Printer Friendly

Desire to Operate Undetected Drives Navy Anti-Mine Effort.

The U.S. Navy is developing a new generation of anti-mine systems featuring on-board detection, identification and neutralization capabilities for combat ships. But there is also concern within the naval scientific community that not enough effort is being devoted to the development of sea mines.

The new anti-mine systems are being designed to take over many of the functions that today are performed by dedicated mine-hunting (MHC) and sweeping (MCM) ships, which are not always available when a U.S. vessel encounters enemy mines, officials explained.

The Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) plans to invest $400 million to procure new mine countermeasures systems by 2005, these officials said.

Rear Adm. Malcolm I. Fages, director of the Navy Submarine Warfare Division (N-77), recently challenged the Navy to "deliver more than incremental improvements" in future mine countermeasures capabilities.

At last year's expeditionary warfare conference in Panama City, Fla., Fages endorsed the development of a Long-term Mine Reconnaissance System (LMRS), an unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) that can be deployed and retrieved by Los Angeles-class attack submarines.

Such a system could increase safety for the Navy's Explosive Ordnance Demolition (EOD) divers, Fages said. The LMRS, he said, represents a significant breakthrough in personnel-protection systems.

Navy Capt. John Lambert, UUV program manager, explained the concept during a recent interview. The idea, he said, is to have at least one submarine arrive early on the scene, before an amphibious assault rakes place.

"The objective is to remain clandestine, and not let an enemy know that the mine field has been discovered," he said. "[With this information], a task force then could make adjustments and travel a different route to achieve [the same] land objectives."

The LMRS would not neutralize the mines, Lambert explained. "The first time that you destroy a mine, the enemy will know that you are there," he continued. "They will know that you have found their minefield, and they could take appropriate action."

Instead, the LMRS would relay information about the minefield that it scouted to surface ships outfitted with organic anti-mine systems. Then, for instance, the AN/WLD-l Remote Minehunting System (RMS), a remote-controlled detection and navigation system, could be deployed from an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, "to locate and identify the minefield," Lambert said. "Then, [actual] clearing operations, using airborne assets, could begin."

The Navy intends to deploy the first RMS aboard the USS Pinckney (DDG-91) in 2005. The Pinckney, which will be the 41st Arleigh Burke destroyer to join the fleet, is to be named in honor of World War II-era sailor William Pinckney, an African-American cook's assistant, who won the Navy Cross for courage under fire during the Santa Cruz Islands campaign.

With submarines serving in a reconnaissance role, it would be possible to go in "two or three months ahead of time," Lambert said. "A submarine could be left on station for reconnaissance purposes while mine-clearing continues. This would allow for identification of any re-deployed mines, in the event that should occur."

One problem with using surface ships to hunt and sweep mines ahead of time is that their presence would "tip your hand to the enemy," Lambert said. "This act, in itself, would commit your amphibious forces."

The LMRS may be closer to the acquisition and deployment stage than the other organic systems, Lambert said. Program officials estimate that the acquisition process will start in 2004.

The LMRS comes equipped with high-density, long-duration batteries that should enable the UUV "to do what we need it to do, without constantly swapping-out batteries," he said. Baseline requirements for the LMRS call for rechargeable batteries for vehicles used in testing and training exercises, Lambert indicated. "If need be, we could take these with us and use them," he added.

Airborne Assets

Current plans call for additional, organic mine-defense systems to appear in the fleet beginning about 2005, officials estimated.

Early this year, the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS)--which is designed to locate, detect and classify floating and near-surface, moored mines--may reach the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) program stage, program officials stated.

A critical design review is planned for the AN/AQS-20 Airborne Mine Hunting Sonar, a helicopter-towed, high-speed reconnaissance mine hunter that can detect, locate and classify unburied, bottom, close-tethered and moored mines in both shallow and deep water. This system is being designed first for the MH-53E helicopter, the current Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM) workhorse.

Another version of the same system, the AN/AQS-20X, is being developed simultaneously for the CH-60S helicopter that eventually will replace the MH-53Es.

Additionally, the AQS/20 will share an integrated sensing system with the RMS, which subsequently will be linked with an undersea-warfare platform on an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, explained Douglas Gaarde, deputy program manager for surface mine-warfare systems.

"The more integrated commonality that you have between your different systems, the better," he said.

The Organic Airborne and Surface Influence Sweep (OASIS), a combination high-speed, magnetic, acoustic-influence sweep system, also will be reviewed early this year. A Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System (RAMICS), which uses a Gatling gun for mine-clearing operations, is being prepared for risk-reduction tests, officials said.

To save money, said officials, RAMICS developers employed 20mm, laser-controlled ammunition, which the Navy already had on hand, to conduct its capability test. Once this rapid, mine-clearing platform is deployed, it will feature 30mm, laser-guided shells, which are still in development.

This laser round is a so-called "super-cavitating" projectile that can travel a distance through water and still have enough power to penetrate the outer casing of a mine and destroy it. The laser-guidance system not only targets a mine, but also provides aiming coordinates for the gun's fire-control system.

OASIS, designed for use in shallow water situations, is a money saver, because it can be used by both air and surface forces," Gaarde said. "OASIS is especially good for coastal mine hunting."

Airborne units will continue to support anti-mine legacy units through the first decade of the 21st century, said Henry Sheetz, acting program manager for airborne mine defense. "By then, some of the 53Es will start to be grounded, because they will reach the end of their service life," he explained.

The Navy is shifting to the CH-60S, because it is a smaller, less expensive aircraft, with a more advanced electronics suite, and it can work off of smaller surface ships, said Sheetz. "The 60S doesn't need a big deck ship like the MCS [USS Inchon mine countermeasures support ship] to operate," he added.

Anytime there is a change in weapons platforms, there is a transition period that has to be taken into account, officials explained. New systems also mean new tactics and training programs to get sailors up to speed.

While the timing of transitions is critically important, it is also difficult to coordinate, because of differences in research and development schedules for various programs, officials continued. This is especially true when trying to mix new systems with the old systems, they noted.

Coordinating the research and development activity of organic anti-mine systems has reduced duplication, officials explained.

The challenge, officials said, is to find the right mix between new organic systems and existing assets, such as the current fleet of coastal mine hunters, sweepers, MH-53E helicopters and the Inchon.

Gaarde said that dedicated forces always would be needed in one form or another. "Even though the size of the fleet likely will be reduced, it is important to understand the definite purpose for which each system was originally created. There will always be a requirement for dedicated mine sweepers and hunters."

There has been a concerted effort, in some quarters of the mine defense community, to protect dedicated forces, Gaarde observed. On the other hand, he noted: "There were some [other] people who said, 'Look at what we can save by doing away with dedicated forces."'

The final decision about when and how much to reduce the current dedicated mine defense fleet will be made by the Department of the Navy's top leadership. Meanwhile, Gaarde insisted that he has not seen any projected ship reduction plans. "Whatever you've got, you will use it until it crumbles to the ground."

Modernization of the legacy fleet is still taking place, officials said. As organic anti-mine systems mature, they will be placed on ships to lessen reliance on dedicated mine defenses.

"Hunt when you can, sweep when you must," Gaarde remarked. Minehunting is a slow, tedious process, he explained. Even though there is a high clearance rate, a mine hunter must slow down.

After mines have been located and identified, "it takes 45 minutes to deploy a mine-neutralization vehicle," he explained. It takes time to neutralize the mines and then retrieve the vehicle.

"Three-knots is your speed while you're moving," Gaarde said. Often, he added, you are not moving. "Once mines have been located, the ship has to be maneuvered into position [to perform its tasks]."

Sweeping, on the other hand, is a more "brute-force approach," he noted. This is where helicopters come into play. "They are much faster than ships and are effective against both acoustic and magnetic mines, which then are actuated."

Newer mines have countermeasure-discrimination capability, Gaarde said. "For instance, they can tell when they are being swept, as opposed to sensing the signature of an actual ship."

Sometimes, newer models are equipped with counters that allow as many as 10 passes before they explode, Gaarde explained.

The mine warfare area where there is practically no current development is in laying sea mines, officials agreed. "Sea-mining capability is being allowed to atrophy," said Jim Thomsen, a civilian who heads the Coastal Warfare Department at the Navy Coastal Systems Station in Panama City, Fla.

"If funding doesn't come up in the next couple of years, you may as well turn the lights out on the whole thing. The greatest navy in the world isn't putting much money or brainpower into [actual] mining."
COPYRIGHT 2001 National Defense Industrial Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Willingham, Stephen
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2001
Previous Article:Adapting Video Games For Military Applicatons.
Next Article:Non-Lethal Rounds Tough to ass Produce.

Related Articles
Navy Mine Warfare Blueprint Proffers 'Innovator's Dilemma'.
Navy to 'Mainstream' Mine Warfare Within Five Years.
Bases more aware of threats, still vulnerable: despite a series of blue-ribbon reports, security policies continue to evolve.
Navy keeps mine-warfare options open: budget cuts and ongoing changes in concept of operations slow down programs.
Anti-submarine warfare moving to the forefront.
Cost of Littoral Combat Ship questioned.
Navy tests coastal warfare systems aboard new Catamaran.
Diesel submarines becoming a main irritant to U.S. Navy.
Underwater: mines, improvided explosives. a threat to global commerce?

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters