It is self-evident that the United States military has entered a new world, one marked by strategic uncertainty and the proliferation of asymmetric threats. The devastating consequences of unanticipated dangers such as improvised explosive devices stand as a stark warning of things to come.
The next asymmetric threat that may radically impact U.S. national security could well be sea mines. Sea mines have long been underestimated as a potential threat to the operations of U.S. sea-based forces. In recent years, sea mines have damaged four times the number of U.S. naval vessels as all other means combined. During the first Gulf War Iraqi minefields prevented U.S. naval forces from operating in the northern Persian Gulf. Rogue regimes can acquire advanced mines from a number of countries including Russia, China, France and Italy.
The problem is that U.S. countermine capabilities are both limited in quantity and rapidly aging. They will need to be replaced within the next decade. There is a plan to do so, one centered on the mine warfare module now being developed for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). This module will consist of nine advanced systems deployed in a series of shipping containers that can be easily transported, loaded in the LCS and swapped out for other modules. The modular approach will also allow for easy technology updates to the mine countermeasure system.
Last week, the Lexington Institute held a working group on mine warfare. This group concluded that the only way forward is for the Navy to ensure that the current mine countermeasures program remains on track. This means that stable funding must be available. It also means that the Navy needs to move expeditiously to integrate an initial capability and deploy the first-generation modules to sea. Only in this way will the Navy be able to develop the necessary concept of operations for this new capability and identify additional requirements.
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