Posted on March 26, 2019
The UK leads the world in mine warfare, but only when it comes to finding and destroying mines safely.
We currently have no offensive capability and the Royal Navy has not had live mines in its inventory since 1992, though some dummy mines are on hand to practice minelaying. The loss has been virtually unremarked; mines are a low-key method of warfare with few enthusiastic supporters.
“Mine warfare has often been overlooked in its capability to deliver results, despite delivering substantial strategic effects for minimal investments,” says Sidharth Kaushal, an expert in sea power at the Royal United Services Institute for defence and security studies.
Mines date back at least to the 17th century, when they were little more than floating gunpowder barrels. By the Second World War, they were far more sophisticated, and mines sank more shipping than bombs, gunfire or torpedoes, and they are still effective in the modern era.
In the 1991 Gulf War, mines had a significant impact, severely damaging the American cruiser USS Princeton and amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli. General McChrystal abandoned plans for a mass amphibious assault because the risk of mines was too great even though the waters had been swept.
In the 21st century, the shallow waters of the South China Sea look a likely theatre for mine warfare.
“Chinese strategists have argued that their mine stocks constitute an ‘assassins mace capability’ – a means by which they could hold the US Navy at bay for long periods of time in order to settle a regional dispute before the US could effectively intervene,” says Kaushal.
Now America is looking at turning the tables with a refreshed mining capability of its own.
Three new weapons are being introduced: an ungraded QuickStrike air-delivered mine, the new Hammerhead torpedo mine and the Clandestinely Delivered Mine (CDM).