The modern American SSN, the spearpoint of the nation’s Maritime Strategy, is simply too valuable to be operated where mines can obtain an easy kill. The best in anechoic coatings, towed array sonars or digital fire control systems are helpless against a well-placed rocket-propelled rising mine. An effective mine detection and neutralization system is needed if our submarines are to continue to sail through hostile minefields. Our expensive and complex submarines cannot be used to fulfill the Mineman’s prophecy that “Every ship can be a minesweeper — once!”
Current hull-mounted submarine active sonars are designed to detect ships and Arctic ice and not such small shapes as mines and their associated cables. Yet tethered underwater search vehicles which can do the job are available now for surface minehunter craft and should be modified for submarine use. Such tethered vehicles are in the Nayy’s newest minesweeper, the AVENGER. The depths of the oceans have not hindered the development of tethered search vehicles either. The submersible ALVIN operated a camera-carrying vehicle that explored the interior of the s.s. TITANIC in depths of over 2 miles.
A tethered vehicle suitable for minehunting needs to be developed for combatant submarine use. One such vehicle is torpedo-sized and would operate from an open torpedo tube.It would swim out of the tube and search in front of the mother submarine for either moored or bottom mines. The vehicle is self-propelled using long-lived batteries and has today’s proven torpedo and battery technology. . A fiber-optic tether would connect the mother submarine and vehicle to carry sensor and control signals. Mine detection sensors include high resolution side-scanning sonars, high intensity lights, low-level light TV cameras and magnetic gradiometers. A vehicle search speed of 10 knots allows the mother submarine to safely transit a minefield at 5 knots through the swept wake of her tethered vehicle. Mine neutralization features such as explosive cable cutters and small demolition charges could also be incorporated into such a vehicle if mine destruction in addition to mine avoidance was desired.
Deployment from a torpedo tube is vital to allow this system to be used by any submarine without expensive hull modifications. The vehicle would be stored on a weapons skid until needed and then loaded into a torpedo tube for operations. Torpedo tube breech door electrical penetrations would be used to provide electrical power to tube-mounted support equipment and the breech door torpedo guidance wire fitting would pass the fiber-optic link into the ship. The vehicle swims out of the tube and the muzzle door remains open to connect the tether to the vehicle. The tether could either be deployed from both the vehicle and torpedo tube simultaneously to prevent any motion through the water, or a high-strength fiber tether be developed to withstand the water drag forces. A one-man vehicle control and display console would be installed wherever convenient in the submarine. Any mine location information would then be passed to Control using existing communication circuits. Technical problems on how to deploy and retrieve the tethered vehicle may be difficult, but not insurmountable. Such a torpedo-sized minehunting vehicle is an object easily handled onboard existing submarines without costly modifications.
The threat to our submarines from mines will continue to grow as smarter mines are developed. It is time now to develop the smart submarine anti-mine system. The loss of one weapon stowage position, for the system described above, would be worth the increase in operational flexibility to go “In Harm’s Way” through minefields, in relative safety.