largely unregulated sale of sea mines by friends and third parties (e.g., Italy, Sweden, Russia) is contributing directly to this growing threat.

During the Cold War, U.S. naval forces concentrated on guarding against the sophisticated Soviet blue-water, air, and undersea threats. Yet since World War II, U.S. naval forces have suffered significantly more physical damage and operational interference from sea mines than from air, missile, and submarine attacks: 14 U.S. Navy ships have been sunk or damaged by mines, whereas only 2 have been damaged by missile or air attack (see Chapter 1). Because of the low cost and wide availability of modern sea mines, their importance as a threat to shipping and naval force operations is growing rapidly. The threat of air, missile, and submarine attack, while also important, is posed by a much smaller number of countries and nonstate forces than is the threat of mines.

The need for U.S. naval forces to maneuver and project power in the world’s littorals is also increasing. Yet U.S. naval forces are not now likely to be able to adequately handle the plausible near-term threat of mines either offshore or inshore. Looking ahead, the Navy’s planned mine warfare improvement programs have major shortcomings that need to be addressed now if current risks are to be reduced rather than permitted to continue to grow. In addition, modern sea mines could provide the United States with critically important capabilities that will not be available under current plans.

This report is the latest in a long series of reports by the Naval Studies Board of the National Research Council and by other organizations pointing out that the Navy has assigned inordinately low importance to mine warfare. Based on the committee’s review of previous reports and the knowledge and experience of many of its members, it seems clear that the Navy’s relative inattention to mine warfare is a natural legacy of its historical focus on blue-water operations, from the battleship Navy prior to World War II through the postwar deep-water carrier/ nuclear-powered attack submarine Navy—a focus that was diverted toward near-shore operations only sporadically during the 20th century (except during World War II).

The committee notes that the official Navy focus has been shifting landward since the demise of the Soviet threat. Experience in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Taiwan Strait, Sea of Japan, and elsewhere has coalesced under the general organizing principle of “Forward…From the Sea.”4 One natural outcome of this decade-long shift of focus has been the beginning of work on the organic mine countermeasures systems described in Chapter 4. Another desired outcome would be the assignment of higher priority to improving the nation’s ability to conduct naval mine warfare operations. It is for this reason that the committee


Department of the Navy. 1994. “Forward…From the Sea, Continuing the Preparation of the Naval Services for the 21st Century,” U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., September 19.

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