A new MH-60S recently arrived at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) bringing with it a new technological era for Airborne Mine Countermeasures. NSWC PCD will be outfitting the airframe with advanced technology bringing the Navy closer to adding an Organic Airborne Mine Countermeasures (OAMCM) capability as part of its forward deployed Fleet.
“It is an evolutionary step toward putting that capability resident within the strike group as compared to our historical approach to mine warfare. In the past when forward deployed forces encountered an area needing to be cleared of mines, we had to halt forces to move mine warfare assets into theater,” said U.S. Navy Mine Warfare Program Office Deputy Program Manager, Capt. John F. Hardison.
Hardison said once the sensors and airframe are fully integrated, deploying them aboard the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is one of the last legs in the journey required to have AMCM capability resident within the Fleet.
The arrival of the aircraft at NSWC PCD’s Aviation Unit March 7, 2009 signifies a novel approach to OAMCM. However, to reach journey’s end, Hardison said full integration of airframe and sensors is the Navy’s next step.
“We’ve arrived at a point where we need to test, evaluate and develop tactics for those new sensors,” Hardison said. “So, integrating them onto the MH-60S has really necessitated placement of the helicopter that is going to perform the mission at Panama City, which is our Mine Warfare Center of excellence.”
The Navy’s suite of OAMCM sensors to be deployed using the MH-60S includes the AN/AQS-20A, an underwater mine-detection sonar; the Organic Airborne and Surface Influence Sweep (OASIS), the Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS); the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS); and the Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System (RAMICS).
These sensors are being developed at NSWC PCD to hunt, detect, classify, and neutralize mines from the air. Once fielded, these systems represent an evolutionary advancement in technology and will allow operators to put physical distance between sea mines and the Navy’s most priceless asset – U.S. Sailors. Hardison said integration of these sensor systems aboard the MH-60S is an integral part of the Navy’s OAMCM vision.
“It would dramatically reduce the Navy’s response time to bring those capabilities to bear in the theater of operations,” Hardison said.
Pilots, air crewmen, maintenance specialists and additional technical equipment have all been arriving in anticipation of delivery of the first MH-60S, according to Hardison.
“So, stationing all needed assets in Panama City is far more efficient than what we’ve had to do in the past: packing up a whole detachment from HX-21 or VX-1 and moving them down there,” Hardison said. NSWC PCD Commander, Capt. Andrew Buduo III, said Panama City had carefully chosen staff members for its Aviation Unit.
“The Officer In Charge (OIC) of our Aviation Unit, Lt. Cmdr. James Schmitt, was specifically chosen to lead the transition to the new helicopter. His first tour was as an MH-53E pilot, but he made an MH-60S transition and flew ‘60s for his next three tours,” Buduo said.
RH-53D’s and MH-53E’s have had a long and distinguished career supporting the Navy. Buduo added that the ‘53’s have been the Navy’s primary platform for conducting AMCM missions for more than 40 years.
“The MH-53E is a very large, powerful and capable helicopter. Its fuel load alone weighs more than the maximum gross weight of the MH-60S. Of course one of its drawbacks is just that – its size. Consequently, it’s too big to operate from many of our surface platforms. The MH-60S is a lot smaller and therefore can be supported from more of our surface ships,” he said.
Buduo said the Navy’s evolution toward OAMCM capability will mean deploying the helicopter with its accompanying suite of sensors aboard its intended host platform, the LCS.
“Our plan is to deploy our MCM capability aboard the LCS. LCS Mission Modules will be pre-positioned throughout the world and when the Navy needs that capability it will already be either onboard or in theater. Currently, we have to load up an AMCM squadron and their MH-53E’s and deploy them to the OPAREA,” he said.
Lt. Cmdr. James Schmitt, OIC of NSWC PCD’s Aviation Unit, said one of the biggest challenges during OAMCM testing is to ‘interface’ the suite of sensors and the airframe.
“With the MH-60S, we are testing a lot of new equipment. The mission systems, the Carriage Stream Tow and Recovery System (CSTRS), the Common Console, and even the aircraft are all new. So are the interfaces between them. Ideally, we would introduce only one new item at a time, as has traditionally been the case with AMCM testing on the MH-53E. With OAMCM on the MH-60S, everything from the device to the aircraft is a potential variable,” Schmitt said, emphasizing this greatly complicated the research, development, test and evaluation process.
Hardison said this particular stage of OAMCM development also afforded additional opportunities to refine concepts of operation.
“We fully expect this to be a continuous evolution in refining tactics,” Hardison said. “And Panama City is the perfect place to develop and evaluate best practices for Fleet use of these systems.”