From the earliest years of the Republic, the U.S. Navy has had a love-hate relationship with mines, long known as the “weapons that wait.” The Navy used mines offensively on only two occasions in strictly naval operations during the 45 years of the Cold War—the belated 1972 mining of North Vietnamese ports, and the mining of the northern Persian Gulf in 1991 to prevent Iraqi naval craft from leaving their bases. (Strangely enough, mines were also dropped by naval aircraft on jungle trails in Vietnam and on Iraqi airfields and bridges in 1991.)
During the Cold War, the Navy maintained a large stock of offensive mines: aerial bombs fitted with mine fuzes (Destructor), plus the highly innovative Mark 67 submarine-launched mobile mine (SLMM, adapted from the Mk 37 torpedo), and the Mk 60 CAPTOR (enCAPsulated TORpedo), a guided antisubmarine mine.
But with the end of the Cold War the Navy’s mine capabilities have atrophied. Few conventional mines remain, the CAPTORs are gone, and the SLMMs will be phased out by 2012. At that point, the Navy will have no mines capable of being launched from submarines or surface ships.