Old, but not outdated: Mine Countermeasures

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In a world of high-tech missiles, radars, stealth design and navigation systems, the simple mine is often seen as an archaic throwback to the Second World War, Vietnam and other 20th-century conflicts.

8267579164_4e311fb809_cCheap, easy to produce, and horribly effective, naval mines are still a staple armament of non-state actors, terrorist organizations and states around the globe. The rumor of a mine in a restricted area of water can mean the complete closure of that waterway, and if deployed in one of the vital maritime choke points – the Malacca Straits or the Suez Canal, the Straits of Hormuz or the English Channel – the consequences for maritime trade could be huge.

Mine countermeasures operations do exactly what it says on the tin: they allow navies to detect and defeat the threat posed by all types of naval mines. From active minehunting weapons like Seafox and Pinguin to defensive measures like hull degaussing, mine countermeasures is an ever-developing and ever more vital field of modern naval warfare.

7787643722_46b373226d_c8018935001_37d21281b2_cWarships that are designed to partake in mine countermeasures are split roughly in to two camps: Minehunters and minesweepers. Both these types of warship engage in active countermeasures – that is, they seek out and destroy or disable mines. Mine sweepers use wires dragged behind them to either set off or cut loose mines that they pass near, whilst mine hunters use sophisticated sonar and other equipment to detect individual mines before destroying them with the aid of either divers or unmanned underwater vehicles.

The Royal Navy’s Hunt-Class Mine Countermeasures Vessels (MCMVs) HMS Atherstone and HMS Quorn are first-rate examples of minehunting vessels; equipped with the Seafox unmanned underwater vehicle and a time of highly-trained Mine Clearance Divers, they are effective against almost all mine types. Using their Type 2193 sonar, the crew of the MCMV can detect mines up to a kilometer away. Once detected, the Hunt-class will either dispatch Seafox – an autonomous, fire-and-forget minehunting drone that can both locate a target and blow it up with an explosive charge – or a team of human divers to disable or destroy the mine, clearing the way for commercial shipping to pass safely through the area.

Even ships without an active minehunting or sweeping role can adopt mine countermeasures to help protect themselves when passing through threatened waters. Passive countermeasures are the name given to techniques ships can use to make themselves less likely to set off or attract mines. Degaussing, for example, involves passing an electric current through a ship’s steel hull to reduce the vessel’s magnetic signature and thus making it less likely to set off a magnetically-activated mine; many MCMVs take this to the extreme and remove their magnetic signature almost entirely by building the hull itself out of wood or glass-reinforced plastic.

7975956599_5bf030d93e_bOther forms of passive countermeasures include specialist non-acoustic propulsion systems such as the Votih-Schneider propeller, which limits the vessel’s sound signature and makes the MCMV much less vulnerable to acoustic mines – mines activated by the sound of a ship passing overhead.

IMCMEX brings together the mine countermeasures capabilities and experience of around 40 different nations, and is one of the world’s foremost exercises for practicing cooperative anti-mine warfare. Through exercises like this, the international community is able to ensure that it is ready to respond to a mine warfare threat anywhere in the world.

– Luff, RN

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Heavy Lift Helos Pulling Sleds for a Good Cause: Global Commerce

minesweeping2Though the majority of mine countermeasures (MCM) missions are accomplished at sea, the ‘Blackhawks’ of Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 15 (HM 15) and the MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters they employ are paramount to the success of these missions.

mh53%203_jpgThe MH-53E is the largest helicopter in the U.S. inventory, with a maximum takeoff weight of 69,750 pounds, overall length of 99 feet, and a rotor diameter of 79 feet. It is capable of carrying over 50 passengers, 25,000 pounds of cargo, and flying over 700 miles without refueling. The U.S. Navy routinely uses this heavy lift capability for humanitarian relief missions and the MH-53E is the only aircraft that can conduct MCM operations by capitalizing on thier increased time-on-station capabilities and utilizing various towed devices including mine hunting sonar and mechanical minesweeping gear.

HM 15’s mission is “To maintain a world-wide 72-hour airborne mine countermeasures (AMCM) rapid deployment posture and a four aircraft forward-deployed AMCM and vertical onboard delivery (VOD) capability in the Arabian Gulf,” and will focuses on Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM) during IMCMEX. They will also be conducting logistics/vertical onboard delivery (LOG/VOD) support, to include personnel and material transfer.

MH-53-Sea-Dragon-helicopter-030_previewAMCM operates in tandem with surface mine countermeasures (SMCM) and underwater mine countermeasures (UMCM) to provide a complete MCM effect. Each platform has particular advantages; however, the major value that AMCM adds is speed and range of operations. The MH-53E is capable of flying over the horizon at 150 knots, providing MCM support more immediately than any other platform. Once on station, aircraft tow the devices at speeds up to ten times faster than surface ships, allowing AMCM to provide a rapid, effective response to any threat around the world.

– in-vesTED

A Terrible Thing That Waits: Mine Warfare and the Global Mine Threat

To go along with the IMCMEX overview that Vice Adm. John Miller provided last time, today we address a series of important questions: Are mines really that big a deal? If so, how do we protect ourselves? To answer those questions, and many more you didn’t know you had, our subject matter expert on mine warfare, Capt. Andrew Elvin RN, Captain UK MCM (Bahrain), is here to talk about mine warfare and the global mine threat.

Capt. Elvin, Sir, thanks for coming.

-Fleet LT

2f63710acb2944c189ed10c1fb78f9f4-576x324Mine Warfare (MIW) is traditionally seen as the strategic, operational and tactical use of sea mines and their countermeasures as part of a nation’s defensive or offensive military capability. MIW has two disciplines, mining and mine countermeasures (MCM).

Mining, a sea mine is a self-contained explosive device placed in water to damage or destroy ships or submarines; a contact mine requires a ship to come into contact to detonate, an influence Mine requires a ship to change the localized magnetic/acoustic/pressure influences to detonate. A contact mine will generally cause a breach in the hull where the mine comes in contact (USS Tripoli). An influence mine creates an expanding gas bubble which will cause structural fractures in the hull and internal damage to equipment throughout the length of the ship (USS Princeton).

3369528071The sea mine can be used in support of naval warfare to help shape the maritime environment by denying freedom of movement through an area, funneling maritime traffic, protection of infrastructure/recourses and the attrition of other nation’s forces. As increasing numbers of regimes fail and political instability spreads, access to sea mine stocks can become available to state and non state sponsored terrorist organizations.

The use of sea mines and maritime improvised explosive devices, by a state or terrorist organization, can challenge a traditionally stronger military capability and return significant impact from a relatively small investment. The sea mine can remain an enduring threat once laid, allowing the perpetrators the advantage of being indiscriminate and a certain degree of anonymity/plausible deniability.

In order to counter the threat of sea mines, the problem can be broken down into four phases:

8015035846_155d9bb277_cMonitor – Track the design, manufacture and distribution of sea mines. Profile the designers, builders and potential users.

Deter – Increase international pressure to reduce the proliferation of sea mines. Provide a credible global response capability that will minimize the impact from the use of sea mines.

Prevent – Ensure international legal support to allow political and military interdiction of the sea mines before they get in the water.

Remove – Enable international partners to contribute to a mine countermeasures capability that can operate seamlessly throughout the global waterways, irrespective of individual nation’s capability or capacity

MCM focuses on the Prevent and Remove phase and is further refined as:

Offensive MCM (Stop the mines before they get in the water) – Destroying mine storage facilities, transportation routes, loading facilities and the mine layers.

2488449707Defensive MCM (Once the mines are in the water) – Locate the mines and avoid by rerouting, where rerouting is not an option, picking the best path through the area and reducing the threat by looking for the mines and destroying them. This is done by hunting with sonar to locate and then disposing by explosive charges, cutting the cables of mines in the water column by mechanical sweeping and then disposing of them by explosive charges on the surface, or activating the mines by simulating maritime targets acoustic, magnetic and pressure signatures by influence sweeping.

Mine countermeasures operations are like a three-dimensional chess game with all the pieces off of the board and the other player gets the first move. By having the right pieces (MCM techniques), understanding how the game is played and the environment, it is a challenge that can be won. The development of an integrated multinational, multidisciplined, MCM capability will allow freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce. IMCMEX is addressing the Deter and Remove phases by allowing the international community to transcend pre-established organizations and boundaries, by coming together and providing unique skills and techniques that contribute to the delivery of MCM.

– Captain UK MCM (Bahrain), Capt. Andrew Elvin