The Navy’s new submersible mine hunter, scheduled to be deployed
in 2005 on Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, will be tested on a high-speed
catamaran as early as next year.
The Navy will take advantage of these tests to see if it can find
a new home for the Remote Minehunting System. Even though the official
plan remains to deploy the RMS aboard destroyers, the surface-warfare
community has complained that the mine-hunting equipment takes up
too much space and labor, draining resources from combat functions.
Typically, the mine-sweeping and hunting missions have been conducted
by dedicated ships.
The RMS is just one among other mine countermeasure systems that
the Navy will test on a fast, ferry-style vessel to be leased this
The Navy expects to lease a so-called High Speed Vessel Experimental
Craft 2 (HSV-X2) in October, so it can begin testing the ship’s
potential mine-warfare capabilities. The vessel also will serve
as a platform for other experiments by the Navy Warfare Development
Command, the Navy Mine Warfare Command and the Marine Corps Combat
In a mine-warfare role, the HSV will be a surrogate command-and-control
ship, a mission that used to belong to the USS Inchon. The Inchon
was decommissioned in June.
In addition to the RMS, the Navy also would test aboard the catamaran
the Long-Range Mine Reconnaissance system, which was designed to
be deployed from attack submarines. “We are looking at the
feasibility of deploying them and employing them from a high-speed
vessel craft,” said Rear Adm. Robert Sprigg, head of the Navy
Warfare Development Command.
The HSV is an attractive platform, because it offers an uncluttered
environment to test technologies, he said in an interview. The ship
is an “open-box,” where pre-packaged systems can be
rolled on and off, depending on the mission need. “It’s
very flexible,” he said.
The Navy already has been conducting experiments with the HSV-X1
catamaran, called the Joint Venture (National Defense, April 2002).
The U.S. Army leased the HSV-X1 for multi-service experimentation,
under a two-year, $20 million agreement with the ship’s manufacturer,
Incat, of Australia. Another catamaran was leased from Austal, another
Australian firm, for testing by Marines in Okinawa, Japan.
For the HSV-X2, the Military Sealift Command is soliciting proposals
from contractors and expects to award a lease contract in October.
The HSV is a modified car ferry. The U.S. military services plan
to continue to lease these ships, so they can figure out what missions
they are suitable for. The key attribute of an HSV is its speed:
it must be able to reach least at 40 knots.
Navy officials said that, so far, they have been satisfied by the
performance of the catamaran, even though cracks were found in the
aluminum hull. That is to be expected, said Sprigg, because these
are car ferries that were not designed for sustained operations
in high seas. If the Navy decided to buy these ships, he said, they
would require modifications in their design and construction.
Rear Adm. Paul J. Ryan, head of the Navy Mine Warfare Command,
said that the HSV is not the definitive choice to replace the Inchon,
but it would be an interim solution, until other choices can be
The HSV-X2 “would give us the capability to experiment with
various payloads,” Ryan told National Defense during a conference
of the Naval Submarine League.
One of those payloads would be the Remote Minehunting System. The
RMS is a semi-submersible vehicle that tows a mine-hunting sonar
and a forward-looking sonar. The system will perform beyond line-of-sight
mine reconnaissance in deep and shallow water. The Navy purchased
six RMS systems from Lockheed Martin Corp. The plan is to install
them on new Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, beginning with DDG 91,
through DDG 96.
The problem, said Ryan, is that “the surface-warfare community
is not enthused about RMS.”
The destroyer crews, he said, don’t want to have to manage
and maintain a 14,000-pound vehicle, in addition to everything else
they have to do during their deployments. “Mine warfare is
not looked upon as an exciting mission” by the mainstream
Navy, he added.
“They are more than willing to give [RMS] it up,” said
Ryan. “And I am more than willing to test the system on the
HSV. ... I offered to use the HSV-X2 as the RMS platform. Maybe
it will become the platform of choice” for RMS.
The RMS is one of eight new mine countermeasure systems—both
ship-based and airborne—that the Navy plans to field within
the next decade.
One of the concepts being studied by the Navy Warfare Development
Command is the use of an HSV or a Littoral Combat Ship equipped
with mine warfare systems, Ryan explained. One would be assigned
to each Navy battle group for countermine duties.
Sprigg explained that there are legitimate reasons why the surface
warfare sailors would prefer to not have the RMS “hard-wired”
into the destroyers. “When you hard-wire and equip multiple
missions on a single platform, you have to take to sea the people
and logistics train,” he said. That results in “additional
costs and maintenance for every mission, whether you are going to
do it or not.”
When an Aegis cruiser goes to sea, it is too cumbersome and expensive
to have to take equipment and people that may not be needed, he
said. As far as mine warfare is concerned, he added, “We believe
we may be able to do it more effectively on a HSV—a dedicated
vessel—rather than on a ship that already has multiple missions.”
The issue is not whether the surface warfare community wants the
mission, but rather “where is the best place to put it,”
The HSV is “about an 80 percent solution” as an interim
Inchon replacement, said Sprigg. “It won’t fit all the
equipment that Inchon had. ... This ship will not hold 53s [helicopters].
But operationally, we can take just about everything else in modular
“If we need the 53s, we can shore-base them, should a mission
come up. We feel that is a good balance of risk management for the
mine warfare mission in the interim, while we go for a more permanent
solution to a mine warfare ship.”
A Lockheed Martin spokesman said the company was not aware of any
formal plans to shift the RMS from the destroyers to other ships.
Regardless, he said, “We will put them on whatever ship the
Whichever direction the Navy goes with mine countermeasures, it
is important to start fielding new technology as soon as possible,
Ryan said at the Naval Submarine League conference.
The threat of sea mines is considerable, he said. There are 350,000
mines in the world’s oceans. At least 36 countries produce
mines and 26 nations export mines.
One vexing characteristic of sea mines is that they don’t
grow old or deteriorate over time, said Ryan. “Periodically,
our allies will recover a World War II mine.” Modern mines,
however, are more discriminating. Typically, said Ryan, “We
clear mines by using a combination of acoustic and magnetic systems.”
The waters that are more suitable for mining are those shallower
than 600 feet. That includes such strategic hotspots as the Persian
Gulf, the Red Sea, the Korean littoral, the Yellow Sea and the Taiwan
Strait. “That presents a major challenge if we want to project
power in the littorals,” Ryan said.
The Mine Warfare Command, based in Corpus Christi, Texas, operates
14 Avenger-class and 12 Osprey-class minesweeper vessels, in addition
to 20 minesweeper helicopters and 17 explosive-ordnance disposal
mobile detachments. Each EOD unit has one officer and seven enlisted
Ryan’s staff of 70 includes 19 officers, who often work with
mine-warfare representatives from NATO countries, Australia and
South Korea. “The United States does not have enough mine
warfare assets to handle the problem,” Ryan said.
In October, the Mine Warfare Command will establish a new “Special
Clearance Team,” in Coronado, Calif., he said. It will include
Navy SEAL special-warfare divers and mine-hunting dolphins, who
will be assigned exclusively to shallow-water operations.
The Navy’s strategic plan for mine warfare is to phase out
the dedicated minesweeping fleet and to deploy organic systems within
each battle group, beginning in fiscal year 2005.