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Navy Mine Warfare Blueprint Proffers ‘Innovator’s Dilemma’ 


by Stephen Willingham 

The U.S. Navy’s current efforts to develop and deploy anti-mine systems have all the ingredients of the classic "innovator’s dilemma," said Rear Adm. Malcolm I. Fages, director of submarine warfare.

As is the case with many other programs in the Defense Department, the issue is whether the requirements are realistic and affordable. "What it comes down to," he said, "is a conflict between future vision and present bottom line. Unless somebody out there has seeds for a money tree, we aren’t going to be able to afford an absolute solution to every problem that we face," Fages told the National Defense Industrial Association Expeditionary Warfare Conference, in Panama City, Fla.

"We are now just about where we were five years ago," he said.

The Navy is conducting an in-depth program review of anti-mine warfare programs. It is trying to decide, for example, how much money it should invest to fix its aging minesweeper vessels and how it can move forward with plans to deploy ad hoc mine detectors and neutralizers on carrier battle groups, so that the fighting forces can conduct anti-mine operations anywhere in the world.

Fages does not believe the Navy is moving in the right direction when it comes to deploying new capabilities. "Programs seem to be more concerned with dates, and deliver only slight improvements in ability. Nobody is willing to take chances. Are we just getting comfortable with an investment strategy?" he asked rhetorically.

The Navy estimated that there are 49 countries that manufacture and deploy water-based mines. Mines are considered a typical "asymmetric" threat because a low-cost mine can put a billion-dollar ship out of service. In four incidents where U.S. ships were damaged by mines, the four mines collectively were worth $11,500. The damage they caused was worth $117 million.

The Navy wants to replace most dedicated systems with organic ones. Dedicated mine countermeasures (MCM) comprise the standing MCM force. It includes the 30-year-old USS Inchon, along with 14 Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships, for clearing mines from open sea-lanes, and 12 Osprey-class, coastal mine hunters. Dedicated airborne mine countermeasures (AMCM) are handled by two squadrons of MH-53E helicopters. Seventeen explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) units, consisting of 150 divers and support personnel, complete the anti-mine contingent stationed at the Ingleside Naval Station in Corpus Christi, Texas.

The mission for organic systems is to provide fast mine-clearing capability for deployed naval forces that would otherwise have to wait for the dedicated forces to arrive before mine clearance could be accomplished. However, large-volume clearance still would remain dependent on additional support.

"The Navy has decided to go organic when it comes to mine countermeasures," Fages stated, "if–and that’s a big if–organic mine countermeasures can deliver more than incremental improvements over what we have today."

Fages openly expressed doubts about whether technological solutions could ever be available for every scenario related to "shallow water access assurance."

The Navy traditionally has relied on human divers and dolphins for mine detection in areas close to the shore, from 40 feet into the craft landing zone.

"What we have to be concerned with is how to move Marines and their equipment ashore, instead of getting bogged down with dictating technical solutions to problems that we may not ever have an answer to, or even be able to pay for if we do," said Fages.

Putting people in harm’s way should be avoided, as much as possible, he said. Fages advocates the use of Undersea Unmanned Vehicles (UUV), equipped with near-term and long-term mine reconnaissance systems (NMRS and LMRS).

Even though UUVs can be launched and recovered from Los Angeles-class attack submarines, the problem, at the moment, is having batteries that can carry enough charge for long periods of time, he said. "Someday, we might have undersea service stations where UUVs could get recharged. ... UUVs also could be fitted with bomblets that could be directed to destroy any mines they find."

Future Threats
Mine warfare threats to U.S. military expeditionary operations and commercial shipping interests continue to increase, Fages said. "If enemy mine warfare prevents [forced] access in the littorals," commented Fages, "how are we going to explain that to the American people?"

During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the USS Tripoli (LPH-10) struck an Iraqi mine, as did the guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton. Since then, mine countermeasures have received more attention within military planning circles. On Capitol Hill, a mine warfare caucus was formed with members of Congress who oversee the Navy’s progress in this arena.

In 1992, lawmakers ordered that mine warfare should be given greater attention and that a Marine major general should be assigned to the naval operations staff (OPNAV) to oversee all requirements for expeditionary warfare. Congress also required both the Defense and Navy Secretaries to certify a yearly mine warfare plan.

Prior to the Gulf War, mine warfare experienced a lot of "ebb and flow," with regard to being an important increment of expeditionary warfare strategy, a Navy official commented. "For many years," he said. "There had been more ebb than flow."

Beginning with the Korean War, through the Vietnam conflict and the Gulf War, 14 U.S. Navy ships were either damaged or sunk by enemy mines. Comparatively, during this same 44-year period, only one U.S. Navy ship was damaged by a missile, another by a torpedo, and two during aerial attacks.

During the Korean conflict, a planned U.S. amphibious assault at Wonsan was delayed by six days, because of naval mines. The inability to move prompted the commander of the Seventh Fleet to remark, "We have lost control of the seas to a nation without a Navy."

A 1999 study by the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) concluded that the Navy should be able to downsize its fleet of dedicated mine countermeasures by as much as one-half, if it were successful in deploying organic systems. That would mean scrapping the Inchon, which is scheduled to end its service life in 2005.

But an industry study, chaired by Leonard P. Gollobin, cautioned the Navy about rushing to retire platforms before replacement strategies are in place. The study urged the Navy to consider keeping the Inchon until at least 2010.

Gollobin chairs the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) mine warfare subcommittee. He suggested that the Navy should consider adding a second anti-mine support vessel to its inventory.

In remarks to the Panama City conference, Gollobin cited some of the recommendations in the report published by his subcommittee. The study said the Navy would be wise to convert at least one of the amphibious transport dock ships from the San Antonio-class (LPD-17), into a mine warfare ship, to replace the Inchon (MCS-12).

The study was undertaken at the request of the director of expeditionary warfare division (N-75), and calls for a balanced mix of organic and dedicated systems.

Debate appears to swirl mainly around whether or not an MCS support ship, such as the Inchon, will be needed in future anti-mine operations.

"Modifying existing Navy platforms is expensive," Gollobin agreed. For example, the cost of converting the Inchon from an amphibious ship to anti-mine warfare was $128 million. "But converting another L-class ship to an MCS is cheaper than buying a new ship that has been especially designed for mine countermeasures support operations."

The expense of converting an LPD-17, which already costs $815 million, has not yet been determined, Navy officials said.

What makes the Inchon desirable, say its backers, is that it combines a "triad of capability," meaning air and surface mine countermeasures, and EOD units.

When it comes to airborne anti-mine platforms, "There is no clear replacement for the 53Es," Gollobin said, referring to the Navy’s plans to replace the 53s with the CH-60S. "For mine hunting, it takes two 60s to equal what one 53 can do. When it comes to sweeping capability, the ratio jumps to five-to-one in favor of the 53s."

The MH-53E Sea Dragon, first deployed in 1983, replaced the CH-53E. In 1994, the last CH-53E retired.

The Inchon carries 10 helicopters–two UH-46D Sea Knights and eight MH-53Es. The MH-53E tows MK-103 mechanical minesweeping gear designed to remove moored mines, an MK-105 minesweeping sled and a side-scan sonar ASQ-14 that is used in murky, swallow coastal waters for detecting, locating and identifying mines.

In addition to recommending that the Inchon and the MH-53s be retired, the CNA study also suggested reducing the number of deep-water and coastal mine-hunting ships, when they reach the end of their life cycles in 2016. These recommendations also are reflected in the Navy’s current mine warfare plan.

Some of the Navy’s organic anti-mine systems currently in development include:

Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS)
This remote-controlled platform will be operated from a CH-60 helicopter. It is designed to explode unburied or moored mines that may be located in areas deemed too difficult and therefore, unsafe to deal with by any other methods. An example would be a debris-strewn entrance to a harbor landing zone, where sea currents or poor visibility could restrict the deployment of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams.

AMNS will operate both in deep or shallow waters. The AMNS will be maneuvered into position, using data previously supplied by a mine hunting sonar system, such as the AN/AQS-20 Airborne Mine Hunting Sonar–a helicopter towed system designed for high-speed reconnaissance and mine-hunting in either shallow or deep water.

Once mines are located and identified, AMNS will neutralize its targets by detonating a charge from a safe distance, to avoid damage to the AMNS while destroying the mine.

The Navy plans to begin deploying the AMNS in 2003.

Last month, Raytheon Naval and Maritime Integrated Systems, in Portsmouth, R.I., was awarded an $11.7 million Navy contract for two AN/SQS-20 high-speed acoustic minehunting systems. The work is expected to be completed in February 2003.

The AN/AQS-20 is an advanced helicopter and surface towed mine hunting sonar system that incorporates five separate sonars in a compact, lightweight towed body. The system locates mines and provides the operator with a visual image. The two systems under contract will be towed from the Lockheed Martin Remote Minehunting System. Other systems will be towed from the MH-53 helicopter.

Lockheed Martin, meanwhile, announced last month the successful completion of various tests required by the Navy for fielding the AN/WLD-1(V)1 Remote Minehunting System, developed by the company’s naval electronics and surveillance systems division, in Syracuse, N.Y. Under a contract awarded in December 1999 by the Navy, the company will provide Arleigh Burke Class DDG-51 Flight IIA ships with their first-ever offboard mine reconnaissance capability.

Key elements of the AN/WLD-1(V)1 include a diesel-powered, semi-submersible remote minehunting vehicle with a variable-depth sensor, line of sight and over-the-horizon real-time data links and a shipboard launch and recovery subsystem.

Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS)
The Navy calls the ALMDS its lead airborne system. It is an electro-optical mine-detection system that uses an aircraft-mounted laser to detect floating and keel-depth moored mines. Navy researchers note that lasers can be operated much like radar and are applicable to varying water depths. ALMDS is an off-board, non-towed system that allows for rapid detection, identification and location of floating or near surface moored mines. The Navy plans to use ALMDS in straits and other confined areas in support of amphibious expeditionary assault forces.

Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System (RAMICS)
RAMICS provides near-surface mine neutralization using a 20-30 mm Gatling gun system, which fires a specially designed projectile capable of penetrating the outer casing of a mine and destroying it. Guiding the RAMICS system to its target is the same laser, electro-optics system used in ALMDS, called Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR). The LIDAR locates the mine, but also provides targeting and aiming coordinates for the fire control system. Once locked onto the target, a burst of 25 rounds is fired. The Navy says that the Super Cobra attack helicopter will be outfitted for flight system integration and testing of RAMICS.

The Navy expects to have a carrier battle group equipped with organic mine countermeasures by the 2005-2006 time frame.

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