By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy said on Tuesday it had ordered an independent review of the long-delayed Remote Minehunting System being developed by Lockheed Martin Corp for a new fleet of coastal warships, with a close look at possible alternatives.
The review team will look at the capability and reliability of the remote-controlled minehunting system, which will tow an advanced sonar to hunt for mines and replace the use of manned minehunting ships, said Navy spokeswoman Captain Thurraya Kent.
The system has faced criticism recently from some U.S. lawmakers and defense officials, who have questioned its reliability.
Kent said the review would focus on validating the requirements for the system and how it meets them, evaluating alternatives, assessing the program's technical risk, schedule and cost, and evaluating the program's management structure.
The team would provide its results to Admiral John Richardson, chief of naval operations, and Sean Stackley, the Navy's acquisition chief, in 60 days, she said.
The results of the review would also determine if the Navy moves forward with final operational testing that was due to occur next month and "subsequent actions critical to the future of the Navy's mine countermeasures capability", she said.
If successful, the tests would pave the way for the Navy to declare the system ready for early operational use.
No immediate comment was available from Lockheed.
Senator John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, last month said the system was unreliable, prone to dropping communications, and missing mines it was supposed to find, despite nearly 17 years of development.
The Pentagon's chief weapons tester, Michael Gilmore, also criticized the program in an August memo, saying there was "no statistical evidence" that the program was showing increased reliability despite added investment in recent years.
Last month, Lockheed said it was working closely with the Navy to ensure "consistent operational performance" of the new Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle, and remained confident that the operational test would be successful.
At the time, company spokesman Keith Little said the minehunting vehicle had a mean time between failures of 117.3 hours, well above a 75-hour target, and an operational availability of 82 percent, compared to an 80 percent target.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)