Navy Faulted for Slow-Going In Fielding Anti-Mine Systems

By Sandra I. Erwin

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.

Military Tactics
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 the sea.

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 respond.

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 warfare.

"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 industry."

Mine Warfare
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 wall."

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 answers.

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 mines.

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 warhead mines.

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.

Cultural Change
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," says Marshall.

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," he asserts.

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 everybody."

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."

Topics: Navy News, Maritime Security

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