British Mine Warfare Experts Share Their Expertise with American Colleagues
British mine warfare experts are sharing their expertise with their American colleagues in the Gulf as the US Navy follows the Royal Navy’s lead by introducing its own mini submarine – Seafox.
The Americans have followed the RN’s progress with Seafox – a small unmanned underwater vehicle which is controlled from the operations room of Hunt or Sandown-class ship – for several years in the Gulf.
The four-foot-long craft moves through the water at up to six knots, tethered to the mother ship by a 3,200ft-long fibre-optic cable. It sends back a live video feed to its controller who uses the four motors and hover thrusters to guide Seafox into place so a charge can be precisely laid should a mine be found.
The Royal Navy has a four-strong force of minehunters permanently stationed in Bahrain – two Hunts (Atherstone and Quorn) and two Sandowns (Ramsey and Shoreham), each equipped with the mini submersible.
The quartet regularly work alongside their US Navy counterparts on exercises – and ‘cross decking’, sending Brits on to American ships (and vice versa) to share their experiences.
Among the RN Seafox experts the Americans could turn to is LS Mark Titman of HMS Atherstone who is on his third deployment to the Gulf as part of the regular rotation of crews through the minehunting force. He said:
“With the ship sat still in the water, and the crew in defence watches, inevitably the captain and ops team are focused on the image coming from the camera – so the pressure is on to get the Seafox to maintain position.”
Naval mines represent a highly-efficient, highly cost-effective, low-technology weapon which can inflict massive damage – but even the threat of mines, rather than their actual presence, is sufficient to deter shipping from using sea lanes, such as happened off Iraq until a concerted effort by the Royal Navy at the end of the last decade to make the waters safe.
As the civil war in Libya showed, mines are still in use and still dangerous; in that instance, Brocklesby located a mine crudely attached to an inflatable boat and sunk off Misrata. It was Seafox which found the device – and beamed back a chilling black and white image of it – then safely blew it up.
Other devices in use include drift mines – released and allowed to float in the current and as such are indiscriminate in their nature.
Moored mines are tethered to the sea bed and designed to float below the surface at specific depths based on the intended target, while bottom mines rest on the sea bed and generally carry the largest explosive charge (up to 1½ tons).
Naval Today Staff, February 20, 2013; Image: Royal Navy