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Mines: Will They Sink The U

Mines: Will They Sink The U.S. Navy?

 

CSC 1992

 

SUBJECT AREA National Military Strategy

 

-

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

Title: Mines: Will They Sink the U.S. Navy?

 

Author: LCDR C. A. Donahoe, U.S. Navy

 

Thesis: The inadequate force structure of twenty active mine

countermeasures and minehunting ships, the dearth of sufficient

funding and research and development, and the woeful lack of

education and recognition of qualified officers in the field of mine

warfare have formed a disastrous deficit. Until this situation is

corrected, the U.S. Navy cannot keep up with, much less defeat, such

an effective and inexpensive form of warfare.

 

Backround: The deficit of adequate mine countermeasures proved all

too costly in the Persian Gulf. The commercial tanker BRIDGETON and

U.S. Navy frigate USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (FFG-58) both struck mines

in 1987 and 1988, respectively. During Operation Desert Storm in

1990, two U.S. Navy ships, USS TRIPOLI (LPH-10) and USS PRINCETON

(CG-59), struck mines. Fortunately, injuries were few, but damage

and cost of repairs were enormous. In addition to these calamities,

amphibious operations were affected to the point where such

operations could not be conducted. All of these incidences are

indicative of the Navy's lack of interest in planning and education

in the field of mine warfare. If the Navy does not reconsider its

warfighting and budgetary priorities, it is doomed to repeat in the

future the same costly mistakes made in the Persian Gulf.

 

Recommendation: The Navy should strongly reconsider its warfighting

and budgetary priorities in terms of mine warfare. The field needs

to be approached and promoted as a legitimate warfighting arena. In

doing so, recognition will be afforded to the problems of adequate

force structure, proper education and reward of qualified officers,

and funding and research and development to insure an adequate mine

capability for the future.

 

MINES: WILL THEY SINK THE U.S. NAVY?

 

OUTLINE

 

 

THESIS: The currently inadequate force structure of active mine

countermeasures and minehunting ships, the dearth of sufficient

funding and research and development, and the woeful lack of

education and recognition of qualified officers in the field of mine

warfare have formed a disastrous deficit. Until this situation is

corrected, the U.S. Navy cannot keep up with, much less defeat, such

an effective and inexpensive form of warfare.

 

I. Introduction

 

II. Mines in the Persian Gulf - Before the War

A. Commerical tanker BRIDGETON

B. USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (FFG-58)

 

III. Mines in the Persian Gulf - During the War

A. Multinational minesweeping effort

B. Threats and delays caused by mines

C. Effect on naval gunfire support

D. Effect on amphibious operations

E. USS TRIPOLI (LPH-l0)

F. USS PRINCETON (CG-59)

 

IV. Why the Navy is where it' is in relation to enemy mines

A. Traditional lack of interest

B. Lack of professional education and coordination

C. Lack of recognition of qualified officers

D. Lack of funding and research and development

E. New construction problems

 

V. Conclusion

 

 

MINES: WILL THEY SINK THE U.S. NAVY?

 

 

Mine warfare and mine countermeasures in the United

 

States Navy are nearly as old as the Navy itself. The use

 

of mines began in the Revolutionary War, and has continued

 

through the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea, and

 

Vietnam. Mines have sunk ships, causing death and

 

destruction to crews and vessels. Countermeasures to such

 

a threat (or the lack thereof) have shaped strategy at the

 

highest levels. The inadequate force structure of twenty

 

active mine countermeasures and minehunting ships, the

 

dearth of sufficient funding and research and development,

 

and the woeful lack of education and recognition of

 

qualified officers in the field of mine warfare have formed

 

a disastrous deficit. Until this situation is corrected,

 

the U.S. Navy cannot keep up with, much less defeat, such

 

an effective and inexpensive form of warfare.

 

Nowhere was the use of enemy mines and the absence of

 

a sound strategy to combat them more vividly illustrated

 

than in the Persian Gulf. Even before the war broke out in

 

1990, mines took their toll. One example is that of the

 

commercial tanker BRIDGETON during the Navy's 1987

 

deployment to the Persian Gulf to escort reflagged Kuwaiti

 

oil tankers. The BRIDGETON struck a mine and nearly sank

 

in July 1987. As a result of that incident, the Navy had

 

no choice but to equip a Liberian-registered tanker with

 

sonar gear to act as a minesweep. Additionally, the Navy

 

was forced to request minesweeping assistance from Britain

 

and France, an embarrassment to say the least. This

 

assistance was not granted until mid-August, when Omani

 

minesweepers detected five mines in the Gulf of Oman. (1)

 

During that same month, six aging American minesweepers

 

started preparations in order to be towed to the Persian

 

Gulf. This preparation and transport required more than

 

three months.(2)

 

In 1988, the frigate USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (FFG-58)

 

was damaged by a moored contact mine on 14 April. It cost

 

$52.1 million to transport and repair her -- one-sixth of

 

what it cost to build her from the keel up. The ROBERTS

 

was out of service for 17 months. By contrast, the cost of

 

the mine that did the damage was less than $1,5000.00. (3)

 

These events turned out to be dire predictions of events to

 

come.

 

When the war did break out in the summer of 1990,

 

mines produced not only physical harm and operational

 

delay. Even the threat of mines was enough to effect

 

significant psychological damage. How did the U.S. Navy,

 

the most powerful naval force in the world, allow itself to

 

be put in this position? As one senior naval officer put

 

it, "Mine warfare has never been one of our big priorities,

 

because we've always assumed that other nations would take

 

on that mission."(4)

 

Other nations did in fact form the preponderance of

 

the minesweeping effort. Britain, Belgium, France, Italy,

 

the Netherlands, and eventually Germany all contributed

 

personnel and ships to help clear lanes of approach off the

 

coast of Kuwait. The United States' contribution amounted

 

to four minesweeps, three of which were of Korean War

vintage.(5) The ratio of effort to effect was hardly what

 

one would call "fair." The U.S. bore the brunt of the

 

damage and delay caused by mines.

 

Just how real the threat of mines could be was

 

verified through the capture of Iraqi prisoners of war.

 

Intelligence sources determined that a multi-national

 

minesweeping force would need at least two weeks to

 

complete its task.(6) These determinations proved to be

 

all too true, as discovered during the cease-fire

 

arrangements:

 

The complexity of the sea mining by Iraq

became clear when, under terms of the

cease-fire, Iraqi generals handed over

maps of coastal minefields to coalition

commanders. The charts, which stunned

allied officials, showed that Iraq had

built two mine belts, one inside the other

in concentric arcs extending 40 miles off

the Kuwaiti coast.(7) (emphasis added)

 

 

Some of the mines used by the Iraqis dated back to World

 

War I. However, they still proved to be highly effective.

 

In addition to the difficulty in clearing the mines,

 

just how effective they were was borne out in the

 

operational delays they caused. Perhaps the most forceful

 

example of such a delay was the effect mines had on the

 

planning and execution of an amphibious operation. A

 

Marine Corps Lessons Learned Report (MCLLS) states that "It

 

[mines] also possessed the potential for delaying, even

 

postponing, a USMC operation into Kuwait. This obviously

 

eroded the capability to forcibly project sustainable

 

combat power ashore."(8) (emphasis added) In fact, an

 

amphibious assault did not take place. One of the major

 

reasons for this was the presence and threat of mines.

 

Thus, a cheap, technologically ancient weapon was able to

 

thwart the advances of the most capable fighting force

 

known today.

 

Another way in which mines affected a possible

 

amphibious operation was the effect mines would have on the

 

vehicles used to deliver Marines and their equipment to the

 

beach. Marines would rely heavily on amphibious assault

 

vehicles (AAVs) to deliver them to the beach. These

 

vehicles would be launched from Navy amphibious ships

 

This delivery would require these ships to close within

 

6,000 yards of the beach. This manuever was impossible off

 

the coast of Kuwait. Additionally, AAVs could not see to

 

avoid mines, particularly at night.(9)

 

In the absence of or in addition to AAVs, Landing

 

Craft Utility (LCU) and Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM)

 

would be used in a beach landing. In utilizing these

 

craft, the launching ship would remain well offshore,

 

thereby defeating the immediate mine threat. The

 

disadvantage to these landing craft is the displacement of

 

their hulls made them vulnerable to all types of mines.(10)

 

The most recent landing craft innovation, the Landing

 

Craft Air Cushion (LCAC), is the most resistent to the mine

 

threat. The ships carrying these vessels can stand farther

 

out when launching them. The LCAC itself is invulnerable

 

to moored mines. It possesses a lower signature than

 

conventional craft against bottom laid influence

 

mines.(11) However, these craft are very expensive to

 

build. Currently, there are less than ten in the fleet.

 

All of the abovementioned landing craft are vulnerable

 

to mines in one way or another. The only invulnerable

 

craft for landing ashore are helicopters. While they were

 

invincible to the sea-based mine threat, having helicopters

 

as the only option greatly curtailed the

 

Commander-in-Chief's (CINC) ability to quickly build up

 

combat power ashore. For a major assault such as this,

 

all assets were required. Due to the threat of mines, the

 

CINC could not pick and choose ways to land. It is obvious

 

just how heavily mines weighed on the choices made on how

 

to or how not to employ an amphibious force. (12)

 

Even in the absence of an amphibious assault, enemy

 

mines made their presence known. A mine is just as

 

effective against ships of the line providing direct fire

 

support as it is against an amphibious vessel. Hence,

 

mines had a debilitating effect on those ships assigned to

 

provide naval gunfire support (NGFS), a critical element in

 

the conduct of a possible amphibious operation. Statements

 

made in an after-action report put it this way:

 

NAVCENT had great difficulty in

overcoming the sea-based mines and

obstacles employed by Iraqi forces off

the coast of Kuwait. This employment

delayed the availability of NGFS. . .

This limits the CINC's use of naval

forces along a 1ittoral like that of

the Persian Gulf.(13)

 

The result of these enemy efforts was NGFS was limited

 

to the support that could be provided by the battleships

 

USS MISSOURI (BB-63) and USS WISCONSIN (BB-64), utilizing

 

their 16-inch guns.(14) These were the only ships with

 

guns large enough to have a range long enough that did not

 

require firing close-in to shore. Although these guns were

 

the most powerful afloat, they could not do the job

 

single-handedly. The numerous destroyers in the area were

 

forced by enemy mines to remain well offshore.

 

In planning for this war, U.S. advisers did recognize

 

the wide array of dangers posed by mines. Such recognition

 

was noted in the Letter of Instruction for Amphibious

 

Planning:

 

Damage/loss of a single amphibious ship, or

the substantial risk of such damage/loss due

to mines, is unacceptable and will result in

the cancellation or appropriate delay of an

amphibious assault.(15)

 

It is therefore easy to see the withering effect mines had

 

on the usefulness (or uselessness) of modern available

 

weapons systems and plans. With the stunning success of

 

the ground war, the hazards of trying to complete an

 

amphibious landing through mine-infested waters has once

 

again been relegated to after-action reports and "fix it"

 

solutions with an all-too-low priority.

 

However, all the intensive planning that went into

 

every facet of this operation could not prevent damage

 

being done by mines. At 0430 (Saudi Arabian time) 18

 

February 1991, the USS TRIPOLI (LPH-10), an amphibious

 

helicopter carrier, was damaged by a moored contact mine in

 

the northern Persian Gulf. The blast, caused by a mere 300

 

pounds of explosives, tore a 16-by-20 foot hole on the

 

ship's forward starboard side, approximately ten feet below

 

the water line. Flooding occurred in three compartments on

 

three decks. The ship went dead in the water.

 

Fortunately, only four of the approximately 1,500 crew

 

members were injured.(16)

 

The TRIPOLI was repaired at the Arab Ship Repair Yard

 

in Bahrain. She eventually rejoined the fleet in the

 

Gulf. However, the price of such repair was not cheap.

 

The total cost of building the entire shin was $40 million

 

(in 1958 dollars). (17) The cost of temporary repairs was

 

$5 million.(18) Permanent repairs have no doubt added tens

 

of thousands of dollars to that cost. The cost of the mine

 

that wreaked this havoc was less than $5,000.00.

 

Perhaps the most far-reaching damage caused by this

 

mine explosion was that the entire helicopter mine

 

countermeasures operation had to be suspended. At the time

 

the TRIPOLI was struck, she had on board the only MH-53E

 

mine countermeasure helicopters in the area. She was also

 

the focal point for direction of U.S. and British surface

 

minesweeps and minehunters. Her removal from the scene

 

caused these crucial operations to cease. USS RALEIGH

 

(LPD-1) was required to move in to provide an interim

 

platform while TRIPOLI cross-decked her helicopters and

 

equipment to USS NEW ORLEANS (LPH-11). (19)

 

All of these operations took valuable time away from

 

the central mission. Combat power was again eroded by the

 

efficiency of enemy mines. Not only was the stricken ship

 

affected, but two other essential amphibious assault ships

 

were required to divert their attention as well. Personnel

 

and equipment were taken out from the battlefield, either

 

directly or indirectly, as a result of a single mine

 

contact. Viewed in these terms, this mine was more

 

successful in attaining its objective than its perpetrators

 

probably ever hoped for.

 

Unfortunately, TRIPOLI was not the only ship to be

 

stricken by mines. On the same day, less than three hours

 

after TRIPOLI's contact, the USS PRINCETON (CG-59) hit two

 

mines. Luck was with the crew - only three of the 364

 

members aboard were injured. But the damage was

 

substantial. The ship's superstructure was torn in two

 

pieces at the midships quarterdeck. The gun and

 

missile-launching systems were knocked out. The rudder,

 

propeller, and main shaft on the port side were damaged,

 

and her port engine had to be shut down.(20) She was out

 

of the war for good.

 

The PRINCETON was, towed to Bahrain by the USS BEAUFORT

 

(ATS-2). The two ships could proceed at a speed of only

 

five knots. They had to be escorted through the area by

 

the USS ADROIT (MSO-509) for 24 hours. Once again, the

 

enemy was far more forceful through the use of mines than

 

he probably anticipated. Three ships were removed from the

 

battlefield for the price of one.

 

Exact repair costs for the PRINCETON are not yet

 

available. However, it is obvious they will run into the

 

tens of millions of dollars. What is also obvious is that

 

this AEGIS-class cruiser, originally costing $948.3 million

 

to build(21), was knocked out of action at a cost to the

 

enemy of $3,000.00. World War II-class mines, such as

 

those that damaged the PRINCETON, are not an expensive

 

commodity.

 

Given these graphic examples of the damage that mines

 

can cause, both real and potential, the question arises of

 

how the Navy came to find itself in a such a problematic

 

situation. One reason is the Navy's traditional lack of

 

interest in this area. Mine warfare programs have never

 

been considered "sexy". Even though participation in mine

 

warfare is frequently dangerous and at times deadly, the

 

day-to-day routine is seen as dull and dreary.

 

Due in part to this unglamourous perception, there is

 

a dearth of professional education in the areas of mine

 

warfare and countermeasures. The little education that

 

does exist is by band large cursory in nature. Even that is

 

not integrated between Navy and Marine Corps officer

 

training programs. It is little wonder, then, that so few

 

officers are qualified in mine warfare.

 

This problem is further exacerbated by the merger of

 

the Navy Mine Warfare Command with the Charleston Naval

 

Base, resulting in the Naval Base commander being

 

responsible for the two commands.(22) Each job in and of

 

itself encompasses enough responsibility and importance to

 

warrant its own flag. This combining of positions

 

de-emphasizes the importance of mine warfare at a time when

 

its importance cannot be overstated, as witnessed through

 

the events in the Persian Gulf. One can only wonder how

 

much this de-emphasis will cost the Navy and America in

 

future conflicts.

 

This situation, which downplays the importance of the

 

program, diminishes the interest of otherwise qualified

 

officers to pursue this field as a career in the Navy. Why

 

should up-and-coming officers apply themselves to a field

 

that holds little promise for them in terms of promotion

 

and reward? Not seen as a career enhancing field, admirals

 

seldom emerge from the mine community. Without superior

 

officers well qualified in all aspects in mine warfare, the

 

Navy is doomed to repeat the same costly mistakes made in

 

the Gulf.

 

Another reason for the Navy's lack of preparedness is

 

its reluctance to sufficiently fund research and

 

development in mine warfare and countermeasures. The

 

Navy's traditional focus has been on the high-tech,

 

high-visibility weapons platforms, such as aircraft

 

carriers, submarines, and jet aircraft. With the shift of

 

global priorities causing a greatly diminished threat of

 

all-out war, the dollars expended on these programs may be

 

unwisely spent. Unless there is an immediate refocussing

 

of priorities and budgets, the Navy will fall even farther

 

behind in its mine warfare capabilities. What good are the

 

latest aircraft carriers and destroyers if they are

 

crippled or even destroyed by a World War I-class mine?

 

What is sown or NOT sown now will be reaped later. At the

 

moment, the future harvest looks bleak, particularly in

 

light of the austerity of the financial climate.

 

As a result of this lack of attention, the more

 

immediate near-term harvest is bleak indeed. The new

 

OSPREY class of coastal minehunter (MHC), currently under

 

construction, is already more than one year behind

 

schedule. This is due in large part to the fact that the

 

mine warfare shipbuilding programs are the most

 

problem-ridden the Navy, according to a staffer on the

 

House Armed Services Committee.(23) Delays, cost overruns,

 

and personal

 

acrimony are even more pronounced in this program than in

 

others. The Navy can ill afford such setbacks in a

 

situation that demands immediate and sustained results.

 

Another setback in the program may be the Navy's own

 

fault in that the complexity of the construction of such

 

vessels was underestimated. Integrating the complex

 

systems required for minehunting and minimizing the ship's

 

magnetic signature is difficult, to say the least. To

 

compensate for these problems, the Navy changed its design

 

specifications midway through construction.(24) As any

 

contracting officer will tell you, not only are such

 

changes next to impossible to employ, but they are

 

guaranteed to raise costs to unexpected levels. It comes

 

as no surprise, therefore, to find this crucial warfighting

 

arena in such disarray.

 

All of these events graphically illustrate the cost

 

effectiveness of sea mines. You do indeed get a bigger

 

bang for your buck. Not only will mines be used against

 

shipping, but they will be used against other vital areas

 

of interest as well. Iraq used mines with obvious effect

 

in damaging not only naval vessels but also oil wells. In

 

Nicaragua, a mere 39 sea mines planted in the ports of

 

Corinto, Puerto Sandino, and El Bluff during the

 

three-month period of January through March 1984 were

 

enough to affect that country's economy, particularly its

 

petroleum, oil, and lubricant supplies.(25) If you want to

 

strangle a nation quickly and on the cheap, sea mines are

 

the way to go.

 

In summary, then, the problems facing the Navy in the

 

area of mine warfare and countermeasures are:

 

1. Mines are easily attainable.

 

2. Mines can do a great deal of damage for very little cost.

 

3. The threat of mines causes significant psychological damage.

 

4. Mines have the potential to delay, even postpone, an amphibious

operation.

 

5. Mines 1imit the ability to build up combat power.

 

The reasons the Navy faces these problems are:

 

1. the Navy's traditional lack of interest;

 

2. the absence of professional education of and between Navy and

Marine Corps officers;

 

3. Lack of recognition of qualified officers;

 

4. Lack of sufficient funding for research and development;

 

5. Delays and cost overruns in current construction.

 

The Navy must reconsider their position and priority

 

concerning mine warfare. Even though the days of

 

superpower super warfare may be gone, lesser forms of

 

warfare, such as mines, are still a very real threat.

 

Countries that may not be able to afford nuclear powered

 

aircraft carriers and submarines can certainly afford a

 

handful of mines. That's all it takes to paralyze even the

 

most powerful military force on the planet.

 

It is for all these reasons that mines will continue

 

to be weapons of the future, even if they were manufactured

 

decades ago. Regional conflict -- such as Iraq and

 

Nicaragua -- is likely to be the way future wars are

 

fought. Mines are nearly always readily available to any

 

dictator, terrorist, and/or megalomaniac who wants them.

 

Cheap, easily maintained, and easily deployed, they have

 

proven themselves to be devastatingly efficient. Without

 

credible and continuing mine countermeasures, the United

 

States Navy may well be sunk before it has a fighting

 

chance.

 

 

ENDNOTES

 

1Edward J. Walsh, "Navy Struggles to Manage Mine Warfare

Shipbuilding," Armed Forces Journal International, March 1991, 49.

 

2James M. Martin, Captain, USNR (Ret.), "We Still Haven't

Learned," Proceedings, July 1991, 64.

 

3Ibid., 65.

 

4Eric Schmitt, "Gulf is Swept for Mining in the Aftermath of

War," New York Times, 19 March 1991, Sec. 1-A, 14.

 

5Ibid.

 

6Author unknown, Naval Action in Support of Desert Storm,

Marine Corps Lessons Learned System (MCLLS), Report #42431-81344.

(Studies and Analysis Branch, Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF)

Warfighting Center, Marine Corps Combat Development Command (MCCDC),

Quantico, VA).

 

7Schmitt, "Gulf in the Aftermath of War," 14.

 

8Author unknown, Naval Force Mine Clearance Capability,

MCLLS Report #41243-71580. (Studies and Analysis Branch, MAGTF

Warfighting Center, MCCDC, Quantico, VA).

 

9Author unknown, Desert Storm Reconstruction Report Volume

V, MCLLS Classified Material Control Center Report #187398.

(Studies and Analysis Branch, MAGTF Warfighting Center, MCCDC,

Quantico, VA).

 

10Ibid.

 

11Ibid.

 

12Ibid.

 

13Naval Force Mine Clearance Capability, MCLLS Report

#41243-71580.

 

14Author unknown, Naval Gunfire Support for Operation Desert

Storm, MCLLS Report #42433-38107. (Studies and Analysis Branch,

MAGTF Warfighting Center, MCCDC, Quantico, VA).

 

15Author unknown, Letter of Instruction for Amphibious

Planning, MCLLS Report #10136-35847. (Studies and Analysis Branch,

MAGTF Warfighting Center, MCCDC, Quantico, VA).

 

16Martin, "We Still Haven't Learned," 64.

 

17Ibid.

 

18Ibid.

 

19Desert Storm Reconstruction Report Volume V, MCLLS

Classified Material Control Center Report #187398.

 

20Martin, "We Still Haven't Learned," 64.

 

21Ibid.

 

22Ibid., 68.

 

23Walsh, "Navy Struggles," 50.

 

24Ibid.

 

25James M. Martin, Captain, USNR (Ret.) and Bertrand P.

Ramsay, "Sea Mines in Nicaragua," Proceedings, September 1990, 111.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

 

1. Desert Storm Reconstruction Report Volume V. Marine Corps

Lessons Learned System (MCLLS) Classified Material

Control Center Report #187398. Studies and Analysis

Branch, Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Warfighting

Center, Marine Corps Combat Development Center (MCCDC),

Quantico, VA.

 

2.                Letter of Instruction for Amphibious Operations. MCLLS Report

#10136-35847. Studies and Analysis Branch, MAGTF

Warfighting Center, MCCDC, Quantico, VA.

 

3. Martin, James M., Captain, USNR (Ret.). "We Still Haven't

Learned Yet." Proceedings, July 1991, 64-68.

 

4. Martin, James M., Captain, USNR (Ret.) and Betrand P. Ramsay.

"Sea Mines in Nicaragua." Proceedings, September 1990,

111.

 

5. Naval Action in Support of Desert Storm. MCLLS Report

#42431-81344. Studies and Analysis Branch, MAGTF

Warfighting Center, MCCDC, Quantico, VA.

 

6. Naval Force Mine Clearance Capability. MCLLS Report

#41243-71580. Studies and Analysis Branch, MAGTF

Warfighting Center, MCCDC, Quantico, VA.

 

7.                Naval Gunfire Support for Operation Desert Storm. MCLLS Report

#42433-38107. Studies and Analysis Branch, MAGTF

Warfighting Center, MCCDC, Quantico, VA.

 

8.                Schmitt, Eric. "Gulf is Swept for Mining in the Aftermath of

War." New York Times, 19 March 1991, Section 1-A, 14.

 

9. Walsh, Edward J. "Navy Struggles to Manage Mine Warfare

Shipbuilding. Armed Forces Journal International, March

1991, 49.



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