Recent events illustrate the potential that covert minefields possess. In 1984 a clandestine minefield disrupted merchant shipping in the Bed Sea. Early this year a minefield was discovered in the Persian Gulf. But the mines used in these two instances were different in type and fuzing.
A mine recovered by British divers in the Bed Sea was a modern Russian 955, “state-of-the-art” influence-fired bottom mine. This mine could have been launched by surface vessels or submarines. But the suspicious damage to the stern ramp or a Libyan merchant ship has led many to believe that the minefield was sown by surface means. It was a type which rests on the bottom and allows a passing vessel’s magnetic and acoustic signatures to detonate it.
The mines used in the Persian Gulf crisis are of an old Russian M-08 design. These are moored contact mines which must be struck by ships to initiate a detonation. Like the Bed Sea incident, these mines were sown by surface vessels and eventually exposed the perpetrators and thus reduced the effectiveness of the minefield.
To effectively deploy a clandestine minefield the delivery vehicle must remain concealed. The ideal vehicle for this is the submarine. Unfortunately for U.S. attack submarine use, there are only three mine types currently available. These include the MK 60 encapsulated torpedo (CAPTOR) ASW mine, the MK 57 moored influence ASW mine, and the newly developed MK 67 submarine launched mobile mine.
The CAPTOR mine is a moored encapsulated MK 46 torpedo. This deepwater mine is principly used as an anti-submarine barrier weapon. Once a submarine is detected the MK 46 torpedo breaks free of its capsule to home on the submarine. At 1985 prices each CAPTOR costs about $350,000. Its high cost and limited mission reduces the employment of this mine to several unique global regions.
The MK 57 moored mine is the only stockpiled submarine-launched mine for use against enemy submarines as well as surface ships. Once detected, such a moored mine is relatively simple to sweep and neutralize. Additionally, using this mine in shallow water makes it much more vulnerable to sweeping efforts. As such, its value as a weapon is severely reduced. Although it encumbers the enemy’s mine hunting force, channels can be quickly cleared and shipping movements can return to normal.
The mobile mine is essentially a MK 37 torpedo with a mine for a warhead. The submarine launching platform is able to stand-off from its target and release this mine. The MK 67-mine would then follow a predetermined guidance program to its designated resting spot. Once at that spot the torpedo would stop and the unit would rest on the bottom and function as a mine. The planned procurement for this mobile mine in 1987 was over 250 units, but seemingly the program has been cancelled. However, a low-cost bottom mine is still needed for u.s. submarines to be used against enemy submarines as well as merchant or naval ships.
The last “bottom mine” designed for submarine use was the MK 49, but the Navy withdrew the MK 49 from service in 1970. The MK 49 was deployed like a torpedo using an influence triggering mechanism. Later · production models incorporated the Destructor target detecting device as the primary firing mechanism.
While analyzing the 1987 fiscal year budget for the Navy, Congressman Thomas F. Hartnett (R-SC), could not believe that sea mines were not on the list of Navy weapons requested. However, due to other procurement priorities, the Navy’s plans for CAPTOR and the HK 67-mobile-mine had been modifiert adversely. Hartnett sincerely believed that the United States could offset the naval disparity with the Soviet Union by using a force multiplier — the sea mine. But, over a year bas passed and the production of sea mines tor the Navy is either minimal or nonexistent. Yet, there are several alternatives to boosting the submarine force mine inventory. One possibility is to modify some existing mines tor use by submarines.
Current Navy doctrine calls for using aircraft as the primary platform to lay bottom mines. It should be noted however, that the use of aircraft compromises the covertness or its minefield. Only submarine laid mines have the potential or remaining undetected. Thus it is reasonable to modify mines produced for aircraft delivery. The current Destructor and Quickstrike mines with modification could be used by submarines.
These air-delivered mines utilize the MK 80 bomb as the main charge. A target detecting device is installed in the rear or the bomb and an arming mechanism is located in its nose. When released from the aircraft the rotating vanes in the nose fuze arm the mine. After entering the water the mine sinks to the bottom and awaits its target.
Modifying the Destructor or Quickstrike mines for submarine use is possible with relatively minor alterations. To make the mine compatible with a torpedo tube, a sabot sleeve can be fitted over the mine case. Sabots commonly used in ground weapon systems are essentially a plastic sleeve fitted to a subcaliber projectile. The sleeve allows the smaller projectile to be fired from a larger caliber gun. This technology can be applied to the Destructor and Quickstrike mines enabling them to conform to the twenty-one inch diameter torpedo tubes. The mines, already aerodynamically shaped, should have little problem being launched from torpedo tubes. As for the arming device in the nose, a completely new arming device will have to be fabricated to allow for both safe ejection from the submarine and sufficient time for the submarine to clear the area prior to the mine being armed. A hydrostatic arming device might be used in conjunction with a water soluble washer to prevent the extender from arming until the washer is dissolved.
The use of modified Destructor and Quickstrike mines would enhance the submarine mine warfare mission. They will provide our submarine fleet with a variety or influence bottom mines up to 2000 pounds. The advantage of such mines is that they are highly target selective, difficult tor enemy mine countermeasure forces to sweep, and difficult to locate for neutralization.
The need for a bottom mine which can be used by submarines can not be over emphasized. The Red Sea mining incident of 1984 demonstrates that the Soviet Union continues to maintain state-of-the-art bottom mines which are capable of submarine deployment. Indeed, the Soviet Union considers the submarine as the ideal mine laying platform.
Targets for these weapons will be mainly surface vessels and not submarines. The Soviet Union ranks second in the world’s total merchant shipping with over 2,500 vessels. Of these, the heavy tonnage ships are tankers, dry and combination cargo ships, and timber carriers. Since sea lines of communication are critical to the Soviets, as they are to the West, the bottom mine is a good means for shipping interdiction. Should Soviet naval vessels become victim to the bottom mines so much the better. The blockade effect is also initiated once the first mine detonates and the enemy’s mine sweeping forces are overwhelmed in their efforts to neutralize the minefield. Further discussion of the submarine mine laying capability needs to be generated.