One of the Navy’s dirty little secrets is that underwater mines have sunk or damaged more of the service’s ships than any other means of attack since World War II.
Officials are now warning that potential adversaries such as China are viewing sea-mines as a viable weapon to deny access to U.S. vessels.
“Mines are a serious and widespread threat to Department of Defense access,” said Rear Adm. John Christenson, vice commander of the Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command. He said the Navy is expanding training efforts so ship crews are prepared to operate in mined waters.
“We want mine warfare to be part of every naval officer’s expertise and experience level,” he said at an industry conference.
The command plans to train Navy leaders in the specialty and will require every expeditionary and carrier strike group to demonstrate proficiency in mine warfare in the near future.
“Each fleet will have the ability to do mine warfare, just like every fleet has anti-submarine warfare experts,” said Christenson.
But there is concern that it could take the Navy many years to train sailors and transition from traditional mine sweepers to the new Littoral Combat Ship, a multi-mission vessel that will take on mine warfare as one of its first capabilities.
Because of cost overruns and delays in its production schedule, the LCS may not enter service as quickly, or in the numbers, as the Navy had expected. The Navy has planned for a fleet of 55 ships.
As envisioned, LCS will deploy with one of three different mission packages for mine, anti-submarine or surface warfare. But recent cutbacks to the shipbuilding program have raised questions about the probability of similar cuts to the mine warfare mission modules.
“Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the LCS program — whether they restructure completely, whether they continue with two variants of sea frames — it’s necessary to continue to press forward with acquiring the mine countermeasures systems and modules that would be going onto the LCS,” said Scott Truver, executive advisor of national security programs at Gryphon Technologies LC.
If LCS is delayed, the mine warfare modules should be able to function from other ships, said Christenson.
But there is a tradeoff in not having the ships that were specifically designed to operate those mission modules, said Capt. Bruce Nichols, director of the Navy’s mine warfare branch. Lots of hardware modifications and software changes would be needed, he said.
Preliminary Navy plans showed the LCS operating independently at sea. Officials are now talking of incorporating the ship into expeditionary strike groups and carrier strike groups.
“If LCS operates with the carrier, that would make it easier, from my point of view, to make this mainstreaming a reality,” said Christenson. He said NMAWC officials and 3rd Fleet commanders are examining alternative war fighting paths for the ship.
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