While they haven’t been used recently, the U.S. Navy is still cautious of mines in the Persian Gulf. Even though the Iranian government’s threat of mining the Strait of Hormuz is perhaps only a rhetorical tool, U.S. naval planners cannot discount it. As the U.S. Navy designs possible contingency plans for the Gulf, it must also revisit its force structure. Between minesweepers, airborne assets, and explosive-ordnance-disposal personnel, we have a very capable mine-countermeasures (MCM) force that will be radically enhanced when the littoral combat ship (LCS) reaches full operational capability. However, a complete reliance on the existing MCM force may fall short when considering the ever-present threat of an effectively placed mine. The most confounding problem of all is the simple floating mine. The real challenge in the realm of mine warfare is to find a way to counterbalance this hazard and render it obsolete. Our naval surface forces—particularly those operating independently—need an organic, self-contained, and integrated mine-queuing system that will preserve their freedom of movement even when mines are thought to be present.
Defeating the Nautical Cheap Shot
The U.S. Navy must be prepared to neutralize any floating mine, the ideal asymmetric weapon for an outmatched adversary.On 14 April 1988, while on a routine patrol, the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) was struck by a mine in the Persian Gulf. If you happened to be standing on Pier 2 at Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island, when the heavy-lift ship Mighty Servant 2 later returned the guided-missile frigate to her home port, it was evident that her crew had labored to patch her back together. Her superstructure had foot-wide gashes, and massive “wrinkles” were on both sides of her hull from the cracked keel to the main deck. It’s incredible she did not sink. Many active-duty naval personnel took note of the herculean efforts required to save the ship, but this was not merely a lesson in damage control. It was a grim reminder of the efficiency of one of the cheapest and most asymmetric weapons ever devised.
By Captain Steve J. Coughlin, U.S. Navy