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