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U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC)

Adm. Christopher W. Grady

Norfolk, Virginia

Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command

26 May 2021

Adm. Christopher W. Grady, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, (USFFC) speaks about the importance of mine warfare as the keynote speaker on the second day of the 14th International Mine Technology Symposium (virtual), May 26, 2021.
SLIDESHOW | 2 images | 210526-N-JU894-0017 NORFOLK (May 26, 2021) Adm. Christopher W. Grady, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, (USFFC) speaks about the importance of mine warfare as the keynote speaker on the second day of the 14th International Mine Technology Symposium (virtual), May 26, 2021. USFFC mans, trains, certifies, and employs combat-ready Naval forces that are capable of conducting prompt, sustained naval, joint and combined operations in support of U.S. national interests. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brooke Macchietto)
Well, good morning! Thank you for having me here to kick off day two of what looks to be a great agenda with a fantastic lineup of speakers and panelists this week.

It is truly an honor and distinct privilege for me to speak with you all today in this virtual environment. As a former avenger class commanding officer of both USS Chief and USS Ardent, I know first-hand the unique challenges of the mine warfare community faces, and the critical role you play in winning the high-end fight.

Thank you, Fozzie, for your kind introduction and for moderating today – and thank you, David, for your leadership in the mine warfare association, and for your dedication to making this event a huge success each and every year.

It is an exciting and pivotal time for our Navy and our nation. But I’m here speaking with you because I recognize this is also a particularly critical moment for the mine warfare community. And, so, our theme for this week - the art of the possible – is entirely appropriate and spot on.

As all of you here well know, this community is in great flux, but amidst this time of change I believe we are well-positioned to launch successfully into this maritime era of great power competition, and the charted trajectory will carry mine warfare once again to the front lines where we will assume an ever-more vital role in winning the high end fight at sea.

Since 1995, the Mine Warfare Association has played an important role in raising awareness of mine warfare to industry, academia, and in government. This community has an outstanding legacy, not just because of your proud history of operational excellence, but also because of your dedication and devotion to this sometimes under-represented warfare area.

Now let me tell you something each of you already know … mine warfare must be taken seriously lest we relive the hard lessons of our not-so-distant past.

Since the time of the American Revolution, when George Washington commissioned David Bushnell to attempt to sink the Cerberus in Niantic Bay, by employing his recently discovered ability to explode gunpowder while underwater, now that is truly thinking about the art of the possible, nations across the world have used mine warfare to terrible effect.

History tells us why mine warfare is so important:

In World War I, allied offensive mining tactics restricted highly lethal German submarines to the North Sea; and in World War II, our Pacific Fleet successfully blockaded shipping routes and harbor approaches, devastating the Japanese economy, bringing the war to a much more rapid end.

During the Korean War alone, more than 3,000 mines laid off the east coast of North Korea delayed the amphibious assault of over 250 ships ordered by General MacArthur to cut off the enemy retreat and open a secondary supply line for allied forces. The result, four MCM vessels sunk and over 100 Sailors and Marines killed-in-action.

In 1991 during the Gulf War in an event close to my heart, the USS Princeton, arguably the most technologically advanced ship of its time, was crippled due to the detonation of a bottom influence mine.  While transited an area reportedly cleared of mines.

And as Rear Admiral Alexander mentioned yesterday, since 1950, waterborne mines have caused a greater number of ship casualties than all other adversary weapons systems combined.

And more to the point, many of you have heard this quote before, but I believe it bears repeating – in the words of Rear Admiral Allen “Hoke” Smith, commander, Task Force 95, in a letter to then CNO, Admiral Forrest Sherman, “the U.S. Navy has lost control of the seas in the Korean waters to a nation without a navy, using pre-World War I weapons, laid by vessels that were utilized at the time of the birth of Christ.”

All of this to say, mine warfare remains the single most effective, lethal, and economic means to conduct operations in the maritime environment – capable of waylaying forces, crippling navies, and devastating economies.

Now before I get too far ahead, I would like take a moment and provide you my perspective as fleet commander of the current strategic environment. As you are all well aware, we are currently operating in an increasingly complex global security environment, characterized by overt challenges to the free and open international order and the re-emergence of long-term, strategic competition between nations – a return to great power competition.

Throughout our history we have faced numerous threats, but none that so seriously threatened our core security and prosperity. No doubt, our adversaries seek to supplant the United States as the global partner of choice and change that international order in their favor; a more authoritarian one I would say.

A rising China and a revanchist Russia are threats which are plausibly ‘existential’ – both in capability and intent. Their approaches in the maritime environment threaten U.S. interests, undermine our alliances and partnerships, and degrade the free and open international order. Along with Iran, North Korea, and violent extremist organizations, their aggressive military growth and modernization are challenging our advantage at sea.

These competitors are consistently conducting overt operations in the ‘gray zone,’ just below the threshold of armed conflict. And I will tell you as the naval commander for Northern Command, I am firmly convinced that the homeland is no longer a sanctuary, and the waters surrounding the United States are not moats as we once believed, but attack vectors. And in this time of persistent proximate threat, we cannot rest on our laurels while our enemies rapidly advance their capability and capacity to hold the United States, our allies, and partners at risk.

The recently published tri-service maritime strategy and CNO’s navigation plan provided by our leaders in the Pentagon make it abundantly clear that China is taking the long view and are the long-term pacing military challenge. They are the only rival with the combined economic and military potential to present that long-term, comprehensive challenge to the United States.

They are now employing a full array of anti-access, area denial platforms including aircraft carriers, surface combatants, submarines, and next generation weapon systems. They’ve launched over 100 warships in the last decade alone; just weeks ago they launched three in one day.

Through debt diplomacy, euphemistically their ‘one belt/one road,’ they quietly strong arm their neighbors, erode alliances, and obscure their activities. You can see this first hand as they move to build forward operating bases in Africa or in South America, which serves to increase their influence, and their maritime reach in the Artic, Atlantic, and the Pacific Oceans.

Our other near peer competitors also possess the capability to deny access in strategic locations. In 5th Fleet, mine warfare is an essential element of Iran’s layered defense strategy in restricting access to the Persian Gulf from the Straits of Hormuz. In addition to their extensive mine threat inventory, they are rapidly developing clandestine delivery platforms as well as new variants of influence mines.

And in 6th Fleet, Russia’s own anti-access / area denial defense strategy in the Baltic Sea, which protects their critical naval ports and assets in Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg, also bolsters by their ability to close the Skagerrak Straits by employing their unparalleled mine inventory.

Every day, the concept of ‘freedom of the seas’ is openly challenged by our competitors. This direct assault on the established global norms, that the high seas are free to all, belong to none, and are therefore a global commons, this threat requires us to move resolutely and with urgency.

The concept of ‘freedom of the seas’, power for peace, and the ability to control the seas in conflict, is critical to our national security strategy.

  • 70% of the earth is covered in water
  • 80% of the world’s population lives near the sea
  • More than 90% of what you buy or sell travels by the sea
  • And 99% of global internet traffic travels through over 287 undersea fiber-optic cables; all vulnerable in many ways

Bottom line, the seas are ever-more congested, ever-more dynamic, and with that, ever-more contested.

Take for example the situation in the Suez Canal just last month with the commercial vessel, Evergiven. The economic impact alone is estimated to have cost 9.6 billion dollars per day, not to mention the associated diplomatic and military concerns.

Now just imagine - China, Russia, Iran, or other foreign actors - who have the ability to sustain a closure like this - chose to deploy their mine inventories not only in the Suez, but simultaneously in strategic chokepoints around the world, laying siege to the world’s vital sea lanes.

This is the exact scenario, the exact reason, why our MIW forces are deployed strategically around the world, many on a 72-hour PTDO.

The fundamental goal of mine warfare is to deny access and cause psychological uncertainty about what weapons are actually in the water, where they are, and the imminent risk that a minefield carry.

Chinese strategists contend, because sea mines are easy to lay - the right number, in the right position, increases the risk and threat-value to adversaries exponentially. This is precisely why their key objective in offensive mining is to blockade our sea lanes and sea transport capability, while restricting our mobility in and around littoral environments.

Working to achieve that, the plan has moved from an obsolete mine inventory comprised primarily of pre-World War 2 mines, to a much more robust and modern inventory including moored, bottom, drifting, and rocket-propelled mines.

Where mines were once restricted in the littorals, these advanced mines pose a credible threat from the surf zone to the deep continental shelves. They feature microprocessors and integrated sensors for enhanced targeting, and are encased by composite bodies designed to make sweeping and hunting systems obsolete.

Although much of their mine warfare inventory is based largely on Russian made mines and tactics, the Chinese are researching and investing in technologies that expand the target capability and threat-window of traditional water-borne mines. One specific feasibility study conducted by the plan was the ‘water-exit attack mine’. If fielded, this next-generation mine could be outfitted with sensors that allow it to search-for and attack targets above the surface, much like a rocket-propelled grenade.

You know a 2009 Naval War College Chinese maritime study, it was found that the Chinese look at mine warfare as a true “assassin’s mace,” or as we would put it, “a silver bullet,” to any maritime operation against them or its adjoining waters. And in 2009, with an approximated 100,000 naval mines, the plan was already fully capable of blockading Taiwan and crucial sea lines of communication in the western Pacific. Fast-forward to today, their capabilities are certainly formidable.

History has shown us time-again the importance of mine warfare and the consequences of ignoring the real threat a minefield imposes on maritime operations.

I am here to tell you, today, the United States Navy is well positioned as the one entity that has the capability, capacity, and is in position now, to deter, monitor, and respond 24/7 – 365. And although it is true that the vast majority of our offensive and defensive weapons in the mine warfare arsenal are legacy systems employed on legacy platforms, the investments we are making today are going to ensure our maritime advantage remains well into the future.

Over the last three decades our program offices, real credit to them, have fought fiercely to develop and field the next generation of MIW assets amidst tightening defense budgets, technology gaps, and tough risk decisions.

All of you, military and civilians alike, have felt the impact over the years – but it is precisely because of you, that our legacy systems have been able to shoulder the load and retain their lethal edge, and that these critical new programs persist, positioning the nation with unique capabilities at sea, that are ready to fight, and win in this high end fight.

In order to maintain the freedom of the seas for our nation, for our allies and partners, and for all who transit the global commons, we are revitalizing our mine warfare capabilities to maintain maritime superiority. I like to look at it as “winning phase three in phase zero.”

Let me run through a few.

First, upon fleet commander recommendation, the CNO just approved reorganizing our MIW command and control structure by separating mining and mine counter-measures. This move will better serve the combatant commanders, providing that adaptability, that flexibility, and that  cohesion to fight this critical warfare area.

With this new C2 structure, the submarine community (OPNAV N97) and theater under sea warfare commanders will take charge of all mining operations. The submarine community’s superior knowledge of the underwater environment, along with their tactical expertise and lethality, provides unparalleled advantage in the battlespace.

Further, in an exciting way they are positioned to place a renewed emphasis on, and align our efforts in the development of next generation manned and unmanned undersea weapon delivery vehicles.

To better align and coordinate mine countermeasures operations with speed and tempo, we intend to move the SMWDC battle staff and MCM RON staffs under dedicated MCM CTF’s.

Combined, these actions will serve to significantly enhance our forward presence and responsiveness across multiple theaters simultaneously, focus mine countermeasures operations across the battlespace, and leverage the knowledge and expertise of our warfighters while improving mine warfare collaboration with key allied and partner nations.

Next, we are actively integrating mine warfare into our maritime concepts of DMO, EABO, and loce.

In order to mass effects on-time, on-target, and on-demand. Tomorrow’s fight means geography matters, especially key maritime terrain and hydrography.

To do that, we need to be able to get there, and in the battlespace of the future, the rapid pace of operations puts a premium, especially on DMO, on access and maneuver.

Our adversaries are ready for this – they will certainly look to win fast, and establish a fait accompli scenario. So whether during this ‘fog and friction’ they choose to employ an unassuming fishing vessel armed with a limpet mine, a shallow-water combination stealth mine, or a deep water lurker, we must maintain the capability to rapidly clear the way for our maritime forces.

On the defensive side, the fight involves reducing the “detect-to-engage” timeline, the proverbial key challenge of mine countermeasures. The problem is simply stated, but admittedly difficult to get after – time, area, and probability.

The next generation of mcm assets were designed specifically to attack this tempo problem. Aboard littoral combat ship and afloat forward staging base ships, SMCM, AMCM, and ex-MCM mission packages combine sensor speed with improved time-on-station, and A-I / M-l systems that should drastically reduce post-mission analysis timelines, to provide operational commanders with decision space. Perhaps all while in stride.

On the offensive side of the battle we are making targeted investments in the development of the aircraft delivered ‘Quickstrike’ family of mines, and the submarine launched ‘Clandestine Delivered Mines’ that are deployed by unmanned underwater vehicles, like the XLUUV. These burgeoning UUV capabilities are game-changers, delivering improved target detection, precision, range, and delivery options to fleet commanders.

To get to the finish line with these programs, we must continue to innovate across the ‘research enterprise’ with our industry partners and allies. Only together can we ensure that new concepts and technology developments result in solution sets that satisfy our most critical MIW challenges.

I said earlier that mine warfare must be taken seriously, but even more importantly, we cannot go about this fight alone. We must continue to foster partnerships with our allies to fully develop, distribute, and deploy mine warfare in all theaters.

As our leaders have laid out across the defense department have laid out – only through the strength of our partnerships can we mass the capability we need to deter, and if necessary defeat our adversaries.

Finally, we must place a premium on current readiness to ensure the viability of our legacy systems until we field fully developed, tested, and proven next generation systems in the fleet. Our legacy platforms have been tried and tested – they have answered the call for decades, and we are relying on them to continue to keep our ships, Sailors, and Marines safe until these new systems are ready.

This will involve properly funding our supply chains with much needed parts and spares, taking a pragmatic look at our service-life extension program, and most of all providing our Sailors on the deckplates the training and tools they need to maintain, and improve, the material readiness of their systems.

Defense spending going forward may be constrained to current levels at best. This requires us to think really hard about affordability and getting the most readiness and lethality out of every dollar that congress gives us. Ensuring our capability and capacity for mine warfare is a no-fail mission.

To bring this all together, the health, capability, and capacity of the international mine warfare community is critical to winning the high-end fight in any contest on or below the sea. We will build upon the successes we have achieved, deliver the next generation of mine warfare assets, maintain the vitality of our legacy systems, and enhance our interoperability to enable things like distributed maritime operations.

And we will rely on our allies within the community to innovate alongside of us, and join us in all theaters – we are stronger together.

I have no doubt every one of you and your teams will rise to the challenges that lay ahead, ensure we retain our advantages throughout the next decade and beyond, and uncover the full potential of mine warfare.

So that we may live up to our credo – “safe in our wake.”

Thank you. I look forward to your questions.



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