“A Most Ubiquitous Threat”


Mine Warfare In Bold Alligator-12 and Expeditionary Warrior-12

Scott C. Truver, PhD

In a SLD interview (http://www.sldforum.com/2012/03/the-way-ahead-after-bold-alligator-2012/), COL Bradley Weisz, Deputy Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group TWO, highlighted the importance of mine warfare (MIW), particularly mine countermeasures (MCM), in the joint/combined-forces Bold Alligator 2012 exercise conducted in February.

“Both ESG-2 and 2d MEB [Marine Expeditionary Brigade] staffs had very little experience, knowledge and familiarization working with the mine warfare community, current mine threats and associated tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs), so BA12 was truly a great learning experience for all involved,” he explained.

In a companion SLD interview (https://sldinfo.com/brigadier-general-owens-on-bold-alligator-2012-%E2%80%9Cweve-got-to-hit-them-where-theyre-not%E2%80%9D/), BGEN Christopher Owens, 2nd MEB Commander noted, “The most ubiquitous threat that we’re going to face is mines.  In the exercise, we faced a very robust mine capability.  We had a wide range of capabilities on the Navy side to help deal with those threats, but we also integrated the MEB in that, particularly our air.”

“We conducted live and synthetic counter mine warfare operations using aviation, surface and sub-surface assets and capabilities off both the Coast of North Carolina as well as off the Coast of California, in the vicinity of San Diego,” COL Weisz continued.  “The West Coast mine warfare operations were geo-synchronized to support our operations off the East Coast.  This training venue worked great and we should, we need to conduct more of these types of training opportunities in the future as our scare.”

“This was definitely one of the most valuable training events throughout all of BA-12,” he underscored.

The mine threat is a clear and present danger to operating in the littorals, a core focal point of the world's nations in the years ahead.

Mine warfare—mines and mining as well as mine countermeasures––was also a concern at the USMC Title 10 Expeditionary Warrior 2012 Wargame conducted 5-9 March in Washington, D.C.  The kickoff “Anti-Access/Area-Denial” panel addressed several A2/AD issues, and this essay has been developed from the MIW briefing (see accompanying PowerPoint presentation).

We can look at the broad impact of the cyberwar domain as a prime mover for a changed character of warfare in the space, air, sea and land domains.  We can worry about advanced anti-carrier ballistic missiles.  And we can assess the world wide “boom” in air-independent submarines, fast-attack boats, and advanced aircraft.

But we “damn” our adversaries’ “torpedoes” at our peril and, unless we take the mine threat from all sizes and shapes and hues of navies seriously, we will be condemned to repeat our history.

As one of America’s greatest philosophers, Yogi Berra, explained:  It’ll be “déjà vu all over again.”

During the Korean war, some 3,000 mines completely stymied an October 1950 UN amphibious assault, as did Iraqi mines in Desert Storm four decades later.  Throughout the Korean conflict, mines sunk four UN/USN ships, including three minesweepers, and were responsible for 70% of all other ship casualties.   Although the UN MCM force totaled only 2% of all ships/vessels deployed to the conflict, it suffered a 70% casualty rate.

Amphibious task force commander RADM “Hoke” Smith lamented off the coast of Wonsan in the fall of 1950:  “We have lost control of the sea to a nation without a navy, using pre-WW I weapons, laid by vessels that were utilized at the time of the birth of Christ.”

And, it usually comes as a surprise to learn that since the end of WW II mines have seriously damaged or sunk four times more U.S. Navy ships than all other means of attack combined: 15 of 19 ships have been mine victims.

And that doesn’t include many more ships sunk or damaged by mines, from the Corfu Channel crisis of 1946 to the Arabian Gulf “mine war” of the 1980s to the Tamil Sea Tigers sinking of the MV INVINCIBLE in 2008.

While mines might not be “show-stoppers,” they certainly can be “speed-bumps” that attack strategies, plans and timelines, in addition to ships and submarines.

So it was good to learn that Expeditionary Warrior 2012 included a mine “problem” in its vignettes.

Mines are the quintessential asymmetric A2/AD threat –– pitting our adversaries’ strengths against our weaknesses.  They can be deployed from the surf and craft-landing zones to deepwater areas of operations, and can be laid by virtually any submarine, surface or airborne platform, even pickup trucks on bridges over vital waterways.  They range from relatively unsophisticated but still dangerous contact mines to highly sophisticated, multiple-influence weapons, some of which are homing torpedoes or rocket-propelled warheads.

The commanding officers of the USS ROBERTS, TRIPOLI and PRINCETON can attest to the insidious lethality of these low-cost weapons.

Mines don’t even have to be deployed to be effective:  Sometimes the mere threat to mine waterways can have intended psychological effects.  Are there weapons in the water?  Where?  How many and what types?  How do we know for sure?

More than 1 million mines of some 300 types are in the inventories of more than 65 navies worldwide.  Russia has about 250,000 mines.  The Chinese Navy has about 100,000 mines, including a rising mine that can be deployed in waters deeper than 6,000 feet.  And North Korea has about 50,000 mines.

All three sell weapons to virtually any navy or terrorist group, anywhere, any time, as do another 17 or so countries.

Libya’s mining of the Red Sea in the summer of 1984, for example, used East German “export” multiple-influence bottom mines completely unknown in the West.

Finally, the global anti-access aspect of the mine threat is clear, as ADM Robert Natter acknowledged in 2003:  We would be fools if we ignored it.

Today the US Navy has a very small force dedicated to defeating our adversaries’ weapons that wait.

The USN “MCM Triad” includes:

  • 14 MCM-1 Avenger vessels: 6 in San Diego, 4 in Japan, 4 in Bahrain
  • 28 MH-53E helicopters based in Norfolk –– with 2 helos deployed to Bahrain and 2 “Echos” to South Korea –– plus 4 for training and RDT&E
  • Marine Mammals:  Explosive Ordnance Disposal divers and bottlenose dolphins –– the latter being the only USN capability against buried mines

The USN is transitioning from a dedicated MCM posture to a focus on the mission-tailored Littoral Combat Ship, with MCM mission modules comprising various unmanned vehicles, helicopters, and variety of minesweeping and -hunting systems.

Good capabilities, to be sure, but it will be ca. 2025 before the new completely replaces the old, if budgets hold true –– which is anyone’s guess these days.

Meanwhile, in-service MCM forces are increasingly “brittle,” with a growing backlog in repairs and upgrades totaling some $500 million –– not a trivial amount when you consider that the Navy’s mines and mine countermeasures programs account for only about one-half of 1% of the Navy’s annual budgets.

While defeating our adversaries’ mines is important, Expeditionary Warrior 12 might also address the use of OUR mines to get an upper hand against THEIR naval forces.

Unfortunately, at best the U.S. Navy’s mines and mining capabilities are anemic, particularly compared to Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.

Virtually all of the Cold War, primarily ASW mines are out of inventory.

And, the U.S. Submarine Force looks to lose its mining capability if the obsolescent Mk-67 Submarine-Launched Mobile Mine is removed from inventory later this year. No surface platforms are fitted for mining ops, and the Nation’s only high-volume mining capability resides in the USAF.

The only mines that for sure will remain in service are the Quickstrike series of aircraft-deployed weapons:  the dedicated Mk-65 2,300-pound bottom mine; the Mk-63 1,000-pound bottom mine; and the Mk-62 500-pound bottom mine.  These last two are general-purpose bomb-conversion weapons, using a screw-in multiple-influence Target Detection Device (TDD) in place of the bomb’s conventional fuze –– thereby proving the adage that any bomb can be a mine, once.

There have been various “gap-filler” and advanced mine programs proposed, and the Navy has investigated acquiring foreign mines, but, other than the upgraded Mk-71 TDD, there is no mine program underway in 2012.

The bottom line: the U.S. Navy’s mining capability is quite limited and getting more so.

That said, the AirSea Battle Concept looks to address how advanced U.S. mines––directly linked to “advanced stealthy strategic aircraft”­­ and submarines––could make our adversaries’ A2/AD “problems” more complex.  All that said, there’s a broad chasm between rhetoric and reality.

And, given “Big Navy’s” long-standing prejudice against a weapon that RADM David Farragut in March 1864 described as “…unworthy of a chivalrous nation,” the future is not hopeful.

“But,” Admiral Farragut warned, “it does not do to give your enemy such a decided superiority over you.”

Wrapping up, I have no doubt that in some instances the character of naval warfare will indeed be new and different and changed, perhaps dramatically, in the decades ahead––with significant A2/AD challenges to the Marine Corps and Navy.

But in some –– maybe many –– areas, as Yogi Berra recognized, we’ve been here before.

In that regard, the remarks of two Chiefs of Naval Operations a couple of generations apart are instructive.

In October 1950, after the MCM debacle off Wonsan, CNO ADM Forrest Sherman wrote:  “…when you can’t go where you want to, when you want to, you haven’t got command of the sea.  And command of the sea is the rock-bottom foundation for all our war plans.  We’ve been plenty submarine-conscious and air-conscious. Now, we’re going to start getting mine-conscious –– beginning last week.”

Four decades later, after some 1,300 Iraqi mines stopped in its tracks a Multinational Coalition assault east of Kuwait City, in October 1991 CNO ADM Frank Kelso stated:  “…I believe there are some fundamentals about mine warfare that we should not forget.  Once mines are laid, they are quite difficult to get rid of.  That is not likely to change.  It is probably going to get worse, because mines are going to become more sophisticated.”

Frankly…the more things change, I am hopeful that some things will not stay the same.

Scott C. Truver, PhD, Director, TeamBlue, Gryphon Technologies, LC

Dr. Truver is the author of numerous reports, white papers and books on mine warfare, including the U.S. Naval Institute’s Weapons that Wait:  Mine Warfare in the U.S. Navy (2nd edition, 1991).

The featured image is from a video about the Iranian navy and its approach to the Gulf.


Credit Diver and Mine Photo: