While the Army has spent tens of billions of dollars to counter the dangers posed by land mines and improvised explosive devices, the U.S. Navy has done relatively little against sea mines. In the first Gulf War, Iraqi sea mines damaged two major surface combatants. Iran has an inventory of tens of thousands of sea mines, some very sophisticated. Building an improvised sea mine is very easy. Yet the answer from senior mine warfare officials is that, if possible, they will “avoid those areas where the mines are deployed.” Like the Straits of Hormuz through which pass forty percent of the world’s oil supply?
Current countermine capabilities are rapidly obsolescing. The Navy plans to make the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) with its special anti-mine warfare module the backbone. One problem is that the LCS has been delayed. Another is that the Navy will not have enough modules of any type to allow for a rapid response to a changing threat.
The Navy needs to look at ways of accelerating the development of countermine capabilities and expanding their potential deployments. For example, airborne mine countermeasure systems can be deployed on many classes of surface ships, not just the LCS. Also, if the Navy wants to avoid a crisis like that which confronted the Army in Iraq, it needs to put more resources against the threat of sea mines.
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