U.S. Naval Mining: The Vision and the Reality

The Vision

The U.S. Naval Mine Warfare Plan acknowledges that the sea mine remains “an exceptionally powerful and cost effective tactical weapon that deserves a prominent position within any naval arsenal” (p. 27). The sea mine is a classic low-cost force multiplier that should be especially important at a time of declining fleet size. Sea mines can be used by any country that aspires to extend its reach and influence to areas and at times where it cannot deploy a requisite force. The U.S. naval sea mining vision is (1) to develop, procure, maintain, and deploy a modern family of sea mines optimized for potential future military encounters in littoral regions and (2) to develop a comprehensive understanding of U.S. adversaries’ sea mine designs in order to successfully counter them. By revitalizing its own mining program the United States can remedy shortcomings in its current mining capability and also better understand new threat mine designs.

According to the U.S. Naval Mine Warfare Plan, in order to realize this mining vision the Navy will support the mines that are in the current inventory and also aggressively support development of new sea-mine technology and operational capabilities. In particular the Navy’s published mine warfare plan, which differs sharply from its funded programs, calls for a capability for remote control of sea mines, a standoff mining capability, and a full-water-depth mining capability. These are all required in order to mine effectively against a wide range of targets with adequate safety.

To ensure the effectiveness of future forces, the Mine Warfare Plan states that it is necessary to develop and maintain an inventory of modern weapons, integrate mining into the overall planning to shape the battlespace, and ensure the availability of a variety of delivery platforms in sufficient numbers to execute approved plans. The plan notes that during conflict, it may be necessary to protect and replenish minefields and, when hostilities have ceased, to provide for the safe, timely, and cost-effective neutralization and/or removal of mines.

The Reality

The current U.S. naval mining capability is in woefully bad shape with small inventories, old and discontinued mines, insufficient funding for maintenance of existing mines, few funded plans for future mine development (and none for acquisition), declining delivery assets, and a limited minefield planning capability in deployed battle groups. A key indicator of the decreasing U.S. Navy mine development effort is the decline in the government workforce for mine-related efforts. In 1987 about 240 mine-development person-years of effort were funded. This number decreased to 36 in 2000 and is scheduled to be zeroed in 2002. With no significant research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) program

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