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nato naval mine warfare centre of excellence

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Naval Mine Warfare

The naval mine is an efficient force multiplier and is one of the most cost-effective weapons in the naval arsenal. Mines are small, easy to conceal, cheap to acquire, require virtually no maintenance, and can be easily and simply laid from almost any type of platform. Naval mines can be used to deny hostile forces access to the coastal zone and to defend important targets, such as ports, anchorages, and offshore structures, from amphibious or seaborne attack. Mines can quickly wipe out, or  seriously impair, the effectiveness of surface and submarine forces.

Emplaced mines are also difficult to counter and neutralize, especially in the presence of hostile forces. Because of these factors, mines are one of the most effective and deadly weapons that a naval force can employ.

Naval mines provide a great advantage to foreign powers, enabling them to control nearshore operational areas by channeling, blocking, deflecting, disrupting, or delaying opposing forces and preventing them from achieving their objectives. Mines can also jeopardize the steady flow of seaborne materials, equipment, and fuels needed to sustain operations of land-based air and ground forces. As a majority of materials sent to support these forces comes by sea, the ability to close vital waterways provides a significant strategic threat to land-based operations.

Mines and underwater IED’s are easy to acquire or build and are cheap, but their low cost belies their potential for harm. With costs measured from a few hundred to several thousands of euros, they are the weapons of choice for a “poor man’s navy,” or other non-state actors like terrorists, providing an excellent return on investment: low cost but high effects. Therefore, the ability to counter sea mines is not a luxury but a MUST for our seafaring nations.

A mine is a terrible object that waits…invisibly and patiently waiting for passing ships or unmanned surface or subsurface systems. The modern mine can now actively detect and select its target and explode at the most appropriate moment, i.e. when it will inflict the greatest damage to its victim.

Naval Mine Counter Measures. The aim of Naval Mine Counter Measures

To allow own warships and merchant vessels to use the seas, enter and leave harbours, when necessary, without unacceptable damage or losses from mines

The ultimate aim is to reduce the RISK from sea mines.

In Naval Mine Counter Measures (NMCM) the following  techniques are used:

Minehunting, minesweeping and  explosive ordnance disposal (EOD):

  • Minehuntinguses sensor systems (e.g. sonar) to reach the seabed and water volume for the presence of mines. Once detected, classified and identified the mine is destroyed by exploding a mine disposal charge brought next to it, either by a remotely controlled underwater vehicle or by divers.

The “classic” minesweeping consists of:

Towing steel wires through the water. These are equipped with explosive or mechanical cutters which will sever the mooring cable of moored mines. The surfaced mine will then be destroyed by divers.
Towing an acoustic device as a noisemaker and/or an electric cable or solenoid generating a magnetic field. These signals simulate the target ship. A correct simulation will seduce the mine to explode under the sweeping gear. Other signatures to be simulated with more sophisticated gear include seismic or underwater electric potential (UEP).

EOD is the technique whereby divers systematically search the areas, where minesweepers and minehunters cannot operate. The mines found are then countermined.

An AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) is a relatively new sensor and seems very promising in locating potentially dangerous underwater objects…But whatever technique is used, NMCM remains a slow and complicated process with a very high risk. None of the weapon systems can guarantee success if its operators have not received adequate instruction and training.