By: Scott C. Truver
U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Naval Review
Vol.147/5/1,419, May 2021
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael M. Gilday has good reason to recall the morning of 18 February 1991, during Operation Desert Storm. The USS Princeton (CG-59) was patrolling off Failaka Island in the northern Persian Gulf, with a young Gilday in the cruiser’s crew. At 0715 local time, two MN103 Manta bottom multiple-influence mines (each armed with 325 pounds of HBX explosive) fired.1
The first Manta went off directly under the warship’s port rudder, and the second some 200 yards off the starboard bow. The first cracked the superstructure, buckled the hull at three frames, jammed the port rudder, damaged the starboard propeller shaft, and flooded the number 3 switchboard room from chill-water pipe cracks, which shut down combat systems for 90 minutes—a dead-in-the-water “mission kill” that rendered missiles and guns aft inoperable and injured three crewmembers.
One lesson was that a single mine can not only ruin a skipper’s day but also affect overall strategy, planning, and operations. Almost immediately following the Princeton mine strike, the multinational coalition shelved plans to liberate Kuwait with an assault …from the sea.
Another lesson: any ship can be a mine-sweeper, once.
Four hours earlier that same day, the USS Tripoli (LPH-10) struck an Iraqi LUGM contact mine, ripping a 25’x25’ hole in her starboard hull. Ironically, Tripoli embarked aircraft of the Navy’s MH-53E airborne mine countermeasures 2 (AMCM) MH-14 helicopter squadron. The fact that the damage was limited only to several voids in the hull, skillful ship-handing kept Tripoli’s AMCM helos operating for another six days. Sometimes it is better to be lucky.
If U.S. adversaries—from China and Russia to violent extremists—can take advantage of the asymmetric value of mines, why does the U.S. Navy not incorporate this capability into strategic and operational objectives? Thirty years on, the Navy continues to relegate mine warfare—mines, mining, and mine countermeasures—to a strategic, operational, and budgetary backwater.
The 2020 tri-service maritime strategy mentions mine warfare only twice, and then in the context of “Alliances and partnerships are true force multipliers in times of crisis. Partner and ally deployments . . . also provide specialty capabilities, such as mine warfare and antisubmarine warfare.”2 “Mine warfare” in this instance is code for “mine countermeasures.”
The strategy also promises to “expand mine warfare capabilities” as components of undersea warfare, clearly a reference to mines and mining. But hope can be fickle. The last time the Navy put a new-design dedicated mine into service was 1983, and today’s U.S. mines and
mining capabilities are obsolescent, with questionable value in crises and conflicts.
Tomorrow’s naval mines/mining technologies, systems, concepts of operations, and operational planning tools look to energize these weapons that wait by what they will bring to the fight—and how they will get there. More, these initiatives and programs are even shaping our understanding of what constitutes a mine.
In the meantime, the Navy is upgrading the shallow-water Quickstrike conventional-bomb-conversion bottom mines with the state-of-the-art Mk 71 target-detection-device (TDD) firing mechanism. It senses magnetic, acoustic, seismic, and pressure signatures and can be programmed with target-processing and counter-countermeasures algorithms. The Navy’s miners now can optimize mining performance against many different targets.
A developmental 2,000-pound version of the Quickstrike-ER earned the Office of the Secretary of Defense 2020 Joint Capability Technology Demonstration program-of-the-year award. Program officials note they are also developing a propulsion pack for a power-glide version of the ER (QS-P), eventually leading perhaps to extended-extended-range, highly precision-accurate “cruise-missile mines.”
In addition to expanding aerial mining options, efforts are ongoing to expand undersea-delivered mining capabilities. The Navy is repurposing excess Mk 67 Submarine-Launched Mobile Mine (SLMM) warheads to make Clandestine Delivered Mines (CDMs) to be delivered by Orca unmanned vehicles.
Another concept envisions using networked “encapsulated effectors” similar in concept to the out-of-service Mk 60 CAPTOR (enCAPsulated TORpedo) to carry out numerous vital seabed warfare activities. The new device could also support Marine Corps expeditionary advance base operations (EABO) antisubmarine warfare efforts, as well as other offensive and defensive mining functions.3 Indeed, future U.S. mines should be important elements of expeditionary distributed 4 lethality, contributing to forward-area operational objectives and overall warfighting effects.
So, CNO: Remember your 18 February 1991 introduction to naval mine warfare. U.S. Navy mines and mining objective now must be to make America’s adversaries worry about our mines and seabed warfare systems more than their weapons concern the United States and its allies and partners.
Dr. Truver is manager, Naval and Maritime Programs, Gryphon Technologies LC. He has supported U.S. Navy mine warfare strategies, policies, programs, and operations since 1979, and is the co-author of Weapons that Wait: Mine Warfare in the U.S. Navy (Naval Institute Press 1991). An earlier version of this manuscript was published in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings/Naval Review, May 2021, Vol.147/5/1,419, “Need to Know” commentary: https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2021/may/not-your-grandfathersweapons-wai. It is used by permission of Proceedings.
1 Scott C. Truver, “Lessons from the Princeton Incident,” International Defense Review, 7/1991.
2 Advantage at Sea: Prevailing with Integrated All-domain Naval Power, December 2020, pp. 13 and 22.
3 “Tentative Manual for Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations,” Headquarters United States Marine Corps, 8 February 2021.