To many the term ‘naval mine’ conjures up memories of grainy World War II photographs. To some degree they become a forgotten threat; but not to those serving on ships in the Persian Gulf where naval mines are a clear and present danger.
Iranian naval mine threat sparks largest ever countermeasures exercise in Persian Gulf
Earlier this month the U.S. Navy and more than 30 of her allies headed for the Persian Gulf to conduct the largest ever naval minesweeping exercise, known as the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2012 (IMCMEX 12). The exercise began September 16thand is scheduled to conclude today.
The term ‘naval mine’ likely conjures up memories of grainy World War II photographs to many; to some degree it’s become a forgotten threat. But not to those serving on ships in the Gulf – to those few, naval mines are a clear a present danger.
While authorities denied that the exercise was “being conducted in response to any specific threat,” as Lt. Greg Raelson, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, said, there is little doubt that it has been organised in view of Iran’s constant and increasingly frequent threats to mine the Strait of Hormuz. As tensions in the region mount, Iran’s posturing could translate into action as it seeks to choke the world’s oil supplies, a third of which passes through the sea passage every year.
Indeed, just as IMCMEX 12 began Iran undertook its own exercise on September 17th according to Business Insider. The exercise? Practising placing mines in the Caspian Sea.
Mines represent a significant threat to navies today – the shear size of IMCMEX 12 is testament to that.
“[IMCMEX 12 is] about being prepared in the event that some violent extremist group used mines. It’s about preserving freedom in international waterways,” said Lt. Greg Raelson.
Clearly it’s time more resources were focused on naval mine countermeasures, which historically the U.S has paid limited attention to. Iran’s actions over the last 12 months have put paid to that laissez-faire attitude; certainly its hostile reaction on September 17th has.
On September 11th, prior to the Persian Gulf exercise, the UK’s defence Secretary Philip Hammond visited the headquarters of United Kingdom Maritime Component Command (UKMCC) in Bahrain where the Royal Navy currently has four mine countermeasures vessels (MCMVs) stationed.
“The UK is committed to a standing presence in the Gulf to ensure freedom of navigation in international waters such as the Strait of Hormuz,” Hammond said. “The International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2012 is part of this work and will allow the Royal Navy to showcase its cutting-edge mine countermeasures experience, expertise and technology. It is also an excellent opportunity to work with other nations to enhance international co-operation and interoperability with others operating in this crucial field.”
Earlier this week the USS Fort Worth, a Freedom class littoral combat ship (LCS), was commissioned by Vice Chief of Naval Operations (VCNO), Adm. Mark E. Ferguson III. It is the third LCS to join the fleet and has been designed to adapt to the Navy’s anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) strategy, whereby its ability to project power in a region is limited by geographic constraints, which includes naval countermeasures.
Once results of the Persian Gulf exercise have been analysed the U.S. and her allies would hope to be better placed to react to the naval mine threat. If Iran continues to be the hub of suspicion and conflict in the region and uses the Strait of Hormuz as a makeweight, let’s hope so.
Should we be doing more to counter the naval mine threat? What can be done? Is this exercise a good approach to begin dealing with the mine threat? Will the conclusions bear fruit? What do you think? Email email@example.com with comments, views and questions.