Every Ship a Minesweeper. The U.S. Navy Has a Plan to Beat Mines

After years of delays and confusion, the U.S. Navy finally has settled on a strategy for replacing its aging, wooden-hull mine-warfare ships. Other facets of the mine-warfare mission remain in flux.

A mix of Littoral Combat Ships and airmobile drone units soon should start replacing the fleets 11 Avenger-class minesweepers, which entered service beginning in the late 1980s.

The Navy plans permanently to install minehunting systems, including underwater drones, on 15 new Littoral Combat Ships. But the fleet also wants to hold on to, and even expand, an interim minesweeping capability that it developed amid delays with the LCSs.

The interim Expeditionary Mine Countermeasures Companies combine undersea drones, small boats and divers in single units. The six ExMCM companies, each with scores of people and around a dozen underwater drones, can fly anywhere in the world in 48 hours and embark on any large vessel, transforming the ship into a de facto minesweeper.

During a March 2019 exercise off the Virginia coast, a Royal Navy Bay-class auxiliary ship embarked U.S. Navy sailors, helicopters, boats and drones as part of a test of this so-called "vessel-of-opportunity" approach to mine warfare.

The vessel of opportunity houses the mine-countermeasures company and deploys it near a potential minefield. Boat crews haul the drones out to sea. The drones hunt for mines. The divers then disable or retrieve the mines for study.

The companies have proved to be very good at their jobs. ExMCM w....

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