It is common knowledge that mines have damaged more U.S. Navy ships than any other weapon since World War II. During the same period, however, the Navy's focus on Mine Warfare has waxed and waned. The looming possibility of Iranian mines closing the Strait of Hormuz has once again put mine-countermeasures (MCM) on the upswing. The Navy's future MCM force will be based on the Littoral Combat Ship and her MCM mission package which has yet to be deployed operationally. In the meanwhile, the venerable fleet of Avenger Class minesweepers will provide the bulk of this important capability. Four of the fiberglass-sheathed, wooden-hulled MCMs arrived in the Gulf in June to bolster the four ships already forward deployed to Bahrain. Although the average age of these ships is over 23 years, their hull, mechanical, electrical, and combat systems suites were recently modernized. The installation of new unmanned systems are another way the Navy has chosen to enhance the aging ships' capability.
The Avenger's obsolete and prone to break-down AN/SLQ-48 Mine Neutralization System (MNS) is being replaced with the Expendable Mine Neutralization System (EMNS), based on BAE Systems' Archerfish mine neutralization system. The fiber-optically guided EMNS uses a high frequency sonar and low light video camera to detect mines, which are then neutralized with a shaped charge. Replacing the legacy the MNS with EMNS will also save over 15 tons in weight on each ship.
Archerfish Mine Neutralization Vehicle
IMCMEX Op Areas (U.S. Navy FIFTH Fleet Graphic)
By January 2013, three Avengers will be outfitted with Altas Elektrik's SeaFox UUV, capable of destroying a mine with a built in shaped charge. The SeaFox already serves in the Gulf and is currently launched by rigid hull inflatable boats. MK 18 Swordfish systems were also part of the package to bolster the Navy's Persian Gulf mine defenses. Swordfish is a derivative of the Hydroid REMUS UUV and used for shallow water MCM. Later this month, these new MCM capabilities will be show-cased along with those of 26 other countries during the Navy's FIFTH Fleet hosted International Mine Counter-Measures Exercise (IMCMEX). IMCMEX operations will take place in Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, and Persian Gulf. Americans aren't alone in leveraging new unmanned systems for mine warfare. The Royal Navy's HMS Ramsey (M110), a Sandown class minehunter participating in the IMCMEX, also employs the SeaFox. For decades now, Germany's Troika system, China's Futi, and other remotely operated surface vessels have reduced the risk to sailors with a stand-off minesweeping capability. Other European navies have embraced newer combinations of autonomous and remotely operated MCM systems, such as France's Evaluation de Solutions Potentielles d’Automatisation de Déminage pour les Opérations Navales (ESPADON) solution, which employs a ship operating in concert with two USVs and AUVs.
Well known authors and national security analysts Peter W. Singer and August Cole have together launched their inaugural novel, Ghost Fleet . The book contains all the components one would expect from a high tech future-war thriller: major power conflict, cyber militias, and biotech-enhanced warriors, to name a few highlights. And drones...lots of them. Unmanned naval systems in particular, play key roles throughout the book's action sequences. Some of the unmanned systems are already deployed, some are currently in development, and a few exist only in the authors' minds, but all appear to be technically feasible at some point in the near future. A Littoral Combat Ship features prominently early in the plot. The LCS serves as a mothership for the Fire Scout UAVs and a REMUS AUV which the crew creatively uses as an offensive weapon. An embarked SAFFiR robot helps LCS sailors with damage control during a combat scene. Several platforms in use today are adapted for new m
Much of the conversation surrounding the advent of naval drone warfare has focused on those platforms performing the more ‘kinetic’ types of warfare – anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare, air warfare – and those of the voyeuristic surveillance variety. However, a quick look at the composition of the carrier air wings of the U.S. Navy or the dispersed air units of a land campaign reminds us that supporting elements such as electronic warfare and command and control (C2) remain an integral part of modern combined operations. While it may not be as “sexy” as the ability to deliver a missile on target, the ability to maintain battlefield communications is arguably more important as it is an enabler of nearly all other actions. In January, The Aviationist described the U.S. Air Force’s reiteration of the importance and utility of airborne assets providing communications by developing a new line-of-sight system: The U.S. Air Force is trying to turn the targeting pods carrie
As discussed in an earlier post , dynamics between unmanned naval systems and the platforms that carry them are changing rapidly to accomodate new technologies and tactics. Arguably, various types of drone motherships have the potential to transform mine countermeasures more than any other warfare area and the evolution in mine-countermeasures tactics towards the mothership-unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) partnership is already underway. One of the first major demonstrations of this concept occurred last summer during 5th Fleet's International Mine Countermeasures Exercise ( IMCMEX ) when a number of UUVs were tested from large amphibious motherships including USS Ponce ((AFSB(I)-15). Essentially, the Navy is moving from dedicated MCM ships such as the Avenger class minesweeper, to a trio of platforms: a Generation I mothership, carrying Generation II platforms (a RHIB specially modified to carry UUVs; seen below), and the UUVs themselves. The Gen I mothership provides th
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