AN/AES-1 Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS)
The Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) was developed by the US Navy to detect and classify floating and near-surface, moored mines. ALMDS has been intended for use on the MH-60S helicopter.
The ALMDS as designed by Northrop Grumman uses pulsed laser light and streak tube imaging receivers housed in an external equipment pod to image surface-to-depth volume for people, boats, or other objects. The ALMDS is intended to be capable of day or night operations. The ALMDS design uses a collection process that utilizes the forward motion of the aircraft. All the ALMDS components are housed with in a pod with an approximate weight of 820 pounds and that is approximately 107 inches long, with a 21-inch diameter. The pod can use the standard BRU-14/A bomb rack on the MH-60S helicopter.
The ALMDS was designed to help shorten the detect-to-engagement timeline and maximize the MH-60S helicopter's time on station. ALMDS has also been considered for anti-submarine warfare applications. The ALMDS laser is fired into the water and cameras on the ALMDS pod capture water reflections to create images. Although the depth that the laser can penetrate and provide quality feedback is limited, the ALMDS can detect surface mines that the AN/AQS-20/A Sonar (another element of the AMCM Program) is not designed to detect.
Investigation of deployment tactics for the ALMDS on the MH-60S helicopter were explored in a Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) report in 1999. As the planned platform for ALMDS and the other four airborne mine countermeasure systems, the MH-60S helicopter would 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 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.
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 ALMDS program. The mission need statement presented several alternatives to address the need for mine countermeasures.
In FY96 a competitive evaluation of various laser detection systems for what were then known as ALMDS Technologies, including Kaman's Magic Lantern, Lockheed's ATD-111 Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) system, and the SETS Technology Advanced Airborne Hyperspectral Imaging System (AAHIS). The field test occurred in late 1997 utilizing the SH-2G helicopter, and the Navy expected to have the results ready by April 1998. Magic Lantern had already been incorporated into existing AMCM options by December of 1996, as a "deployment contingency."
The Magic Lantern LIDAR system was a blue-green laser unit designed to emit and reciever and detect mine-like objects, which would show a greater return of light energy than open water. The system was also successfully tested on the MH-53E helicopter. Systems such as Kaman's Magic Lantern were the predecessors of the AN/AES-1 ALMDS, and were procured following mine incidents during combat operations in Persian Gulf in the early 1990s.
In July 1998, the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Resources, Warfare Requirements, and Assessments) approved the operational requirements document for the ALMDS. The ALMDS was intended to fulfill the stated need for the rapid detection, laser image classification, and localization of drifting, floating, and near-surface moored mine threats for avoidance by the Carrier and Amphibious Groups and other strategic vessels in transit.
In 2001, according to a DoD Audit, the program office estimated that the system would cost $167.2 million for research, development, test, and evaluation and $206.7 million for procurement. The Navy Acquisition Executive approved the ALMDS for entry into the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the acquisition process on 18 April 18 2000. At that time, the Navy Acquisition Executive ensured that the ALMDS production quantities were fully funded based on the best information available. The Navy planned to hold the full-rate production decision review for the ALMDS in the second quarter of FY04.
On 26 January 2007, Navy officials were on hand for the roll-out of the first low-rate initial production unit of the ALMDS in an official ceremony at Northrop Grumman Corporation and Integrated Systems Division's, Melbourne, Florida, facility.
The January 2007 delivery was the result of an initial $35.7 million contract awarded in April 2006 for a low-rate initial production (LRIP) of two AN/AES-1 ALMDS pods. A second LRIP contract was planned to start during spring 2007 for an additional two pods following developmental testing. The third LRIP contract and full rate production were planned for 2009 and 2010 respectively for an additional eleven pods.
The ALMDS program as of 2007 was managed by PEO LMW, Mine Warfare Program Office, PMS-495. The Navy planned to buy 45 ALMDS pods between then and 2018. The overall program was valued at approximately $255 million.
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