Mine Warfare - Where Is It Today?
SUBJECT AREA - Warfighting
Title: Mine Warfare - Where Is It Today?
Author: LCDR Janice A. Lawrimore, United States Navy
Thesis: As mines become an inexpensive weapon in the inventories
of many countries of the world it is essential that we design and
field mine warfare forces that are able to deploy in response to
crisis versus just being able to protect our own harbors.
Background: The U.S. Navy has historically encountered
difficulties when confronted with a sea mine threat in a wartime
environment. They have repeatedly been ill prepared to detect
and clear mine fields in a timely manner in advance of an
amphibious assault. As a result of this inability, theater
commanders have had their options restricted and have had to
alter their war plans to accommodate the mine threat. The
failure to effectively clear mines in advance of an amphibious
landing during Desert Storm is just the latest failure. The lack
of emphasis on mine warfare is a result of three inter-related
issues: 1) the Soviet Union blue water threat that consumed a
large proportion of the Navy budget, 2) The Soviet ability to
mine U.S. harbors and our corresponding emphasis on port
breakout, 3) a NATO agreement that assigned primary
responsibility for minesweeping to our European allies. The
nominal coast and relative simplicity of mines, when compared to
the threat generated, has assured their inclusion in coastal,
third world county weapons inventories. If, as the most recent
National Security Strategy requires, the United States is to
operate effectively in the littoral areas of the world in
response to regional crisis the mine threat must be confronted
Recommendation: The Navy must continue to support and fund the
mine warfare program that was initiated following Desert Storm.
Improvements in the areas of systems technology, command and
control, training and pre-crisis intelligence collection are
essential to assure a viable program is in place for the next
Thesis: As mines become an inexpensive weapon in the inventories
of many countries of the world it is essential that we design and
field mine forces that are able to deploy in response to crisis
versus just being able to protect our own harbors.
I The Mine Countermeasure Force prior to 1989
A. Historical perspective
C. Force Structure
E. Priority in the budget process
II Issues that have driven the changes within the mine warfare
A. Difficulties encountered during Desert Storm
B. Congressionally directed changes
C. Break-up of the Soviet Union
D. Significant changes to the National Security and
National Military Strategies
1. Crisis response
2. Littoral vice blue water
III Current Mine Countermeasure Structure and Future Plans
A. Force structure and location
B. Platforms/command ship
C. Research and development initiatives
F. Very shallow water/surf zone MCM
A. Are the changes sufficient to meet the future threats?
B. Why the Marine Corps should continue to remain involved
in the mine warfare evolution
Mine Warfare - Where Is It Today?
Following the Persian Gulf War the United States Navy is once
again faced with the need to relearn a lesson from the past.
Namely, the ability to detect and successfully counter a sea
mine threat is an essential component of amphibious warfare. The
use of sea mines and the need to counter the threat they impose
is not a new concept. The United States has been involved with
sea mines and mine warfare since the Revolutionary War when David
Bushnell attempted to sink a British frigate with rudimentary
moored mines. Naval history, from the Civil War onward, is rife
with examples in which mines have significantly impacted the
speed and success of naval campaigns and amphibious landings.
From Admiral Farragut's entry into Mobile Bay in 1864, the
invasion of Normandy during World War II, the delayed landing at
Wonsan, Korea in 1950, Operation End Sweep in Vietnam, and
several recent operations short of war in Southwest Asia, the
Navy has had to deal with mine threats. The inability to
effectively clear mines for an amphibious landing during the
Persian Gulf War was just the latest failure.
The relative simplicity and nominal cost of sea mines, when
compared to the sizable threat that they generate, has assured
that these weapons are a part of virtually every arsenal
throughout the world. Iraq's use of mines in the Persian Gulf
and the Allied Coalition's inability to clear the minefields
prior to offensive action, is a prime example of the significant
threat which mines can create. More than any other weapon system
of comparable cost, mines have the ability to level the playing
field. They can nullify the advantages of overwhelming force and
firepower with relatively little risk.
As mines become an inexpensive weapon in the inventories of
countries around the world, it is essential we design and field
mine warfare forces that are able to deploy in response to crisis
and that can credibly counter mine threats in a timely manner.
Considering the long history of mine warfare and the known threat
that mines can generate, the question must be asked, why has the
Navy apparently been so remiss in dedicating resources to this
warfare community? Secondly, following our failure to
effectively clear mines prior to Desert Storm and recognizing
that mines are a continual threat, what is being done within the
Navy to correct the problem and are the efforts adequate? In
order to answer these questions it is necessary to understand the
threat assessment, mission, and force structure that existed
prior to Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
The mine warfare community has been subjected to cyclical
interest and funding throughout its history. With the end of
World War II the U.S. Navy, unlike its European counterparts,
allowed the proficiency, talent, and assets within the mine
countermeasure (MCM) community to stagnate and then wither. This
lapse of interest can be attributed to cuts in the defense budget
as well as a strategic focus that was increasingly oriented
toward the Soviet Union and the coming Cold War.
It was not until October 1950, when an amphibious landing by
1st Marines and 10th Corps at Wonsan, Korea had to be postponed,
that attention was redirected to the threat posed by mines. The
landing of 50,000 men in a powerful 250-ship armada had been held
at bay for nearly a week by sea mines, some of 1904 vintage.
Vice Admiral C.T. Joy, Commander Naval Forces, Far East concluded
The main lesson of the Wonsan operation is that no
so-called subsidiary branch of the naval service, such
as mine warfare, should ever be neglected or relegated
to a minor role in the future. Wonsan also taught us
that we can be denied freedom of movement to an enemy
objective through the intelligent use of mines by an
The lesson lasted until 1958, when once again construction funds
were deleted from the tightening budget. This general lack of
interest was further compounded by a NATO agreement that assigned
primary responsibility for Atlantic minesweeping to our European
Mine countermeasures remained a low priority until Admiral E.R.
Zumwalt, Jr. became Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) in 1970.
Recognizing that the Navy was made up of three unions, aviation,
submarine, and surface, he made himself "...the head of the mine
warfare union to try to get an equal balance of interest within
the United States Navy in this very important field."2
Identifying the need to centralize control of air, sea, and
1Cagle and Mason, The Sea War, as quoted in T.M.Melia, "Damn
the Torpedoes", (Washington DC: Naval Historical Center,
Department of the Navy, 1991), p.79.
2Norman Polmar, "The U.S. Navy: Mine Countermeasures," U.S.
Naval Institute Proceedings, February 1979, p.117.
undersea MCM assets he established a two-star type command in
Charleston, SC and transferred both administrative and
operational control of all MCM assets, less minesweeping
helicopters, to this command. For the first time since World War
II a single officer exercised command responsibility for the
operational readiness of all MCM assets. The benefit gained by
this change was offset to a degree by Zumwalt's belief that mine
countermeasures could be more effectively conducted using
aircraft rather than surface ships. During his watch the active
surface MCM fleet was reduced from sixty-four ships in 1970 to
nine in 1974 and two active airborne MCM (AMCM) helicopter
squadrons were established.
The benefits of consolidated command were short lived as
declining budgets and higher priorities caused the new CNO,
Admiral Holloway, to again reorganize type commands. He
transferred the MCM assets back to the surface commanders and
downgraded the mine warfare command to a technical advisor/
liaison role. Not until the early 1980s, when the Reagan
administration embarked on the 600-ship Navy program, was any
serious effort made to revitalize the surface MCM fleet. Thirty-
one modern, high technology ships and new MCM systems were
programmed into the budget. Unfortunately so much time had
passed since the last MCM ship had been built that the unique
building techniques had been forgotten and had to be relearned
resulting in delays in the program.
During the 1970s and 1980s U.S. MCM forces conducted several
successful operations in such areas as the Suez Canal and Persian
Gulf as a result of third world country and terrorist actions.
The emphasis within the MCM community, however, remained focused
on the Soviet capability to mine U.S. harbors. To counter this
perceived threat and augment existing active and reserve assets
the Craft of Opportunity Program (COOP) was implemented. The
program was comprised of twenty-two units, one for each key port,
and four reserve crews per unit. The Navy's focus was clearly
directed to the potential port breakout requirement created by
the Soviet Union.
Understandably, and not without reason, this focus remained
until the late 1980s. At the time Iraq invaded Kuwait the Navy's
MCM force consisted of two active and eighteen reserve ocean
minesweepers (MSO) of 1955 vintage, three new Avenger class mine
countermeasure vessels (MCM), two active and two reserve AMCM
squadrons, two explosive ordnance disposal (EOD-MCM) detachments
and sweep gear which had not changed appreciably in twenty years.
Because these assets were directed toward U.S. port breakout they
relied heavily on the local economy for their logistics support.
As such, they were not structured to effectively participate in
long term overseas deployments. Compounding the problems
resident within the MCM community was their position in the
overall Navy hierarchy. The MCM community as a whole received
little interest or emphasis in the defense budget process;
procurement of submarines and surface combatants to counter the
Soviet blue water threat remained the top priority.
Two events have occurred in recent years that could permanently
change the manner in which the Navy views mine countermeasures
and the MCM community. The first of these events was the Persian
Gulf War. With the onset of the conflict the Navy faced a
situation that they had not encountered in nearly forty years.
For the first time since Korea the Navy was confronted with the
need to clear extensive minefields, in a hostile wartime
environment, in advance of an amphibious landing. As was the
case at Wonsan, the Navy was unable to clear the fields in
advance of the ground offensive and, as a result, approximately
24,000 Marines missed the fight of a lifetime.
The difficulties encountered off the coast of Kuwait served to
once again focus attention on the lack of effective mine counter-
measure capabilities. Not only was the amphibious landing
affected by the inability to effectively clear mines, the Navy
temporarily lost two ships as a result of mine strikes. Both of
these ships, the USS Tripoli (LPH-lO) and the USS Princeton (CG-
59), were actively engaged in the mine clearing effort at the
time they were damaged and were located in areas that were
thought to be clear.
The attention generated by the problem in the Persian Gulf was
not limited to the Department of the Navy but extended to the
Department of Defense and the U.S. Congress as well. The
embarrassment caused by the aborted amphibious landing led to
Congressional demands for improved capabilities. Representative
Charles E. Bennett, chairman of the Seapower and Strategic and
Critical Materials Subcommittee, noted:
The war in the Persian Gulf brought to the fore some
shortcomings in the mine countermeasures capabilities
of the Navy. Two particulars were noted. The ships,
helicopters, and explosive ordnance disposal teams that
comprise the mine countermeasure capability of the United
States had not trained together and were not ready to
begin coordinated operations when they arrived in the
Gulf in October of 1990; and the ability to clear mines
from shallow water and the surf zone areas in support of
an amphibious landing was very limited.3
As a result of these shortcomings, Congress required an MCM
master plan be prepared by the Navy and sought assurance from the
Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff that the plan would be adequately funded and meet military
All of the posturing and the demands for improved capabilities
might have fallen victim to the passage of time if it had not
been for the second crucial event - the collapse of the Soviet
Union. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union came the end of
the Cold War and a radical shift in the National Security
Strategy of the United States. The bi-polar threat that had been
the underpinning of both national and military strategy for forty
years gave way to a multi-polar, regional focus. This new focus
emphasizes the use of political and economic agendas, in
conjunction with military deterrence, to achieve regional and
global stability. The most recent National Military Strategy
3U.S., Congress, House, Armed Services Committee, Seapower
and Strategic and Critical Materials Subcommittee, Hearings on
H.R. 5006, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year
1993, Seapower, (Washington DC: GPO, 1992), p.85. Hereafter
cited as H.A.S.C., H.R. 5006.
also acknowledges the declining Soviet threat and has broadened
its scope to encompass four fundamental requirements of an
effective military. In this new era the military must ensure
strategic deterrence and defense, exercise forward presence in
key areas, respond effectively to crises, and retain the national
capacity to reconstitute forces should the need arise.4 It
further identifies potential regional conflicts and contingency
crisis response as the probable norm rather than the exception in
future employment of the armed forces. The military's ability to
successfully respond to crisis tasking is predicated on its
ability to enter a conflict area quickly with an appropriate
amount of force. This in turn might require an amphibious
landing that would require rapid clearing of mines as a
The likelihood of this scenario occurring is extremely high for
a variety of reasons. First, a quick review of the world's
hotspots reveals that most are accessible by sea, are in regions
that are themselves unstable, and are where the United States
does not necessarily have formal alliances. Second, with the
collapse of the Soviet Union and a growing need for hard currency
among the Confederation of Independent States, the ability to
obtain Soviet military technology has become increasingly easy
for most third world countries. Third, the relatively low cost
4U.S., Department of Defense, The Joint Chiefs of Staff,
The National Military Strategy of the United States, (Washington,
DC: N.p., 1992), pp.7-8.
of mines, when compared to the damage they can inflict or the
paralysis that they generate, makes their use highly cost
effective. While any one of these reasons is sufficient to
justify the need for an effective mine countermeasure capability,
when combined, they create an argument that cannot be ignored.
Acknowledging that the blue water threat posed by the former
Soviet Union has in large part been dissipated and that crisis
response is the watchword of the future, the U.S. Navy has been
forced to rethink its maritime strategy. The emphasis has been
shifted away from open ocean, "war at sea", campaigning to one
directed at the littoral areas of the world.5 With this new
focus has come an increased emphasis on amphibious warfare and
the ability to land troops from the sea. An obvious prerequisite
to a successful amphibious landing is the ability to successfully
clear any obstacles in the approach lanes, including mines.
With these requirements in mind, the Navy has undertaken steps
to correct the deficiencies identified during the Persian Gulf
conflict and expand the ability of the MCM force to respond to
contingency crises throughout the world. The most significant
problem identified during the Persian Gulf conflict, the lack of
adequate command and control, has been corrected. The Commander,
Mine Warfare Command, originally established by Admiral Zumwalt,
has been reinvested with the operational and administrative
command of all surface MCM forces and the operational command of
5U.S., Department of the Navy, ... From The Sea, (Washington
DC: N.p., September 1992), pp.1-2.
all AMCM helicopters and EOD-MCM forces. Working under this
command are two newly created, full-time, deployable mine group
commands that are charged with providing day-to-day oversight of
the forces. Additionally, they are charged with conducting joint
and fleet exercises to maintain readiness in support of regional
conflicts and contingency operations.
To further enhance training and readiness the Navy has proposed
consolidation of all MCM assets in a single home port along with
all the requisite maintenance infrastructure. This consolidation
of assets would allow for close oversight of all units and would
provide a coherent and coordinated focus on both training and
maintenance. The current multiple site distribution of MCM
assets does not permit such a focus. While initial consolidation
has taken place with the movement of the two group staffs and a
portion of the MSOs to bases at Corpus Christi and Ingleside,
Texas, the balance of the move has been put on hold until base
closure and budget issues are resolved.6
Another lesson learned from Desert Storm was the need for a
dedicated MCM command/support ship. As noted earlier, MCM assets
are not designed to be self supporting during long term overseas
deployments. The Naval Sea Systems Command is currently involved
in developing plans for the conversion of the USS Inchon (LPH-
12), an amphibious assault ship, to an MCM command, control, and
support (MCS) ship. The converted ship will be capable of
6Interview with LCDR Ivey Walker, Helicopter Tactical Wing
ONE, Norfolk, VA, 11 March 1993.
simultaneously supporting four mine countermeasure ships of the
Avenger and/or Osprey classes, eight MH-53E minesweeping
helicopters, and up to four EOD-MCM teams. The ship will serve
as a floating port to provide both a landing platform for the
helicopters and a resupply/repair/rest facility for the surface
Another area within the MCM community that requires attention
is the development of new countermeasure technologies. Advances
in microprocessor technology have led to the development of
intelligent mines which can identify individual ships, allowing
for friend-foe discrimination and selective strikes. Other
improvements include the ability to discriminate between sweep
gear and real ships, the shaping of ground mines to give a
deceptive sonar reflection, and mooring of mines in deep water
using lightweight cables. Initiatives to counter these new
threats have been limited at best. In an effort to offset this
technology gap funding for the research and development of new
mine warfare technologies has been drastically increased in the
past three years. The MCM program received approximately $40
million or one half of the fiscal year 1993 sea-control and
undersea superiority funding appropriation, a marked improvement
from prior year funding of nearly zero.8 From this infusion of
7Edward J. Walsh, "Minehunting Command/Control Ship Design
Begins," Sea Power, March 1993, p.39.
8John F. Morton, "Technology: Insertion is the Name of the
Game," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, March 1993, p.134.
monies new or improved technologies can be expected in virtually
every facet of both active and passive mine countermeasures.
Numerous corporations, in addition to Navy laboratories, are
actively involved in new system development. Some promising
possibilities include: 1) Westinghouse Corporation's development
of undersea vehicles for MCM application, 2) Kaman Aerospace's
development of a laser based airborne mine surveillance system,
designated Magic Lantern, that the Navy intends to field test for
possible production and, 3) EDO Corporation's concept of merging
two unique technologies, the MK 105 magnetic influence mine-
sweeping system with an air cushioned vehicle, to provide an
unmanned surface MCM vehicle. While the possibilities are
endless the funding is not. The Navy must ensure that the
research and development of new MCM technologies is not done in a
vacuum. Coordination with other Navy programs/offices, in
particular the antisubmarine warfare program, is essential to
avoid redundancy of effort and optimize scarce funding
A Navy/Marine Corps steering group has been formed to address
the critical weakness of very shallow water/surf zone mine and
obstacle clearance. This group has recognized that mine
countermeasure operations, conducted with existing capabilities,
in advance of an amphibious assault would negate the element of
surprise. To overcome this problem a far-term concept of
operations has been developed.9 This concept provides for the
development of systems that will clandestinely detect mines and
mine fields prior to the assault as well as development of systems
to sweep in stride with the assault force.
Another area that needs to be addressed, if mine countermeasure
capabilities are to be improved significantly, is intelligence.
To use a cliche, the best offense is a good defense. We must
become sensitized to the threat. We must identify and then
continuously and aggressively monitor those countries that
possess both the means and tendency to use mine warfare. Current
accurate intelligence will is absolutely essential to reducing
the threat and aiding in any future minesweeping operations.
The United States Marine Corps has more than a passing interest
in ensuring an effective mine countermeasure capability exists.
The very essence of the Marine Corps philosophy of warfighting
rests on the ability to maneuver. The concept as discussed in
FMFM-1, Warfighting, "seeks to shatter the enemy's cohesion
through a series of rapid, violent, and unexpected actions which
create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which
he cannot cope."10 The Navy's inability to rapidly and
effectively counter a mine threat severely limits the
opportunities that maneuver strives to create. While the Army's
interest is probably not as great as the Marine Corps they too
9H.A.S.C., H.R. 5006, p.104.
10FMFM 1, Warfighting, (Washington DC: Headquarters United
States Marine Corps, March 1989), p.59.
must be concerned with mine countermeasures at sea. Not only
might they be called upon to make an amphibious landing in the
future but the success or failure of the Marines could have a far
reaching impact on the conduct of any land campaign.
Has the Navy learned the mine countermeasure lesson this time
around? Are the actions being taken by the Navy sufficient to
provide a viable MCM force? The answer to the second question
is "YES", the answer to the first question will not be known
until forces are once more confronted with a mine threat.
Admiral Frank B. Kelso, Chief of Naval Operations, in testimony
before the House Armed Services Committee on April 30, 1992,
... we recognize the need to design and field mine
forces that are able to deploy in response to crisis
vice just being able to protect our own harbors. This
was obviously the case in the Gulf War, and the changes
we are making are indicative of the adjustments we are
making to a changing world.11
Few people in the Congress or the Department of Defense would
contradict this statement. However, as the defense budget
becomes increasingly constrained, the propensity to cut funds
from the mine warfare program may become overwhelming. The
Marine Corps, as the organization that will ultimately be most
affected by the success or failure of mine clearing efforts, must
become a vocal proponent of these mine warfare initiatives. They
must continually challenge the Navy to field more capable,
flexible systems, and they must not allow Congress to lose sight
11H.A.S.C., H.R. 5006, p.393.
of the need for this capability when reviewing and approving the
military budget. To fail in these efforts now will in all
likelihood result in the loss of American servicemembers in the
Brown, Major Larry K. "Mine Countermeasures and Amphibious
Operations, A Line in the Sea?" Research Paper. Naval War
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Interview with Ivey Walker, LCDR, USN, Helicopter Tactical Wing
ONE, Norfolk, VA, 11 March 1993.
Melia, Tamara Moser. "Damn the Torpedoes". Washington DC: Naval
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Jane's Defence Weekly, Vol 13 No 23 (16 June 1990), 1207.
Morton, John F. "Technology: Insertion is the Name of the Game."
U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, March 1993, pp.134-35.
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Walsh, Edward J. "Minehunting Command/Control Ship Design
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