Any Ship can be a Minesweeper - Once.
Mine Warfare is an essential warfare capability integral to the ability of naval forces to open and maintain sea lines of communication and to dominate the littoral battlespace. Mine Warfare is not new. Some 130 years ago Admiral David Farragut became famous for "damning torpedoes" [mines] at the entrance to Mobile Bay during the Civil War. From the North Sea Mine Barrage in World War I to the mining of Japanese harbors in World War II, from Wonson in Korea to Haiphong Harbor in Vietnam, Mine Warfare has emerged as a critical element of Naval Warfare capability.
The shock effect of the North Korean mining campaign gave mine warfare an unaccustomedly high priority, both in research and in the Navy's building program. The immediate response to the emergency involved the installation of underwater search gear in a number of infantry landing craft, to permit their use as mine locators, and the conversion of four motor launches to shoal-water sweepers. But these expedients, like the many World War II minesweepers, had been largely obsoleted by the magnetic mine. Subsequent development of the mine-hunters involved the conversion of wooden-hulled YMS and the construction of wooden-hulled minesweeping boats, while the need for larger sweepers led to the construction of new non-magnetic types. Of these, three were developed: the MSO, an ocean minesweeper, 171 feet in length and of 750 tons full load displacement; the MSC, a somewhat smaller coastal minesweeper, 144 feet overall; and the MSI, a 112-foot inshore minesweeper.
The building of truly non-magnetic ships is no simple matter, involving as it does, in addition to wooden hull construction, the design and procurement of much special equipment including engines of non-magnetic stainless steel alloys. Yet, despite the complexities of the task, production was not inconsiderable. Of the MSOs, which began launching in 1952 and commissioning in the next year, more than 100 were projected, while almost 150 MSCs and about 50 inshore sweepers were planned. Such quantities, of course, were more than enough for the U.S. Navy, but the United States was now supplier to the whole free world. With the anti-Communist alliance dependent on the uninterrupted use of the seas, and with a mine threat which knew no geographical limitations, something more than half this new construction was slated for transfer, under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program, to countries along the entire maritime arc from Norway in the west through the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific and Japan.
Operation Desert Storm again highlighted the importance of Mine Warfare with the near catastrophic damage to the USS Princeton and the USS Tripoli, and with the extensive beach defenses put in place by the Iraqis along the Kuwaiti coast. In the conflicts of this century, mines have damaged or sunk more ships than all other weapons combined.
Worldwide proliferation of mines compounds this challenge. Currently, there are 49 countries possessing mining capabilities. Of these, at least 30 have demonstrated a mine production capability and 20 have attempted to export these systems. Proliferation has recently been driven by the commercialization of many former Soviet military systems---especially mines. Russia has continued to market and sell mines as part of its foreign military sales program. The People's Republic of China actively sells mines as well.
Proliferation represents a quantitative as well as a qualitative threat. Contact mines designed in 1908 can still be found in world inventories and will continue to be used simply because they are relatively inexpensive and simple to manufacture, obtain, and maintain. While their lethal range is not as great as newer mines, their mere existence poses a potential threat. Indeed, the psychological nature of the mine threat is one reason why mine warfare is so effective.
An imposing array of modern mine-countermeasures (MCM) systems continues to be developed and procured to enhance the capabilities of dedicated forces and vigorously pursue the transition to an organic MCM capability. The Navy's dedicated MCM forces, composed of active and reserve surface MCM ships, MHC ships, MCM helicopters, and explosive-ordnance-disposal divers are among the best in the world. With the addition of the MCM command-and-support ship Inchon (MCS-12), the Navy acquired a true expeditionary mine countermeasures capability.
Aggressive development of organic MCM systems for forward-deployed carrier battle groups and amphibious ready groups is under way. Focused science, technology, and developmental efforts are producing solutions to difficult mine-warfare problems. For very shallow water, the shallow-water assault breaching system (SABRE) system and the Distributed Explosive Technology net system are in development. These complementary systems are designed to defeat mines and obstacles in the difficult surf-zone region.
Contributions from organizations outside the traditional mine-warfare community are augmenting dedicated and organic MCM capabilities. For example, the Oceanographer of the Navy collects and disseminates environmental data essential to effective mine countermeasures. Mine warfare-relevant emphasis in projects dealing with MCM digital-route surveys; maintenance of a global mine-like contact database; and development of mine warfare-specific environmental databases augment the Navy's ability to rapidly assess, avoid, or neutralize the sea-mine threat.
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