Sailors and Marines are one step closer to receiving a new mine detection system called Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis. COBRA received Milestone C decision approval within the Department of Defense (DoD) acquisition process on March 31. Milestone C signifies that the design is mature enough to enter the production phase of development.
According to assistant program manager for assault breaching systems (ABS), Lt. Col. Tim McLaughlin, this is a significant step toward delivering viable 21st century mine detection capabilities to Littoral Combat Ships (LCS).
COBRA was designed to support U.S. Marine Corps amphibious assault breaching operations. The Program Executive Office for Littoral and Mine Warfare, Mine Warfare Program Office, part of Naval Sea Systems Command, is responsible for ABS. "This is a great capability … an important first step in delivering this system of systems," McLaughlin said.
ABS, as an integrated system of systems, provides Department of the Navy forces with a method to access beachheads via littoral areas without being operationally impeded. COBRA is the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technology component of the ABS, making it one piece in a system of systems. COBRA detects and precisely locates minefields and obstacles. Other systems within ABS are then used to guide service members and their equipment safely ashore.
Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD), a field activity of NAVSEA, serves as the technical design agent for the COBRA system. NSWC PCD and its industry partners developed COBRA Block I to determine the presence or absence of minefields and obstacles on the beach and further inland.
COBRA is designed to be used as a modular capability as part of the mine countermeasures mission package on the LCS. The COBRA airborne payload will be flown as one of the missions assigned to the MQ-8B Fire Scout vertical takeoff and landing tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (VTUAV). Fire Scout provides unprecedented situational awareness and precision targeting support for U.S. forces.
"This system is paving the way for integrated and interoperable mine identification and neutralization efforts," said NSWC PCD ABS branch head Dave Bucher. "More than simply overseeing design and development, performance in-service is our goal and responsibility.
"I'm a former mining and in-service engineering agent. It may sound cavalier, but I've had the opinion that mines could easily defeat countermine forces. COBRA has convinced me otherwise because it works, and it works well," Bucher said. "It identifies patterns and other characteristics from the air, processes them through sophisticated software and presents the results to a Sailor or Marine for a gutcheck by an experienced interpreter and planner. It's been exciting for me to see."
The capability demonstration was so impressive that the sponsor wants to have production systems ready for the fleet right away. The next steps for COBRA Block I are to determine the best way to provide the units to the fleet and to put a Block I production contract in place for additional units.
Jacqui Barker is the NSWC PCD public affairs officer.