The Navy's mine warfare program remains woefully inadequate to meet the future
needs of U.S. expeditionary forces, assert senior defense officials.
They blame the problem both on shortage of funds and on a Navy culture that
regards mine warfare as an unglamorous profession.
"We need to be able to send sailors and Marines across the beach without
fear of stepping on mines ... We can't do that now," says Maj. Gen. Dennis
Krupp, USMC, the Navy's director of expeditionary warfare.
Despite widespread complaints about the Navy's slow pace in moving mine warfare
into the 21st century, officials are bullish about the future because the program
is now receiving support from the highest echelons of the Defense Department.
Currently the Navy spends $250 million to $300 million a year on mine warfare.
Less than a year ago, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen ordered the Navy to
stop playing with technology and start fielding anti-mine systems as soon as
possible. He also intervened to increase funding for new systems.
In the words of Marine Corps' director of policy planning and operations, Lt.
Gen. Martin Steele, these actions by the defense secretary constitute a "sad
indictment" of the Navy's performance in delivering anti-mine systems.
These concerns are now gaining urgency because of ongoing changes in military
doctrine and tactics that drastically change the role of mine warfare in military
operations. These changes started nearly a decade ago when the Navy began to
shift its emphasis on deep ocean operations to fighting near the coasts so that
naval platforms can support land units and provide additional firepower from
Military planners, additionally, want forces to deploy quickly and stay ahead
of the enemy. That means all weapon systems and platforms must be able to rapidly
The existing anti-mine capabilities-based on dedicated minesweeping ships-are
incompatible with these new warfighting concepts because they are too slow and
not flexible enough to meet the needs of fast-moving naval expeditionary units
trying to reach the coast and take hold of the battlefield. If the enemy scatters
mines around the littorals, those mines become "show stoppers" that
would sabotage U.S. amphibious operations.
For this reason, the Navy is now under significant pressure to field mine detection
and neutralization systems that would allow sailors and Marines to tackle the
mine threat on the spot or en route to the battle zone without having to rely
on the dedicated mine countermeasure fleet.
Because U.S. security experts fear the mine threat will grow, the Navy now
wants to "mainstream mine warfare into the every day consciousness of the
fleet," says Rear Adm. William J. Marshall, USN, director of expeditionary
"We are no longer going to continue to chase technology and we are going
to field systems," he asserts. "Mine warfare programs are a growth
To underscore the relevance of mine warfare, the chief of naval operations also
appointed-for the first time-a two-star admiral to run the program.
Clearly, naval forces operate in a complex environment.
Mines range from floating or rising devices that typically are placed in deep
water, to moored and buried mines that are scattered in shallow water areas
and surf zones.
Finding and eliminating these underwater killers requires families of weapons
and sensors. "It's tough to find them, they hide and it's tough to differentiate
them" from other non-mine objects, says Marshall. "It's a huge environment.
We have to get there quickly and solve the problem rapidly."
The upshot is that there is no silver bullet-no single weapon or sensor that
can do the entire job. Sea mines are often called the poor man's arsenal because
they are cheap and low tech but can cause pervasive destruction.
More than 50 countries currently possess mine inventories and are able to deploy
more than 300 varieties of mines. Mine proliferation, says Marshall, has jumped
by 75 percent during the past decade.
Under the plan adopted by the Navy, the emphasis in the future will be on organic
anti-mine capabilities based on helicopters, surface combatants, and submarines.
These new systems, says Marine Gen. Krupp, will be fielded by 2006.
Organic systems are critical, says Marshall, because if a battle group en route
to an operation encounters a minefield, "it's like [running into] a brick
How much organic-versus dedicated-mine countermeasure capability is needed
has not been determined. An ongoing Navy study called Force 21, conducted by
the Center of Naval Analysis, Alexandria, Virginia, is expected to provide some
Because the organic systems are not yet operational, experts predict the study
will recommend a 50/50 split. But one retired Navy admiral at the conference
who specializes in mine warfare says that will not be good enough. The Navy,
he tells National Defense, should push for 80/20 in favor of organic systems.
There are seven MCM systems now under development: three underwater reconnaissance
systems, two airborne mine detection systems, and two airborne mine destruction
systems. Collectively, these systems are expected to tackle a wide array of
mine threats-from traditional floating and tethered mines to more complex bottom
The first system to enter the fleet will be the remote minehunting system (RMS),
a diesel-powered under water reconnaissance vehicle that will be installed on
surface ships by 2003. The RMS communicates via a radio frequency link.
Navy Cmdr. Steve Lehr explains that RMS is an ideal organic system because
it "minimizes the impact to the ship's primary mission," as it goes
over the horizon and operates independently.
The Navy's goal is to acquire 13 RMS systems, says Guy Santora, project engineer
at the naval surface warfare center's Coastal Systems Station in Panama City,
Florida. Last October, Lockheed Martin Corporation's ocean systems division
became RMS sole-source contractor, says Santora in an interview.
By 2004, NMRS will be replaced by a long-term mine reconnaissance system (LMRS),
a more capable device.
The fleet will also receive four airborne MCM systems: two sensors and two
weapons that will be used in the H-60 multipurpose Navy helicopter. Among these
systems will be an improved airborne laser mine detection system (ALMDS) used
to locate floating mines and shallow-water tethered mines. Another system called
AN/AQS-20X will find mines in deeper water, bottom influence mines, and rising
Complementing the ALMDS is the rapid airborne mine clearance system (RAMICS),
a 20mm machine gun that fires rounds capable of detonating mines in less than
50 feet of water. Another companion system will be the airborne mine neutralization
system (AMNS), a warhead-equipped, remotely operated underwater vehicle that
seeks out and destroys mines in deep waters.
These airborne capabilities will be available to the Navy and Marine Corps
expeditionary units by 2006, says Capt. Chuck Deitchman, USN, who briefed the
conference on the airborne systems. Capt. Lou Morris, USN, acknowledges there
is some skepticism about organic systems. "But we believe seriously that
this capability is near [and when it is] delivered it can be exported to other
air and surface platforms."
Anti-mine technologies for very shallow water areas remain one of the toughest
technical challenges. Navy labs and several contractors are seeking to advance
these capabilities, officials say.
"This is an exciting time to be in the mine countermeasures business because
the technology is maturing," says James E. Thomsen, research director for
mine warfare at the Navy's Coastal Systems Station in Panama City. From a designer's
perspective, he says in an interview, anti-mine systems are particularly difficult
because the countermeasures are "threat dependent." That means, for
example, "you can't just design one system that can counter" different
mine threats at various water depths.
Even though the Navy is on track to field the organic technologies in five or
six years, the service faces a much more difficult challenge: educating the
fleet about mine warfare.
Marshall says the goal is to make mine countermeasures a naval "core competency,"
equivalent to the anti-submarine warfare or air warfare disciplines.
But changing the Navy culture to embrace mine warfare will require significant
education about what is expected from the warfighting fleet.
"We are not making our ships minesweepers. We are providing a capability
to the warfighter out on the front to conduct his own surveillance and reconnaissance,"
Because the fleet must be prepared to fight in the coastal areas, carrier battle
groups, amphibious ready groups, or any other naval formation must be able to
determine where the mines are.
"If we know where they are, in maneuver warfare we can go around them
so we don't waste time. Mine countermeasures are a very time consuming operation,"
In the end, however, "if I don't make the fleet aware of what the mine
countermeasures problem is, if I don't change the culture, then it's not going
to work," says Marshall. "There are now a small number of experts
who know how to do mine warfare. We need to spread the wealth. We need to educate
The future of naval mine warfare, however, will not be entirely tied to organic
systems, says Rear. Adm. Dennis Vaughn, the Navy's program executive officer
for mine warfare.
"We need a dedicated force. I don't believe there will be transition of
the dedicated force, but an expansion. I believe we will have a dedicated force
and an organic force," he says.
To bring the mine warfare plan to fruition, he says, there must be funding
stability. In the past, fluctuations in the budgeting for programs have caused
disruptions and have discouraged contractors from pursuing anti-mine projects.
Vaughn believes Congress will boost mine warfare accounts.
"Industry is a key element in getting Congress to plus us up," he
tells contractors at the conference. "You have to work your lobbies ...
We've never had a better opportunity in mine warfare ... We have people willing
to support us at the highest levels."
Pentagon mine warfare officials, meanwhile, have been disappointed by what
they perceive as the Navy's lack of commitment to fielding systems.
But they also are aware that money is a problem.
"We haven't shown industry the resources yet. That's my commitment,"
says Dale Gerry, deputy assistant Navy secretary for mine and undersea warfare.
"Senior leaders in the Defense Department, including the defense secretary,
do not believe the Navy has stepped up to the plate," Gerry tells National
Defense in an interview.
The prompt deployment of organic systems is "absolutely critical to allow
the mission to go forward," he says. Ships need to be able to go from deep
blue water to the coast unstopped. "We are trying to shrink the time it
takes to go from deep water to the littorals. It takes the dedicated force from
two weeks to one month to arrive. That's not acceptable with today's strategy."
To keep systems on schedule, Gerry has endorsed a funding increase to mine
countermeasure programs of about $226 million during the next five years. "We
are working with the Navy and the office of the defense secretary" to make
this happen, he says.
The Navy's dedicated mine warfare capability, he adds, "is the best in
the world but that is not the capability we need today."