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Navy delays testing of $864M mine-hunting drone program

Drones Have Failed 24 Times Since Sept. 2014

This post is appearing on Autoblog Military, Autoblog's sub-site dedicated to the vehicles, aircraft and ships of the world's armed forces.

The comedy of errors that is the littoral combat ship has just added another chapter. The Navy has earmarked $864 million to buy 54 underwater, explosives-seeking drones for the Freedom- and Independence-class ships from Lockheed Martin. But a new report on the so-called Remote Minehunting System from the Pentagon's Office of Operational Test & Evaluation says the drones aren't always up to the task.

Like so much of the LCS program, the drones have faced a series of issues. They failed on 24 different occasions since September 2014, including 14 different failures in a more recent, 300-hour test session. According to Bloomberg, these reliability problems have forced the Navy to delay advanced combat testing of the RMS. Their ultimate fate will be determined at a January 19 hearing.

On paper, the minesweeping drones sound promising. They use a Raytheon-developed mobile sonar system to hunt for mines without putting the mother ship (an LCS) in danger. That's safer than today's strategy, where a 1,300-ton Avenger-class ship just sails into mine-infested waters and blasts away with its sonar. Even with the problems, Lockheed stands by the drone strategy.

Lockheed spokesman Joe Dougherty told Bloomberg via email that the RMS "exceeded or met key performance parameters during a Navy-led development test conducted in early 2015."

"We remain confident the RMS is the most mature system to identify and destroy mines," Dougherty wrote.

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