman Corporation was the sole developer and integrator for the ALMDS, RAMICS, and COBRA systems. There was significant commonality in the hardware and design techniques between the ALMDS, RAMICS, and COBRA systems. Additionally, there was significant commonality in the data used by these systems and the interface of resulting system data with existing C4ISR systems. The interface of the AMCM systems, implementation of P3I concepts, development of tools and tactics for PMA, and the interface with C4ISR systems required a detailed knowledge of these specific system designs. Therefore, Northrop Grumman was the only source possessing the expertise, technical data, equipment, and experienced personnel necessary to perform the required engineering studies and interface requirement definition analysis required to work the issues. There were no other possible sources that could satisfy this requirement without significant additional cost to the Government.

A March 2007 report by the Government Accountability Office noted that 33 of the 38 total critical technologies comprising the 5 individual systems were mature, and the remaining five were approaching maturity. This affected the ALMDS, RAMICS, and AMNS systems. The remaining technology for the ALMDS was the system's active pixel sensor, which the Navy had not fully matured. Although the Navy has identified a mature backup technology for the active pixel sensor that would be used in the event problems were discovered during testing, the alternative would impose schedule delays upon the program as it will require integration into the existing system design. The RAMICS fire control system was still under development as of March 2007. The Navy planned to test the fire control system in a relevant environment in the second quarter of fiscal year 2007. The report specified that the remaining technologies to mature for the AMNS involved the launch and handling assemblies, deployment subassembly, and warhead subassembly, but hoped to begin production by June 2007

Join the mailing list