With the advent of reliable unmanned systems, the U.S. Navy’s approach to mine countermeasures (MCM) is evolving from surface ships, helicopters, and explosive-ordnance disposal (EOD) teams—the “MCM Triad”—directly hunting and sweeping mines, to unmanned systems conducting the most hazardous phases of these operations. The reasons for this shift in MCM include (1) the proliferation of sea mines, (2) the increased sophistication of mines, and (3) the reduction of U.S. MCM forces.
The U.S. Navy’s mine-hunting and -sweeping capabilities still exist, primarily with the SQQ-32 variable-depth sonar and SLQ-48 mine-neutralization system (MNS), the latter a tethered vehicle carried by the 11 surviving Avenger-class ships, the countermeasure systems towed by the increasingly obsolescent MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters, and with EOD teams. The MH-53E helicopters and Avenger MCMs are being retired in the near future with their nominal replacement being the littoral combat ship (LCS) and the MH-60S Seahawk helicopter. In the meantime, the Navy has increased the number of EOD platoons focused on mine countermeasures from 12 to 18.