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Modernizing the Navy’s Mine Hunting Platforms

By Maj. Gen. Christopher Owens
Director, Expeditionary Warfare (OPNAV N95)

 

Looking out on the future of the Navy’s mine warfare programs the expeditionary community faces the critical challenge of determining the best way to modernize aging mine hunting platforms. It’s an important topic that I discussed at the Mine Warfare Association’s Fall Industry Day in Arlington, VA on November 17, 2016.

NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY BAHRAIN (Aug. 4, 2014) An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter from the Laser Hawks of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 26, Detachment 2, equipped with the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) conducts flight operations. Operated from the MH-60S helicopter, ALMDS provides rapid wide-area reconnaissance and assessment of mine threats in littoral zones, confined straits, and choke points. The Laser Hawks began the operational testing and demonstration of ALMDS in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility on the system’s maiden deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean Furey/Released)
NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY BAHRAIN (Aug. 4, 2014) An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter from the Laser Hawks of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 26, Detachment 2, equipped with the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) conducts flight operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean Furey/Released)

While working in one of the Navy’s most complex warfare areas, we’re attempting to achieve a number of objectives concurrently:

  • Our primary air and surface platforms must be replaced with multi-mission platforms-in particular, littoral combat ships and the MH-60.
  • Our primary hunting, sweep and neutralization systems must be replaced with new technologies that will do the time consuming, dangerous, and dirty work.
  • We must continue to increase our clearance and confidence levels across our portfolio of mine countermeasures programs.

As the Navy plans to start retiring the remaining MCM-1 Avenger-class ships beginning in 2019, it is essential that during the transition we maintain at least the equivalent operational capability and capacity we have with legacy systems. Moving forward, we will continue to build our MCM capability to meet ever more challenging threats. The success of un-manned systems like the MK18 Mod 2 will ensure our Explosive Ordnance Disposal Sailors continue to maintain expeditionary MCM capability into the future. Moreover, the benefit of these un-manned systems extends well beyond N95 and MCM to other warfighting platforms and domains. We’re making progress toward building the future force, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.

MARINETTE, Wisconsin (July 14, 2016) The future USS Detroit (LCS 7) conducts acceptance trials. (U.S. Navy Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin-Michael Rote/Released)
MARINETTE, Wisconsin (July 14, 2016) The future USS Detroit (LCS 7) conducts acceptance trials. (U.S. Navy Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin-Michael Rote/Released)

In the short term, we continue to make progress as we declared Initial Operating Capability (IOC) for the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) and the Airborne Mine Neutrilcation System (AMNS) for the MH-60S on November 18, 2016. These first production units will be delivered to the fleet, and ready for operational employment.

In 2017, we’ll test this capability package aboard our littoral combat ships to give our Sailors the opportunity to work the package in operational environments. This will help us validate our concept of operations and tactical integration – providing system feedback that will allow us to refine software and techniques that will reduce the time needed to conduct post-mission analysis and system upkeep.

Additionally, we’ll continue to diligently test other mine countermeasures systems, including an unmanned influence sweep system, surf and beach zone detection improvements, low-frequency broadband search for buried and high-clutter mine hunting, near-surface neutralization, and advances across the unmanned systems spectrum.

ARABIAN GULF (Aug. 2, 2016) From left to right, Machinist Mate 1st Class Micah Patterson, Boatswains Mate 1st Class Stephen Wodraska, Engineman 2nd Class Richard Meyer, Mineman 1st Class Coy Tully and Mineman 3rd Class Pete Calvert, assigned to Commander, Task Group 56.1, launch a MK 18 MOD 2 unmanned underwater vehicle from a rigid-hull inflatable boat during Squadex 2016.
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ARABIAN GULF (Aug. 2, 2016) From left to right, Machinist Mate 1st Class Micah Patterson, Boatswains Mate 1st Class Stephen Wodraska, Engineman 2nd Class Richard Meyer, Mineman 1st Class Coy Tully and Mineman 3rd Class Pete Calvert, assigned to Commander, Task Group 56.1, launch a MK 18 MOD 2 unmanned underwater vehicle from a rigid-hull inflatable boat during Squadex 2016. (U.S. Navy Combat Camera photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Blake Midnight/Released)

The flexibility of our mine countermeasures mission package systems is one of our definitive strengths. Our current footprint provides overlapping capability as it’s composed of both legacy and new technologies. Above all, our future Navy mine warfare program will look to ensure that our systems will be ready when we need them, that they will be scaled to meet the mission, and can be swiftly moved to where they are needed when called upon.

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