Rethink Mine Countermeasures
Published in: Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute, Volume 143, Issue 7 (July 2017)
Posted on RAND.org on May 23, 2023
Naval mine countermeasures (MCM) face major challenges. Traditional MCM platforms, such as the wood-and-fiberglass Avenger (MCM-1)-class ships, are in the process of being decommissioned. Their intended replacements, the littoral combat ships (LCS) and their associated mine warfare mission modules, have been delayed and face various development issues. Despite efforts to reduce the timelines, costs, and risks associated with MCM operations, mines remain cost-imposing weapons that can deny access for protracted periods or inflict unacceptable losses on the U.S. Navy. Given these challenges, it makes sense to think about alternative concepts of operations for conducting MCM in time-sensitive circumstances or contested environments. Traditional approaches remain relevant in permissive environments where timelines are long. Such circumstances can allow for the use of minehunting systems to methodically detect, classify, and identify mines and then eliminate them. Moored minesweeping (in which tethered contact mines are torn from their moorings) and influence minesweeping (in which off-board equipment emulates the signatures of a ship to prematurely detonate influence mines) are faster, though there is greater uncertainty about whether they have eliminated all of the mines. Moreover, all these approaches require the use of scarce, visible, slow-moving assets, which would be threatened in a hostile or contested environment.The emergence of increasingly capable unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) may enable minefields to be cleared to acceptable levels of risk more quickly than traditional MCM approaches while putting fewer people and valuable assets in harm's way. The idea is simple: develop a set of inexpensive, expendable USVs that can sweep for mines while enduring high rates of attrition.