Improving the US Navy’s long-neglected capability to hunt mines is a top priority for the fleet — but it still gets less than 1 percent of the Navy budget.
Improving the Navy’s long-neglected capability to hunt mines is a top priority for the fleet — but it still gets less than 1 percent of the Navy budget.
“We do have a sense of urgency and I think we’re applying as much resources as we can,” said Rear Adm. Frank Morneau, deputy director of the Navy’ staff’s Expeditionary Warfare division. Starting at the top with Chief of Naval Operations Jonathan Greenert — who recently dispatched more minesweepers to the Gulf – “senior leadership in the Navy and in the Marine Corps are deadly serious about focusing on this mission and trying to get it right,” despite ever-tightening budgets, Morneau said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Expeditionary Warfare conference here. “I wouldn’t be discouraged just because we’re under fiscal pressure.”
The long-term standard bearer for the Navy mine-warfare force is the Littoral Combat Ship, but the LCS counter-mine “mission package” is still in development, so the existing inventory of MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters and aging Avenger-class minesweepers must bear the brunt of rising tensions with Iran. “The balance is [that] with a finite amount of resources, we have to take care of the legacy force and get the LCS mission package into the fleet,” said Captain Frank Linkous, the Navy staff’s mine-warfare director under Morneau. Today in the Gulf, said Linkous, “the legacy force [is] at the tip of the spear.”
Morneau, Linkous, and the other Navy officials assembled for Monday afternoon’s panel on mine warfare touted multiple new initiatives on both fronts — but all these efforts have their limits:
Next week, Bahrain-based 5th Fleet is hosting an unprecedentedly large International Mine Counter-Measures Exercise (IMCMEX) with more than 25 nations. The Navy is still working, though, to get its system for sharing mine-threat data, MEDAL (Mine Warfare Environmental Decision Aid Library) to communicate fully with allied forces.
All told, Navy minehunters face an uphill battle, while would-be minelayers in Iran and elsewhere can use cheap technology that’s easy to deploy — or you can not deploy it at all: “How many mines does it take to mine a strait?” Morneau asked. “None. You’ve just got to say you did it.” But determining whether the mines are there or not, let alone clearing them, is a tremendous technical challenge.
“Mine warfare is our most complex and challenging mission,” said Capt. John Ailes, the program manager overseeing development of the LCS mine warfare module and other mission packages. Ailes has worked on a range of high-tech programs, including the Aegis system that detects and shoots down attacking planes, he said, “but all those pale in comparison to the complexity of distinguishing a mine against the [underwater] background when it doesn’t put out any signal, it just sits there and waits.”
On the upside, “I have never had this degree of interaction with senior leadership as I do on a routine basis in mine warfare,” said Ailes. “I don’t think there’s a four-star anywhere in the chain that I haven’t met, usually with some degree of emotion” — there was a burst of laughter from the audience — “and I say that as a good thing.”
Source: AOL Defense