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.