Sea-based mines are a constant concern in naval warfare. Like their land-based counterparts, they offer adversaries a low-cost means of inflicting potentially catastrophic damage. To counter that, the Navy is developing several new countermeasure platforms.
One of the top global mine threats comes from China, said Seth Cropsey, director of the Center for American Seapower at the Hudson Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. It has been estimated that Beijing has as many as 100,000 such weapons.
Those "range from the old-fashioned moored contact mines... to include mines that have rocket-propelled weapons and target detection systems," he said.
In the event of a conflict with China, the United States is unlikely to approach warfare from the land, he said. "That leaves us with the seas as the place of where conflict is most likely to play out."
Beijing would likely concentrate on creating choke points in areas such as the archipelagos that separate East Asia from the Middle East and the South China Sea, he said. That means that sea control and navigating around China's anti-access and area denial capabilities will be crucial.
"It's reasonable to expect that the Chinese would use mines there, reasonable to expect that they would use mines if they decided to use force against Taiwan," he said. Moving through those straits is crucial and being able to clear them of mines is equally important, he said.
Russia would be another formidable foe, Cropsey said. Moscow likely has a larger and more varied mine warfare capability than the United States, but specific details are hard to come by in the public domain, he added.
Iran is another country that could pose a major mine warfare threat, Cropsey said. Tehran has non-magnetic and remote-controlled mines. It is also likely that it has Russian- and Chinese-built systems.
"It fits the Iranian style of warfare," he said. "It's relatively low in cost and it could be used in large numbers."
Cropsey compared it to Tehran's use of fast-moving, swarming boats. "You think of swarming boats--think of swarming mines," he added.
Despite increased threats, the Navy needs to invest more in mine warfare, Cropsey said. "Mine warfare has been a neglected child of the Navy," he said. "That didn't begin this year or last [year] or 10 years ago. It's an old, old story."
While the Navy has traditionally employed expensive, manned aircraft and ships for mine clearing, it is now working on a slew of new robotic...