Archive for the 'Hard Power' Category

MatrixBluePillRedPillWhen you’ve worked on a problem for a long time and cannot make progress in a direction that is in your favor, and the harder you work the more on the problem the more difficult it becomes – then perhaps it is time to look for fresh ideas and perspectives.

There is a good chance that you have identified both the problem and the possible solution incorrectly.

In this case, let’s look at Syria and Iraq through Part 1 of an exceptional bit of work by the pseudonymous Cyrus Mahboubian over at WarOnTheRocks. The whole article deserves a thorough reading and covers both Iraq and Syria, but let’s just look at the Syria portion.

Why just Syria? Mostly because is aligns well a topic I’ve covered both here and my homeblog; outside the Kurds (who have no desire to take control of the national government), we are backing the wrong people for the wrong reasons. In a lineup of bad actors, some are less bad for strategic national interests as others, that is just a face. If you must choose – and there is always the option not to – then just make sure you pick for the right reasons. In the case of Syria, that is Assad.

Though the author does not directly address the Russians, we have also been ill-served by our kneejerk reaction that if the Russians support X, then we must oppose X. X, of course, is radical Sunni Islamism in Syria that is threatening Assad’s government. ISIS is just one of those groups – but we’ve already covered this in prior posts. Let’s get back to Mahboubian.

The best part of his article? He smashes a lot of talking points about the Shia/Sunni divide in Syria. Agree or disagree, but you have to consider his facts next time someone trots out the usual tropes;

Sunnis are heavily represented at all levels of leadership in Assad’s government. The territory it controls at this point in the war and at all points past is majority Sunni. And the Syrian armed forces are still majority Sunni. Alawites may be overrepresented in the security forces, but all that means is that they get to die more than others. It if it is an “Alawite regime,” isn’t it odd that includes and benefits so many non-Alawites?

Some American analysts have accepted the shrill claims of those who purport to represent the Sunni Arab world, such as Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir. They have accepted the sectarian victimization narrative as articulated by Syrian insurgents and their spokesmen — as if these voices represented the majority of Syrian people or even most Syrian Sunnis. …The Saudis’ only appeal to other Arabs is the money they have to offer. The Syrian rebel spokesmen represent only a fraction of Syrian Sunnis. The self-appointed Iraqi Sunni leaders control neither men nor territory. The United States is listening to the wrong Sunnis. When President Obama or Gen. David Petraeus or others repeat the myths of disenfranchisement these voices propagate, they reinforce and legitimize a dangerous sectarian narrative that should instead be countered.

The alternative ideology to the self-proclaimed Islamic State, whether in the Middle East, in Europe’s slums, or the former Soviet Union, is not to promote a Sunni identity — what the Bush administration pursued with its mantra of “moderate Sunni allies.” Instead, a counter-ideology should promote citizenship and secular states. This is the model that the West helped destroy in Egypt after Gamal Abdel Nasser died and the model it is currently destroying in Syria.

We have all seen the photos of Cairo University as it has regressed through the last few decades, as just an example. Only a trend back towards secularism in the region is in our national interest in this part of the world – if that is even possible. By joining in with the sectarian mindset – are we not just feeding the beast that is after our throat?

In Syria, a majority-Sunni military force exists. It represents the only national institution remaining in a state that does not make nearly as many sectarian distinctions as its opponents seem to think. Yes, I am talking about the Syrian armed forces. The majority of Syria’s state employees, government officials, and soldiers are Sunni, even today. The majority of the still-powerful urban capitalist class is Sunni. As someone who has been been interacting with people on every side of the civil war for its entire duration, I have learned that even some of Assad’s top security chiefs are Sunni, such as Ali Mamluk, the head of national security who supervises the other security agencies. Colonel Khaled Muhamad, a Sunni from Daraa, is in charge of securing Damascus for the feared Department 40 of the Internal Security. Deeb Zeitun, the head of state security, and Muhamad Rahmun, the head of political security, are both Sunni, as are the head of foreign intelligence, the minister of defense, senior officers in air force intelligence, the minister of interior, the head of the ruling Baath party, the majority of Baath party leaders, and the president of the parliament. The commander of the National Defense Forces (N.D.F.) in Daraa is a Sunni man of Palestinian origin. The commanders of the N.D.F. in Quneitra, Raqqa, and Aleppo are likewise Sunnis. One of the regime’s leading anti-ISIL fighters who receives support from all regime security branches is Muhana al Fayad. He leads the large Busaraya tribe between the Derezzor and Hassake areas and is also a member of parliament. Even some pilots dropping barrel bombs on insurgent-held communities are Sunni. Many heads of military intelligence branches are also Sunni.

All may not quite be what many believe in Syria and Iraq.

Poor data feeds bad advice. Bad advice informs bad policy. Bad policy brings about bad results.

I look forward to Part-2.



Please join us for a live show at 5pm EDT (US) on 14 August 2016 for Midrats Episode 345: Fisheries as a Strategic Maritime Resource

We live in a crowded world with limited resources. What happens when this meets modern technology’s ability to shorten the time/distance equation and increase the ability to know of what lies below the waves?

What complications do we fine when the above two points meet up with the eternal search by growing nations to reach for the seas to support their homeland’s growing needs?

As populations demand more protein in their diets as per capita incomes rise, many nations see the open seas as the best place to fill that demand. With more competing for shrinking resources, can fishing be seen as a security threat? How does it impact coastal states’ economic, food, and environmental security? What are the roles of transnational organized crime and state power in this competition. Is international law being strengthened to meet this challenge, or is the challenge undermining the rule of law? More than last century’s quaint “Cod Wars,” does this have the potential trigger to broader, more serious conflict?

Our guest to discuss this and more will be Scott Cheney-Peters, LT, USNR.


Scott serves as a civil servant on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations, and is the founder of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC).

Scott’s active duty service at sea included the USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS Oak Hill (LSD 41). His shore duty before leaving active service was in Washington, DC, where he served as the editor of Surface Warfare magazine.

Scott graduated from Georgetown University with a B.A. in English and Government and holds an M.A. in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College. Scott researches issues affecting Asian maritime security and national security applications of emerging technology.

Join us live if you can (or pick the show up later) by clicking here. You can also pick the show up later (along with previous epsiodes) from our iTunes page here or from our Stitcher page here.



3375151904The American people have lost their belief in and desire to participate in the soft-empire concepts of the last decade and a half.

During the Bush the Younger Administration, there was a lot of blood, treasure, and professional reputations invested in nation building; a right of center interventionist idea repackaged from the previous century as a quasi-modernized move to make the Middle East safe for democracy. To be sure there were other reasons wrapped in with it – but in soft focus the promoted vision was nation building as a way to bring a more peaceful world from the Hindu Kush to the Atlas Mountains.

After eight years of that, we moved to a new era with its most modern roots set in the experiences of Rwanda and sub-Saharan Africa; the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) of the left of center interventionist world view. Though mostly lost in the septic byproduct from the Arab Spring from Libya to Syria, the proponents of R2P are still in positions of power and have yet to disavow this line of thinking. The last significant appearances of it were in the 2011 and 2013 attempts in the UN to intervene in Syria’s civil war.

As concepts in the soft-empire of a humanitarian, well-meaning bent, they have one thing in common; they both rely on the application of military power to effect changes in national governments to better meet the perceived desires of nation-building and R2P’s proponents. Call it soft-empire or neo-imperialism, but that is what it represents when you boil it down.

They share another goal; woven inside both of them are a desire to create conditions and influence people in such a way to decrease the threat of terrorism against our nation and its allies. Has it worked? That is subject to debate. What isn’t subject to as much debate is that the American electorate does not seem to be willing to support either.

Is there another way? Is there an approach that works to mitigating the threat from terrorist organizations in ungoverned spaces or failed countries? There is. It doesn’t involve forward deploying tens to hundreds of thousands of people. It does not involve occupying foreign territory (at least long term). It doesn’t involve attempting to force a system of government on a hostile host.

What it does require is a hard, cold, realist view of the world and human nature. It requires a willingness to be clear and unblinking in the use of force. Not generalized violence – but specific, harsh, and unflinching.

The nation that is having success against terrorism is much smaller, but the threat its survival is greater. We cannot adopt their strategy in full as our requirements are different – but is there something to learn?

Right now, our greatest terror threat is the Islamic State, AKA ISIS, ISIL, etc. We say that we want to destroy it, but we seem to be trying to do it on the cheap with a lot of aspiration and hope in others – not quite a successful formula for success, historically.

If we do not want to fight harder with more blood and treasure, can we help guide the tides of history a bit in our favor by looking around at success others have had with fewer resources?

Let’s look at what a nation even more hated by its enemies than ours is doing; Israel.

Via Graham Allison at The National Interest;

The insistence on the “destruction” of ISIS has become such a reflexive linchpin of America’s counterterrorism project that few pause to consider its strategic merit. But the nation with arguably the most experience and success combatting terrorism has considered it—and found it wanting.
…the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has rejected the option of taking the fight directly to ISIS. Instead, faced with an operational threat that could mean the death of hundreds of Israelis at any moment, it has embraced a strategy that has not even been on the U.S. policy menu. Adopting a page from the playbook the United States used to defeat revolutionary Soviet-led communism in the Cold War, Israel is preventing ISIS attacks through a strategy of patient, vigilant deterrence. Obviously, the United States cannot simply adopt the Israeli approach whole cloth. It operates in a different security environment than the Jewish state, which faces a multiplicity of terrorist threats on its borders. But there are important lessons that America can learn to enhance its national security.
…As Cold War strategists learned, making this work in practice is demanding. To be effective, deterrence requires three Cs: clarity, capability and credibility. Specifically, this means clarity about the red line that cannot be crossed, communicated in language the adversary understands; capability to impose costs that greatly exceed the benefits; and credibility about the willingness to do so. Failures occur when the deterrer falls short on any one of the three Cs. So, if I draw a red line, you cross it, and I respond with words rather than the decisive punishment threatened, I fail the third C. Whatever excuse I give for not executing my threat, and however earnest my claim that next time will be different, the blunt fact is that adversaries will find my threats less credible.

If that were not enough, as the great nuclear strategist Thomas Schelling taught us, successful deterrence requires more than just a threat. The flip side of the deterrence coin is an equivalent promise: if you refrain from the prohibited action, I will withhold the threatened punishment. If, for whatever reason, I decide to administer the specified punishment even though you have complied with my demands, I spend that coin—and can no longer use that threat to deter you.
…The American counterterrorism debate has largely ignored Israeli calculus. Washington is generally averse to learning from others, and Israel’s security establishment, until recently, was reticent about revealing its thinking. That changed last August when, for the first time in the IDF’s history, Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot published an unclassified version of the IDF defense doctrine. But because the document appeared only in Hebrew, it has remained largely unknown in the American strategic community. To make it accessible, Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs recently posted an English translation of the document.

Read it all, and to add a little more depth to your understanding of the Israeli position, I would recommend Adarsh Aravind’s article over at Foreign Policy News;

The percentage of Israelis killed due to terrorist activities is higher than in any other democracy in the world. …The primary goal of Israel’s counter-terrorism strategy is to destabilize the terror groups and prevent them from jeopardizing its national security (and) to prevent terrorists from influencing the national agenda and preserve the psychological resilience of the civilian population. … Over these years, Israel has learned that unlike conventional warfare, terrorism is a tenacious phenomenon and a decisive victory over it is uneasy. When one boulevard of attack is blocked, the terrorist will find another one.

We have not reached Western Europe’s regular terrorist attack rhythm yet, but we have had more in the last few years than before. If we as a nation no longer wish to fight them “over there,” then we should look at what we can do to stop having too much to fight them here. Looking at Israel’s Strategic, Operational, and Tactical successes will be helpful.

It also will require the Political level to do its job. That, ultimately, will be the most difficult part, as without that – nothing else will work.



Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 17 July 2016 for Midrats Episode 341 “Russia in 2016 with Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg

From the sacking of the Baltic Fleet leadership, fighting in Syria, to developments from Central Asia to the Pacific – Russia in 2016 is on the move.

To discuss the who, what, where, and why of Russia in 2016, our guest for the full hour will be Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg, Senior Analyst, CNA Strategic Studies, an Associate at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, an author, and host of the Russian Military Reform blog.

Dr. Gorenburg focuses his research on security issues in the former Soviet Union, Russian military reform, Russian foreign policy, ethnic politics and identity, and Russian regional politics. He is also the editor of the journals Problems of Post-Communism and Russian Politics and Law and a Fellow of the Truman National Security Project. From 2005 through 2010, he was the Executive Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here or later by visiting our iTunes or Stitcher pages.



Please join us at 5pm EDT on 10 July 2016 for Midrats Episode 340: China’s Maritime Militia with Andrew Erickson

As China continues to slowly use a variety of tools to claim portions of her maritime near-abroad in the South China Sea and elsewhere, part of their effort includes what can almost be considered naval irregular forces – a Maritime Militia.

What is China doing with these assets, why are they being used, and what could we expect going forward as she taps in to a variety of assets to attempt to establish her authority?

Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be Dr. Andrew S. Erickson.

Dr. Erickson is Professor of Strategy at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC)’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI). Since 2008 he has been an Associate in Research at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, and is an expert contributor to the Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time Report, for which he has authored or coauthored thirty-seven articles.

He received his Ph.D. and M.A. in international relations and comparative politics from Princeton University and graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College with a B.A. in history and political science. He has studied Mandarin in the Princeton in Beijing program at Beijing Normal University’s College of Chinese Language and Culture; and Japanese language, politics, and economics in the year-long Associated Kyoto Program at Doshisha University. Erickson previously worked for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) as a Chinese translator and technical analyst. He gained early experience working briefly at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong, the U.S. Senate, and the White House. Proficient in Mandarin Chinese and conversant in Japanese, he has traveled extensively in Asia and has lived in China, Japan, and Korea.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also pick the show up later by visiting our iTunes page or at our Stitcher page.



Please join us on 26 June 2016 at 5pm EDT for Midrats Episode 338: Trans-national terrorism and the Long War with Bill Roggio

When the BREXIT dust settles one thing will remain – the Long War against Islamic terrorists.

In a wide arch along its bloody edge, Islamic extremism continues to look for new opportunities for expansion, and within the borders of Dar al-Islam seeks to impose a retrograde view of Islam by destroying religious minorities, secular governments, and Islamic modernizers.

This Sunday returning guest Bill Roggio will be with us for the full hour to discuss this and more. Bill is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, President of Public Multimedia Inc, a non-profit news organization; and the founder and Editor of The Long War Journal, a news site devoted to covering the war on terror. He has embedded with the US and the Iraqi military six times from 2005-08, and with the Canadian Army in Afghanistan in 2006. Bill served in the US Army and New Jersey National Guard from 1991-97.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or pick the show up later from out iTunes page here or from Stitcher here.



U.S. B-52 Bomber laying and exercise mine during BALTOPS 2016

U.S. B-52 Bomber laying and exercise mine during BALTOPS 2016

“In the context of the Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) challenge, does what we are seeing unfolding with BALTOPS represent a credible, operational scenario, really?” Mr. Nick Childs, of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, asked me this question last week in a phone interview via satellite while on board USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20), the command ship for BALTOPS 2016. Great question! To answer it, you have to consider the elements of an adversary’s A2/AD strategy.

First of all, it is easier to keep someone out of an area in the maritime domain than it is gain access. The proliferation of asymmetric weapons systems, easily obtainable on the open arms market, exacerbate the problem. An A2/AD network may consist of a series of radars situated along a coastline to provide early warning and cueing to a variety of anti-ship cruise missiles with ranges far exceeding recognized territorial limits of 12 nautical miles. Likewise, we have seen a rise in asymmetric weapons systems such as diesel electric submarines, unmanned underwater vehicles, and “smart” mines that pose a significant and unseen threat in the underwater domain.

Positions of mines laid in WWI and WWII in the Gulf of Finland

Positions of mines laid in WWI and WWII in the Gulf of Finland

To get to at least one aspect of Nick’s question in the time allotted, I chose to focus on the proliferation of the mines as a pillar of A2/AD. I was reminded of a recent post in this venue by MNCS Jacob Mazurek: “Ten Mining Campaigns That Shaped Mine Warfare.”

In his piece, Senior Chief Mazurek states: “History tells a different story about naval mine warfare. When naval powers fight, mines can be a game changer. They can keep enemy warships locked in port, they can restrict an enemy’s movements, and they can destroy an enemy’s shipping. When the enemy depends on the sea for supplies, mines can be used to choke their industry and to drive them out of a war.” That is truly the essence of an A2/AD strategy.

While the threat of mines at sea may seem far, far away to the general public, the fact is that the danger is actually very close. In fact, right here in the Baltic Sea, there exists a host of historic minefields from World War I and World War II. Naval mining can happen everywhere from rivers to deep water, and in all kinds of environments. Should the enemy succeed in laying a major minefield, mine countermeasure (MCM) forces can expect to work for months or years clearing mines. In the course of long, dangerous operations, ships will be lost and the job will become much harder.

Suspected WWII Bottom Mine found south of Uto, Sweden, by Royal Norwegian Navy minesweeper HNOMS Otra (M351) during BALTOPS 2016

Suspected WWII Bottom Mine found south of Uto, Sweden, by Royal Norwegian Navy minesweeper HNOMS Otra (M351) during BALTOPS 2016

While practicing to deter future conflicts, the mine countermeasures portion of the BALTOPS has had the opportunity to clear both exercise and actual historic ordnance—real threats that are here right now. During a portion of BALTOPS 16, meant to simulate the clearing of a beach before an amphibious landing, German, Norwegian, and Estonian MCM units not only found the dummy mines intentionally laid for training, but also real-world historic unexploded ordnance including aircraft bombs, old maritime mines, an anti-submarine depth charge, and a torpedo.

Photos show that the weapons have remained largely intact for the better part of a century—a German commander joked that he immediately recognized the fine engineering of his countrymen from a different era. The observation articulates the progress we’ve made with allies and partners over the last six decades and displays ideals inherent in NATO. Now former belligerents are working together as Allies and Partners to dismantle the mines laid by both sides of past wars, practicing skills that will ensure the communication lanes are open for all in the Baltic Sea.

During BALTOPS 2016, 15 mine counter measure ships from 13 nations (Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States) maneuvered in close formation near command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20).

During BALTOPS 2016, 15 mine counter measure ships from 13 nations (Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States) maneuvered in close formation near command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20).

There is a saying in the mine warfare community: “Our wake is the fleet’s path . . .” MCM operations during BALTOPS 16 are no different. 15 MCM ships from 11 countries with over 700 sailors have worked diligently over the course of the first phase of this exercise to clear approximately 40 square nautical miles of water space leading up to planned large-scale amphibious operations. Clearing the path of mines is a critical precursor to mitigate risk of any naval operation, exercise or otherwise. We used some dummy mines in the simulation, but for the mine countermeasure vessels, this isn’t just an exercise…the consequences of overlooking historical ordinance could be very real indeed.

Mines are also an economic weapon. Often their desired effect is multi-faceted and not only the destruction or disabling of warships, but also the disruption of commercial shipping. NATO has been down this road before. During the 2011 Libya campaign, Gaddafi’s special forces sewed four mines in the approaches to the port of Misurata and closed the besieged city to humanitarian aid for two weeks as NATO mustered the right capability to eradicate the threat.

The technique was not sophisticated. The Libyans had no mine laying ship. They simply floated the Cold War era mines into position inside Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBS) and then the frogmen slashed the sides of the hulls to sink the boats and deploy the mines.

Libyan mines from 2011. Note the shape of the RHIB as sinks while deploying the anchor of the mine in the approach to Misurata. Archive photo by VADM James Foggo

Libyan mines from 2011. Note the shape of the RHIB as sinks while deploying the anchor of the mine in the approach to Misurata. Archive photos by VADM James Foggo

Now multiply those four mines by 2,500 and you have an idea of the known historical ordnance that remains in Baltic waters. Imagine what those four mines could do if placed somewhere like the Straits of Hormuz or Malacca or the Danish Straits and you get a sense of how integral BALTOPS MCM training is in defeating A2/AD strategies.

Mines protect coastlines and often fit into a country’s greater scheme of maritime defense in order to deny access to or control a region. Repeatedly, history has proven that due to their low cost, high availability, and deadly outcomes, mines are effective force multipliers and battle space shapers. Mine warfare has progressed significantly from the simplest contact mines; modern mines use acoustic, magnetic, and pressure sensors and can fire rockets or torpedoes against ships or submarines. Any future naval war will involve maritime mines. Minesweeping goes back to the basic functions of the Navy: keeping the sea lanes of communication open. It is my view that, as an Alliance, we cannot let the skills of mine warfare atrophy or it will be at our own peril.

For Minemen, it is not enough to have a myopic perspective on their warfare area. They must operate in conjunction with each phase of an operation. During BALTOPS, MCM is in lock-step with amphibious and surface warfare operations. Among the different disciplines, though, Mine Countermeasures is an underestimated warfare area. Within most navies around the world, mine warfare is a specialized career path, often undermanned. Mine countermeasure vessels are smaller and often overshadowed by their larger surface counterparts. The substantial MCM footprint at BALTOPS 2016 bucks this trend, representing the third biggest task group in the exercise. MCM must remain a critical element in our planning for any contingency operations worldwide.

MCM is an excellent example of how we are stronger together. By combining resources and dividing responsibilities the BALTOPS flotilla has been exponentially more effective than each unit would have been alone. Together, differences in expertise and budget difficulties are overcome, a simple but powerful example of the strength of the NATO Alliance and Partnerships.

A United Kingdom HUNT Class ship conducting a controlled underwater explosion southwest of Bornholm, Denmark, during BALTOPS 2015

A United Kingdom Hunt-class ship conducting a controlled underwater explosion southwest of Bornholm, Denmark, during BALTOPS 2015

The Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One (SNMCMG-1) has been operating in these waters since its inception in 1973. As an example of the effectiveness of NATO MCM efforts in the Baltic, during the international NATO maneuver Open Spirit 2015, in which SNMCMG-1 participated, 172 mines were found and 38 countermined.

There work has continued as part of BALTOPS. I recently observed a demonstration of the MCM capabilities led by SNMCMG-1 and was blown away. The capabilities these ships bring to the fight are incredible—ships that practically hover over the water to reduce their pressure signature, unmanned drones as large as a small ship under computer control, electronic arrays, robots that can set underwater charges. The technology is being put to good use. When an officer of Danish command operating mine-hunting Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) was asked how often his ships found historical ordnance the answer was “every time we go out.”



In an earlier essay , I described how technology will make the future littoral environment even more dangerous and increase the power and reach of smaller ships and shore batteries. I described the need to test and develop flotillas of combat corvettes and other craft and proposed a few platforms currently being built in the United States for use in this experimentation. My article continues the argument originally made by Vice Admiral Cebrowski and Captain Wayne Hughes in their path setting article on the Streetfighter concept. However, successful combat in the littoral environment will have to be a team sport. Fortunately, we have the US Navy and Marine Corps team who can execute this mission, if enabled to develop new capabilities and doctrine to employ them.

This paper is not an argument to kill the Liberty or Freedom class LCS/FF. It is offered for cost and capabilities comparison purposes only as the actual cost data is not for public release. The LCS is a capable mother ship for the operation of other smaller platforms, particularly helicopters. Further the LCS is a cost effective platform for open ocean anti-submarine warfare the corvettes we shall discuss here described here cannot do. We have much more work to do in fully exploring the applications of the LCS/FF.

The United States and her allies require capabilities and doctrines to operate in the littorals to provide on scene presence in areas of controversy such as the South China Seas. By being present we can shape the environment and prevent competitors from achieving effective control using salami slicing tactics and intimidation. If tensions arise to the point of requiring deterrence such forces can provide considerable numbers and resilience as to force an opponent to have to make a serious effort to remove the flotilla supporting littoral outposts. This will reduce the urge for “Use ‘em or Lose ‘em” scenarios which can rapidly escalate. If deterrence fails, these combined forces will pack a considerable punch and contest, if not remove, sea control. Over time such forces operating together could create their own Anti-Access/Area Denial (AA/AD) zone (creating a “No Man’s Sea” where both sides’ zones overlap), gradually advance our own zones and then peel away an opponent’s AA/AD zones.

A truism illustrated in the book The Culture of Military Innovation by Dima Adamsky is genuine revolutions in military affairs do not usually arise out of incremental improvements but in taking new capabilities and systems and employing them in a truly unprecedented configuration. This is the mindset we should adopt when considering how best to employ flotillas of corvettes in littoral environments. Flotillas should not be considered on their own but as part of a combined arms effort. We must change how we think of the design of the corvette and its employment with other joint forces. The flotillas, operated primarily by the Navy, should be supported by littoral outposts operated by Navy Expeditionary Combat Command and United States Marines. Their combination can be very powerful. To take full advantage of them, we must rethink how we operate the combined force. Here I’d like to examine first the flotillas and then the littoral outposts.

An undated photo of the ENS S. Ezzat, an Egyptian Fast Missile Craft. VT Halter Marine Photo

An undated photo of the ENS S. Ezzat, an Egyptian Fast Missile Craft. VT Halter Marine Photo

We must reexamine how we think of the corvette or light frigate. First let us address the definition of Corvette, which historically has ranged between 500 and 2,000 tons in displacement, though there have been variations on this theme. The more important factor is the effect of modern electronics and weapon systems granting smaller platforms enhanced capabilities, similar to what has occurred in aircraft. This provides the ability to adjust to the offensive environment of the sea by the distribution of capabilities in smaller profile platforms, however corvettes measure time on station in days not in the minutes aircraft do.

One of the most dramatic impacts of modern electronics is the increasing ability of smaller platforms to conduct scouting. Aerostats, towed kites, and small UAVs such as Scan Eagle give small platforms capabilities similar to larger platforms operating helicopters, etc. These smaller platforms have no need for the large flightdeck and hangar required for normal helicopter operations. They just need a small flat surface and storage area for rotary drones, nets and launchers for UAVs, or the UAVs can be designed to be recovered from the water. The MQ-8B could potentially be operated from a small flight deck with a small maintenance and storage hanger. This will drive the displacement requirements (and the resulting signature) for such platforms down considerably. Flotillas can then be further augmented in their ocean surveillance (“scouting”) missions by the use of land based aircraft, UAVs, Aerostats, etc. as well as carrier based aircraft operating further back.

Corvettes enabled in this manner can have the same surveillance capacity as any destroyer or frigate. By employing an aerostat or towed kite the corvette would have the ability to suspend a radar system at altitude. Because the power generation is on the ship, the aerostat or kite can have a very capable radar normally seen only in the largest UAVs or on helicopters. Further the greater altitude also provides the ability to control light weight visual sensor enabled UAVs like the Scan Eagle at far greater ranges. Combining the two systems grants the Corvette the ability to conduct surveillance on a large area with the radar locating contacts and the scan eagle visually identifying them. Thus we have gained the same capability which in the past would have required a large flight deck on a destroyer or frigate.

Complementing their scouting capability smaller platforms increasingly will have lethal firepower. The capabilities of anti-ship cruise missiles continue to improve. The distribution of firepower across multiple platforms will mean an enemy has very little opportunity to eliminate such a force without response. Similarly, defensive systems are becoming smaller and more effective. Thus the flotilla force is the littoral element of the Distributed Lethality concept designed for this deadly environment. The limiting factor for the size of corvettes is becoming less dominated by the weapons and more by endurance. Thus it would appear the knee in the curve between competing factors of size, endurance, signature, defensive weapons, offensive weapons, scouting capacity, etc. is between 350 and 800 tons.

The mission of such platforms will be challenging but necessary, particularly in light of aggressive salami slicing lines of operations which require presence to counter. In peacetime, flotillas of corvettes will maintain presence to shape the environment, assure our allies, be observable witnesses to aggression, and train others in conduct of sea control. In an environment of increasing tension, they remain on station to continue scouting, shaping, deterrence and assurance while giving larger signature platforms space to maneuver. At the outset of conflict in a real shooting war they have one mission… attack. Attack like Arleigh Burke planned and Frederick Moosbrugger executed but with updated tactics, techniques, and procedures which enable massed force from distributed forces (See Jeff Cares Distributed Network Operations). Ships will be lost; the question becomes what will be lost when the inevitable hits occur.

While it is tempting to continue the technological trend and employ such small platforms without crews, there are significant limitations which it appears solutions have not arisen. The first is the limitation of control of such vessels. Modern Electronic Warfare means the connections to small platforms will likely be severed. While artificial intelligence has made great advances it does not appear ready, or ready in the near future, to address the challenges and complications of operations at sea specifically for factors such as rules of engagement, fusing information, training allied forces, etc. Robots are not known for their imagination and ingenuity. Further there are considerable sociological prohibitions about lethal force capable platforms operating on their own. Robotics and automation should be designed into such platforms to augment the performance of and decrease the size of the crew, but not replace them. With secure line of sight communications, manned platforms could be teamed with unmanned platforms to provide sensors and firepower.

We need to decrease our dependence on hardkill systems. One of the potential driving factors of increasing the size of such platforms is the compulsion to place Aegis weapons systems on them. We may likely gain the ability to place highly capable sensors on smaller platforms. The move away from transmitting wave tubes on current passive electronically scanned array radars such as SPY-1 to more capable and lighter weight transmit receive tiles used in active electronically scanned array radar systems such as in the APG-81 on the F-35 fighter. However the limitation then becomes one of missile systems, etc. If a force is dependent on hardkill systems, it accepts the risk of not being able to defend itself adequately should active measures fail. Given the proven history of effective electronic warfare, decoys, etc. it would be prudent to take a mixed approach. However, decoy systems, etc. are only as effective as their ability to emulate the intended target. Fortunately, corvettes generally can have very small signatures and other platforms can have even smaller signatures.

Military history shows warships built for niche purposes are very successful in actual wartime though their operators often expand their use outside the original intended mission, thus the need for experimentation.

In the essay in Proceedings, I offered an example for purposes of comparison and analysis, an up-armed variation on the Sentinel class Fast Response Cutter (FRC) as an example of what a combat corvette could offer. Even when doubling the total ownerships costs of the FRC for the modifications described between 12 and 14 FRCs could be owned and operated for the cost of a single LCS and its helicopters. The FRC has an endurance which is competitive with the LCS.

Based on the displacement and design of the FRC, it could be outfitted with two to four ASCMs (perhaps the Naval Strike Missile), the 11 cell SeaRAM system, and decoy system such as the Mark 36 Super Rapid Blooming Offboard Chaff and/or the Rheinmetal Rapid Obscuring System (ROSY). Sensors upgrades would be a navalized version of the APG-81 or other AESA in a rotatable pedestal housing. Offboard sensors would include an aerostat or towed kite system with a surface search radar and/or UAVs similar to the ScanEagle. If these offboard sensor systems cannot be operated together from the same platform, then the corvettes can work in teams.

There are many factors which must be worked out. There may be other platforms more suited or complementary to this role, such as the Mark VI patrol boat, the Stiletto experimental platform, the SeaSlice experimental platform and the Ambassador Class missile boat. The upgunned version of the Sentinel class FRC could perform the role of its namesake, the day to day presence patrol missions in littoral regions, while a platform like the Stiletto would conduct sweeping attack and scouting runs in the event of conflict or the need to conduct a demonstration of resolve. Some of these platforms would not have to be manned. Those conducting high risk missions can be teamed with manned platforms to augment their scouting capabilities and firepower. The important point is the exploration of the concepts, tactics, techniques, procedures, and doctrine in wargames, campaign analysis, and fleet exercises to understand the impact advancing technology is having on naval warfare.

One threat to flotillas of corvettes is enemy submarines. Submarines would have some challenges tracking and effectively employing torpedoes against corvettes due to their small size, speeds, etc. Submarines would have to make modifications to their combat systems and torpedoes to address the flotilla. Submarines’ best opportunity to attack the flotilla would be in chokepoints. The flotillas can have an effective means of negating the submarine. Without sonar, it would appear the corvettes are very vulnerable, but simple tactics can negate the effectiveness of a submarine. As the flotilla approaches a littoral chokepoint they launch lightweight torpedoes pre-emptively in a snake search pattern in the direction of travel. The submarine will likely abort any effective targeting and have to run. Given the high rate of false positive contacts likely to be produced in littoral environments, just as many torpedoes would likely be expended by conventional ASW ships with sonar systems, etc. The number of torpedoes expended can be greatly reduced by the contribution of other forces as will be describe below.

The employment of flotillas of corvettes is only one element in how we need to approach littoral warfare. Equally, if not more, important to success in littoral conflicts is the employment of combined arms. The Proceedings essay briefly touched on the concept of Littoral Outposts as contributors to the effectiveness of flotillas. Such outposts deserve further exploration as they can contribute significantly to the success of future military conflicts and competitions.

Littoral Outposts composed of combined Navy, Marine Corps and other joint/coalition forces can contribute greatly to sea control. The Proceedings essay has already described how such forces can contribute to sea control employing shore based anti-ship cruise missiles, sensors, UAVs, etc. This is only the beginning. Such teams can contribute to ASW, AAW, and strike. Using denial, deception, hardening and mobility in the littoral environment these teams can present a difficult challenge to a competitor. All this would be accomplished by employing new technologies in new and innovative ways.

Littoral Outposts can have a significant impact on Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). We’ve discussed organic responses from corvettes to submarines, but the littoral outpost can greatly reduce the threat of submarines to corvettes and other platforms. The simplest and most conventional solution is the employment of Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) for submarine hunting helicopters. Such helicopters can be stationed ashore or aboard ships operating further back (such as the LCS). Technology also offers effective and innovative approaches to littoral ASW. Littoral outpost can launch a swarm of UAVs employing sensors to conduct grid searches of submarines or minefields in chokepoint areas. When a target is detected and prosecution is initiated the drones could potentially drop charges or these could be launched from shore based mortars. The charges can be very deadly to a submarine as demonstrated by the Hedgehog ASW mortar in World War II. In addition to the MAD UAVs, forces ashore can launch small Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (UUVs) which act as mobile sonobuoys. The effectiveness of such systems can be greatly enhanced by the survey of such chokepoints in peacetime to identify wrecks and other metallic objects which could generate false positives, etc. In times of crisis, Littoral Outposts and corvettes can work together to plant mines in the chokepoints thus creating a dangerous environment for submarines to operate in.

Littoral Outposts can have a significant impact on Anti-Air Warfare (AAW). Corvettes are vulnerable to Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA). If allowed unfettered access to an area, MPRA has the ability to eventually find and pick out of the clutter small craft like corvettes and deliver weapons or direct weapons and platforms to kill them. The key to the success of the MPRA is time and unfettered access. Littoral outpost can nullify this in different ways. First we noted the size of a corvette limits the size (and therefore range) of surface to air missile systems. So while advanced light weight AESA radars can give a corvette the ability to search and locate MPRA, they don’t necessarily have the weapons which can reach out and touch them or drive them off. Littoral Outposts can be armed with such long range weapons and employ either their own air search radars or employ cooperative engagement systems to guide off the corvette’s track. Littoral Outposts can also employ short takeoff and landing aircraft such as the F-35B. If employing land based radars the Littoral Outposts can disperse the sensors and missiles so as to retain one when the other is destroyed. Or they can remain silent and be queued from land based aerostats or airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft flying from aircraft carriers or air bases further back. Just the knowledge surface to air missiles or aircraft may be hidden in Littoral Outposts can effectively nullify MPRA which are very vulnerable to such weapons and platforms. Taking advantage of denial, deception, hardening, and mobility Littoral Outposts can present a threat to enemy aircraft which is difficult to find, fix, and finish. However, MPRA do not enjoy the same environment when they are radiating to locate small ships in the clutters of the littorals.

Littoral Outposts can make significant contributions to strike. Marine and Navy Expeditionary forces working together can deliver offensives strike operations to sea or land. Employing mobile launchers such as High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) with different weapons (and increasingly in the future weapons which can change roles) Littoral Outposts can deliver fires to affect ships at sea and targets on land. The same HIMARS employed to launch surface to surface missiles can also launch surface to air missiles today. Many Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs) today can also perform land attack missions. Again the F-35B provides similar opportunities.

Combining flotillas of corvettes with Littoral Outposts and littoral transportation platforms like powered barges, the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV), Landing Craft Utility (LCU), and Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM); the US can create mutually supporting elements to conduct maneuver in the littoral environment. Employing denial, deception, rapid hardening (digging in), and mobility, joint forces can advance in the littoral environment in the face of Anti-Access Area Denial (AA/AD) capabilities in the hands of potential adversaries. Littoral Outposts operated by, with, and through allies create AA/AD zones of our own. Behind these AA/AD zones we can then operate higher profile platforms such as aircraft carriers, etc. From these zones, flotillas of corvettes and other seaborne platforms sortie out to conduct sea control/denial and strike operations. From these zones, Littoral Outposts conduct support and strike operations. Once the environment has been shaped, the littoral outpost forces advance with the support of the conventional navy and flotillas. The Littoral Outposts then create new forward AA/AD zones behind which the process advances continues.

As the combined force advances their AA/AD zones advance and enable the attrition of an opponent’s AA/AD system, particularly the sensors (such as MPRA) necessary to enable them. This process will gradually wear down an opponent’s AA/AD system. If our opponents have become too reliant upon AA/AD, they will find themselves in a vulnerable position. Thus in time a combined force can contribute to the peeling away of AA/AD systems and gain maneuver space for the fleet near an opponent’s shore.

A combined arms approach to littoral combat can be very effective. We should be taking advantage of the trends in weapons and how they enhance the lethality and reach of smaller and smaller ships and shore batteries. In essence we must expand the Distributed Lethality concept to embrace our USMC and NECC capabilities in the littoral threat environment. However, to be effective and achieve true revolutions will require changing the way we employ these systems and capabilities. By employing combined arms of flotillas and littoral outposts we and our allies can confront potential opponents with a powerful deterrence force. These forces can enable us to shape events and prohibit aggressive behaviors in peacetime. As crises arise, they provide a resilient force which cannot easily be defeated thus providing stability. Finally in actual combat they provide a deadly threat which can support the larger fleet objectives by contesting and peeling away an opponent’s AA/AD network.

Here we have only addressed the outlines of what the Navy-Marine Corps team’s potential for combined arms in the littorals. We should conduct wargames, experimentation, and analysis to explore the options more fully and identify what other joint capabilities can contribute to this deadly environment. These combined forces should be able to provide commanders with options to address an opponent’s competitive actions in pre-hostilities, deterrence, and if required open warfare. Much more work needs to be done if we are going to remain viable in this new deadly environment.



hqdefaultIf you have not already, you need to read one of the more important wake up calls written by a navalist this year; Bryan McGrath’s remarks published over at WarOnTheRocks, War and Survivability of U.S. Naval Forces.

It will come to no surprise to those who read my post last week, that I am roughly in full alignment with the direct and unblinking comments he brings to the reader;

(in the post-Cold War era) …we built and operated a Navy in the post-Cold War era that reflected this. We created a fleet architecture that raised defense to a high art. We became proficient in the art of precision land-attack and maritime constabulary missions while the surface force essentially abandoned the playing field of offensive naval warfare. Because there was no anti-submarine warfare threat to speak of, we walked away from the mission while turning our sonar techs into .50 cal gunners and visit, board, search, and seizure crew. We walked away from the anti-surface mission to the point where we haven’t built a ship in the United States that could kill another ship over the horizon since USS Porter in 1999.

That is where we find ourselves by our own hand, and this is where we need to go;

We have to be begin to be more direct about what we face. We have to recognize that our unchallenged mastery is now challenged. We now have to recognize that there are nations who see the system we’ve crafted since World War II as unhelpful to their strategic goals. We have to recognize that in order to deter nations like this, naval forces operating weeks over the horizon are insufficient. We must recognize that presence, showing the flag, being there, is just not enough.

Distributed lethality is the leading edge of that recognition. By increasing the unit-level lethality of virtually every ship in the Navy and then operating them innovatively in a dispersed posture designed to present an adversary with numerous and diverse threats to what he holds dear, we are once again realizing the deterrent value of offensive power. The surface force seems to have recognized the changed environment, the re-emergence of great power dynamics, and the requirement to break a defensive mindset while taking to the operational offensive once again. Future strike group commanders and numbered fleet commanders and four-stars must begin to think about and more importantly communicate a recognition that the stakes have changed, and that a force that places too much value on survivability may be placing insufficient emphasis on threatening the other guy’s survivability.

We need to harden surface presence forces not just for the sake of protecting the people serving on the ship, but also to present would-be aggressors with a more effective deterrent. We need — when we talk about survivability — to ensure that we are talking about it as a means to an end — conventional deterrence — and not an end unto itself

Finally, I want to try and get something going here with you. I’d like us to stop talking about “survivability” altogether. That’s right — eliminate it from our lexicon. When you folks go back to your jobs wherever they may be, but especially at the Pentagon, the systems commands, or at the surface type command, try to get the Navy to walk away from it. Truth be told, it is a loaded term, and one that conveys defense and weakness and timidity. The Air Force — which has a much tougher job in justifying the expense of large land bases that don’t move — never talks about “survivability.” They talk about “hardening,” as I’ve done here today.

We need to harden the surface force in order to make our adversaries spend more of their tax dollars in trying to overcome it — or better yet — decide that such expenditures aren’t worth the opportunity cost. This is, of course, the essence of conventional deterrence.

He brings a lot more to the discussion. Read it all.



Introduction

Click to enlarge

Summer, 1777: Two objects made from gunpowder-filled kegs and tied together with line drifts alongside the British frigate Cerberus near the Connecticut coast. Sailors in a captured schooner tied alongside attempt to recover the objects. All at once, an explosion destroys the schooner and kills most of the sailors. These were the first mines, invented by David Bushnell (of Turtle fame). This is the beginning of the story of naval mine warfare.

Naval mine warfare has a history as old as the United States. From its beginning in the workshop of David Bushnell through to today’s Quickstrike mines and Littoral Combat Ships, many events formed the story of mine warfare development. These are the ten mining campaigns that have had the biggest impact on shaping mine warfare.

1. Crimean War

In 1854, England led a coalition of Great Powers nations against Russia in response to a Russian attack against Turkey. Naval forces assaulted Russian ports in both the Baltic and the Black Sea. To counter these forces, Russia ordered over a thousand contact mines developed by inventor Immanuel Nobel. In the Baltic, these mines deterred the British from attacking Kronstadt, thus preventing an attack on the Russian capital of St. Petersburg.

Matters were different in the Black Sea. As in their Baltic ports, the Russians laid electrically-fired, controlled mines in the waters surrounding Sevastopol. The British neutralized this threat by quickly capturing the mines’ shore-based firing stations. Largely improvised, the moored contact mines in the surrounding waters proved more nuisance than threat. Most could be neutralized using men operating from small boats.

The Crimean War represented the first case of large-scale, military-sponsored mining. Just as importantly, military observers from many nations were on hand to learn the value of these weapons. Russian successes in mining led many nations to begin developing their own mine warfare programs. Mining may never have taken root as a serious tool of warfare had it not been for the Crimean War.

2. Civil War

Union torpedo raft in Mobile Bay. Naval Institute photo archive

Union torpedo raft in Mobile Bay illustrated in a contemporary lithograph. Naval Institute photo archive

With long, navigable rivers and a tiny navy, the Confederacy was vulnerable to waterborne attack. Mines proved a cheap and effective way to stop the Union ironclads. USS Cairo, a large ironclad, became the first major war vessel lost to a mine when it struck a moored contact mine on the Yazoo River in 1862. Continued mine-strikes induced Union captains and admirals to devise methods to counter these weapons. Despite their mine countermeasure (MCM) efforts, Confederate mines sank a total of 29 Union ships, and damaged 14 more before the war ended.

During the assault on Mobile Bay, RADM David Glasgow Farragut famously said, “Damn the torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead!” The target of his order was the captain of the second ship in his column entering the Bay, who stopped when the ship ahead struck a mine. Farragut did not show flippant disregard for the danger posed by mines. Over the previous three nights, he had men clear a channel through the minefield. The ironclad that sank was on the wrong side of the marker buoy. Farragut based his order on a calculated risk decision to continue ahead through the cleared channel.

The Civil War demonstrated to the world the value of the naval mine as a major weapon of war. At the same time, it taught the world lessons about the importance of developing mine countermeasures. These lessons led to mine warfare developments worldwide, paving the way for the future of mine warfare.

3. Russo-Japanese War

Japanese sailors inspect captured Russian sea mines during the Russo-Japanese War. Naval Institute photo archive

In 1904-1905, Russia and Japan fought a war for control of Korea and Manchuria. As a warm-water port, Port Arthur on the Manchurian coast was a major base for the Russian Pacific Fleet. Russia mined its sea approaches to keep out their enemies. Japan reversed this tactic with the innovation of laying mines in Port Arthur’s harbor approaches to keep the Russian fleet in port.

On April 12, 1904, Russian destroyers set out to scout and clear Japanese mines laid the night before. When one destroyer encountered part of the enemy fleet, Russian Admiral Makaroff sent his fleet to attack. Crossing over the freshly laid mines, they successfully beat back their enemies. Victory was short lived. While returning to port, Makaroff’s flagship, the battleship Petropavlovsk, struck a mine and sank in two minutes with the admiral on board. A second battleship struck a mine shortly afterwards. Deprived of its fighting admiral and two battleships, the Russian fleet remained effectively blockaded until the city was ready to fall. Through mining, the Japanese had wrested control of the sea from their adversaries.

Drifting mines laid in the open ocean during the Russo-Japanese War continued to float around the Pacific for years afterwards, posing a significant hazard to ships of all nations. These hazards led to the Hague Convention of 1907. Meeting to develop rules for the use of mines in war, this convention established many limits that remain in effect to this day.

4. World War I: Dardanelles Campaign (1915)

Replica Turkish minelayer of the type used in the Dardanelles campaign.

Replica Turkish minelayer of the type used in the Dardanelles campaign

The Gallipoli Campaign was an attempt by the Allies to break through the Ottoman defenses on the Dardanelles in Turkey to free shipping routes to Russia and to raise regional support to the Allied cause. To counter this attempt, the Turks laid 11 mine lines protected by nearly 100 artillery pieces in the narrowest stretch. The British minesweepers, converted trawlers manned with civilian crews, were unable to operate in the face of the heavy bombardment. After two weeks of unsuccessful sweeping at night under constant assault while illuminated with searchlights, the British admiral decided to do an all out effort of daytime sweeping with battleships providing close support.

On 18 March, the British battle force destroyed many fortifications while absorbing nearly every heavy shell remaining in the Turkish arsenal. Then things went wrong. Unknown to the Allies, on the night of 7 March, a single Turkish minelayer laid a line of 20 mines in the battleships’ turning area. At the height of the 18 March battle, the Allied battleships turned in their usual area and immediately struck the new mine line. Within a very short time, the 20 mines caused the loss of 3 battleships and one battle cruiser. That one mine-line may have been arguably the most cost effective method ever used to damage a fleet.

The Dardanelles campaign showed the power of a layered defense containing mines and it illustrated the need to protect MCM forces. Most importantly, it underlined the value of using intelligence in mining.

5. World War I: North Atlantic

Mines on the deck of a British destroyer. Naval Institute photo archive

Mines on the deck of a British destroyer in World War I. Naval Institute photo archive

The mining campaigns of World War I represented a major advance in how countries used mines, introducing a a number of innovations in both mining and MCM that are still in use. It saw the first use of submarine mining, the first Antisubmarine Warfare (ASW) fields, and the first large-scale mining and MCM effort.

German U-boats posed a major threat to Allied shipping during this war. At first, British attempts to mine the English Channel proved ineffective, as submarines slipped over the mine fields in the darkness. The British remedied the situation with powerful searchlights and aggressive patrolling. Later in the war, the Allies attempted to seal off the North Sea in a major mining campaign called the North Sea Mine Barrage. At the total mining and MCM cost of $80 million, the barrage included 70,000 mines in a field stretching from Scotland to Norway. After the war, 82 minesweepers worked 18 hour days for five months clearing these mines.

Mining and MCM technology both advanced during the war. Germany first used submarine mining soon after the United States entered the war. U-boats built with inclined mine tubes laid mines off several American ports on the eastern seaboard. The American Mark 6 antenna mine used a copper wire suspended above the mine that caused the mine to detonate when it contacted a steel hull. A major British advance was the Oropesa sweep, which allowed a single ship to sweep instead of connecting with other ships in a team sweep.

6. World War II: New Technology

Minesweeping in the South Pacific in 1944. Naval Institute photo archive

Minesweeping in the South Pacific in 1944. Naval Institute photo archive

World War II kick-started the development of most of today’s technology and tactics. Allies and Axis powers alike used mines on a global scale during the war. In the Pacific, the Japanese laid large barrier minefields to limit the ability of American submarines to freely access their sea lines of communication. America eventually overcame this obstacle by charting the minefields and developing mine-avoidance sonar equipment.

In the Atlantic theater, belligerents on both sides aggressively created mining and MCM technology. Before and during the war, both sides developed influence mines and influence minesweeping technology. World War II saw the first widespread operational use of mines triggered by magnetic, acoustic, and/or pressure signals. Such mines proved far more dangerous than contact mines, for they could damage ships at a distance and were harder to counter. At Balikpapan in Dutch Borneo, the U.S. minesweeping force lost seven YMS minesweepers during clearance efforts in June 1945. Despite having wooden hulls, their engines were enough to detonate the American-laid magnetic mines. These and earlier incidences led to the expediting the use of full magnetic and acoustic silencing when constructing MCM ships.

Aerial mining was perhaps the most important innovation of World War II. In the Pacific the Allies used extensive mining into their island-hopping strategy. Airplanes could rapidly close Japanese-controlled ports throughout Southeast Asia at a relatively low cost in men and equipment. This allowed the Allies to neutralize the well-defended ports and concentrate on the lightly defended ports.

7. World War II: Operation Starvation

B-29 Superfortress dropping mines in a Japanese harbor in World War II. Naval Institute photo archive

B-29 Superfortress dropping mines in a Japanese harbor in World War II. Naval Institute photo archive

The mining campaign known as Operation Starvation is one of only two uses of true strategic mining in American history. Intended to end the war, Operation Starvation involved using aerial mining to shut down most or all shipping to and from the Japanese home waters.

Japan was and is dependent on imports to support its population and its industry. During WWII, most of its iron and oil arrived by sea. Almost all of the shipping destined for the nation’s east coast and its inland sea had to pass through the Shimonoseki Strait. The volume of Japan’s shipping, and its predictable route, made the country especially vulnerable to naval mines.

In April 1945, B-29 bombers began systematically mining Japan’s shipping routes. Beginning with the Shimonoseki Strait, they dropped 1,000- and 2,000-lb bottom influence mines at all of the major choke points in the inland sea and most of the southern and eastern ports. By July they had laid approximately 12,000 mines, completing a virtual blockade of Kyushu and Honshu and reducing shipping by 90%. Twenty-six years after the war, over 2,000 mines remained despite continuous Japanese sweeping efforts. After the war, many experts agreed that had this mining campaign commenced earlier, the war might have finished earlier, without atomic bombs.

Operation Starvation showed the value of strategic mining in helping to bring a war to an end. Almost as importantly, it highlighted just how much MCM effort is required after a major mining campaign.

8. Korean War – Wonsan Harbor

USS YMS-516 is blown up by a magnetic mine, during sweeping operations west of Kalma Pando, Wonsan harbor, on 18 October 1950. National archives photo

A magnetic mine detonates and destroys USS YMS-516 during sweeping operations west of Kalma Pando, Wonsan harbor, on 18 October 1950. National archives photo

In October 1950, United Nations forces conducted an amphibious landing at Wonsan, North Korea. The UN assault force included American, South Korean, and Japanese minesweepers. Expecting limited mining at choke points, naval leaders planned for only 10 days to clear mines. As it turned out, the harbor was a nightmarish mixed minefield of both bottom and ground mines. By the time amphibious forces reached the shore a week past schedule, four minesweepers were sitting on the bottom as a result of mine strikes. When the amphibious force finally landed, they found comedian Bob Hope on hand to greet them with a USO show.

Wonsan was important because it revealed just how ill-prepared the America was for post-WWII mine clearance. Following WWII, America discharged it’s primarily reservist mine warfare forces and reduced its MCM force from 374 ships in the Pacific alone down to a mere 37 worldwide. At the same time Russia built a dedicated professional mine warfare force. North Korea benefited greatly from Russia’s mine program. North Korean forces had laid Wonsan’s minefields with the help of Russian mining experts and Russian magnetic and contact mines. Using primitive craft to lay mines, they built a minefield consisting of 3,000 mines crammed into a 400 square nautical mile area.

Following the Korean War, Congress poured money into mine warfare. By the end of the decade, the country had built 65 new oceangoing minesweepers, two MCM command ships (MCS), two pressure- and check-sweeping ships (MSS), an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) MCM squadron, and innumerable minesweeping boats (MSB) and minesweeping launches. While the size of this force did not last, its concepts led to today’s diverse MCM force composition.

9. Vietnam War

Operation End Sweep, clearing mines after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. Naval Institute photo archive

Operation End Sweep, clearing mines after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. Naval Institute photo archive

Rivers bisect Vietnam at dozens of different points. During the Vietnam War, these rivers were natural highways into the interior, allowing armed gunboats to attack North Vietnamese supply lines. Knowing this, Vietnamese fighters mined the rivers with a wide variety of mines. American gunboats traveling these rivers frequently encountered shallow water minefields protected by heavy shore-based gunfire. Using rapidly developed equipment, the U.S. forces had to counter these fields using armored, armed, nonmagnetic MSB’s supported by aircraft and gunboats.

The North Vietnamese Army was not alone in mining the rivers. American planes dropped magnetic naval mines in the areas surrounding the river crossings used by northern troops. At these points, mines had the ability to target both supply boats and supply vehicles. Furthermore, some aerial mines could be laid virtually anywhere along the trails, creating a hazard for any vehicles moving south.

In May 1972, U.S. forces mined Haiphong harbor, the major port through which 85% of seaborne supplies reached North Vietnam. This resulted in a relatively quick peace agreement, with a major stipulation that the United States was required to clear this minefield. Unbeknownst to the Vietnamese, the United States had set their mines to allow for easy cleanup.

The Vietnam War showed the value of maintaining the technology to clear mines in shallow water. It also introduced destructor-type mines, the predominated style now used by the American military. Finally, it showed the world once more the value of strategic mining.

10. Middle-East Mining

An Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician examines an Iraqi mine that washed ashore in the Kuwaiti port of Ash Shuaybah during the Gulf War in 1991. Naval Institute Photo Archive.

An EOD technician examines an Iraqi mine that washed ashore in the Kuwaiti port of Ash Shuaybah during the Gulf War in 1991. Naval Institute Photo Archive

There was no one, single mining campaign in the last few decades that has significantly shaped mine warfare. Instead, it is the collective mining efforts of a few despotic Middle-Eastern governments that together shaped today’s mine warfare forces.

During the 1980’s, state-sponsored terrorism became a dominant force in the world. In the summer of 1984, at least 16 ships passing through the Red Sea received damage from underwater explosions. Believed to be the work of Libya, the fact that these mines did not produce greater damage is mainly because of improper settings. An international coalition quickly came together to clear this vital waterway, a practice repeated in all following middle-eastern mine clearance efforts.

The Tanker War was a conflict between Iran and Iraq. Both sides repeatedly attacked each others’ merchant shipping in the Arabian Gulf. When one of Iran’s mines heavily damaged the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58), the United States retaliated with attacks on Iranian naval vessels and oil platforms in Operation Praying Mantis.

In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. To protect against amphibious invasion, Iranian forces laid more than 1,200 mines in two belts off the Kuwaiti coast. Two ships, USS Princeton (CG-59) and USS Tripoli (LPH-10), took heavy damage from mines as the MCM task force moved in to commence clearance operations. Following the war, a coalition of 11 nations working long hours for six months cleared a total 1,288 mines – a number exceeding Iraqi reports of 1,157 mines laid.

Operation Iraq Freedom (OIF) ended far differently in part because strike forces destroyed or captured Iraqi mine laying vessels. Mining was mainly limited to Iraqi coastal waters and the port of Umm Qasr. This showed the potential benefit of the offensive MCM concept.

Conclusion

Navies worldwide equip and train based on the expectations formed by recent experience. Mine warfare is no different. The experiences gleaned from the Middle Eastern mining campaigns of the last few decades very much shaped today’s mine warfare forces.

What sort of lessons might the navies of the world glean from clearing the Middle Eastern minefields? Some may assume that future conflicts will be the same way: No ships destroyed, mining restricted to single areas, uncontested battlespace, uncomplicated environments and plenty of allies to help. With no mine strikes since 1991, it is easy to forget the danger of mines in the face of other perceived threats.

On the mining side, recent history gives an even more simplified story. Since World War II, naval mining has been limited to fairly shallow littoral waters, rivers, and land. The last major mining campaign by anybody was 25 years ago. If one compared weapons systems by usage, mines seem to have limited value, and would appear to only be required in small quantities and with limited depth requirements. With no competing naval powers at war in the last 70+ years, mines appear to be a weapon system of the past.

History tells a different story about naval mine warfare. When naval powers fight, mines can be a game changer. They can keep enemy warships locked in port, they can restrict an enemy’s movements, and they can destroy an enemy’s shipping. When the enemy depends on the sea for supplies, mines can be used to choke their industry and to drive them out of a war. Naval mining can happen everywhere from rivers to deep water, and in all kinds of environments. Should the enemy succeed in laying a major minefield, MCM forces can expect to work for months or years clearing mines. In the course of long, dangerous operations, ships will be lost and the job will become much harder.

Mines, according to history, can help a country to either gain – or lose – control of the sea.


Bibliography

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Captain J. S. Cowie, Mines, Minelayers and Minelaying, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1949).

Gregory K. Hartmann, Weapons That Wait: Mine Warfare in the U.S. Navy, (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1979).

Barrett Tillman, Whirlwind: The Air War Against Japan 1942-1945, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010).

LCDR Paul McElroy, USNR, The Mining of Wonsan Harbor, North Korea in 1950: Lessons for Today’s Navy, (Quantico, VA: Marine Corps War College, 1999).

Edward J. Marolda & Robert J. Schneller Jr., Shield and Sword: The United States Navy and the Persian Gulf War, (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1998).

CDR David D. Bruhn, USN(Retired), Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The U.S. Navy’s Ocean Minesweepers, 1953-1994, (Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, 2006).

Gordon E. Hogg, “Minesweepers and Minehunters.” In S. C. Tucker (Ed.), U.S. Conflicts in the 21st Century: Afghanistan War, Iraq War, and the War on Terror, (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2015).



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