Magazine article National Defense

Desire to Operate Undetected Drives Navy Anti-Mine Effort

Magazine article National Defense

Desire to Operate Undetected Drives Navy Anti-Mine Effort

Article excerpt

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. …

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