A Coast Guard Role in Mine Countermeasures

Two posts have recently appeared that make a case for Coast Guard involvement in Mine Counter-Measures (MCM) in peacetime. “Terror in the Water: Maritime Terrorism, Mines, and our Imperiled Harbors,” Second Place Mine Warfare Essay Contest, sponsored by the U.S. Naval Institute with the Mine Warfare Association. by Lieutenant (junior grade) Daniel Stefanus, U.S. Navy, advocates a stronger working relationship between the Navy and Coast Guard, mentioning the Coast Guard 13 times in a relatively short essay.

The January 2018 USNI Proceedings has a short post, “Coast Guard Needs Mine Countermeasures,” by Peter von Bleichert, suggesting that the Coast Guard has a mission implicit in its Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security mission to deal with Naval mines and underwater improvised explosive devices (M/UWIED) and that the Coast Guard should be equipped and trained for the mission.

“Hardware for a Coast Guard mine countermeasures (MCM) capability could be harvested from the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship MCM mission package, which existing or planned Coast Guard platforms could use in part or as a whole. These platforms could include hulls such as coastal and seagoing buoy tenders, the National Security and Offshore Patrol Cutters, and Coast Guard aircraft, both fixed- and rotary-wing. Training Coast Guardsmen for MCM operations could be concurrent with that of Navy sailors. As shown during the 2014 International Mine Countermeasures Exercise in the Arabian Gulf and the 2015 Field Training Exercise in homeland waters, the U.S. sea services already train and exercise together for such operations. Further combining MCM hardware acquisition and training will reduce duplication, generate economies of scale, encourage innovation, and increase preparation for joint operations.

“As the tripwire guarding against a conflict or terrorist incident in U.S. waters, and as a security component for naval bases and forces abroad, the U.S. Coast Guard must be given the expertise and tools to protect commercial and military vessels from the ever-growing threat of M/UWIEDs. At the very least, the service’s vessels must be able to detect such weapons. They should also be able to classify and localize them, and ideally to identify and neutralize them.”

Mining one or more US ports might not be that difficult, and while I don’t think the general population would be terrified by a ship sinking, the economic effect could be severe.

The Navy has never been very enthusiastic about the MCM mission, in spite of the fact that, since World War II, more of their ships have been damaged by mines than any other hostile agency.

As Lt(jg) Stefanus points out,

The United States’ mine countermeasures (MCM) triad consists of surface vessels (minesweepers), aircraft, and explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) teams. The surface vessels are the twelve ships of the worn-down Avenger class: homeported overseas with the exception of two in San Diego, and in poor readiness conditions due to repeated life-cycle extensions because of the slow development of the littoral combat ship’s (LCS) mine warfare module. There are no surface mine countermeasure forces available on the East Coast of the United States. (emphasis applied–Chuck)

The aerial leg of the triad is made up of the equally worn-down MH-53E Sea Dragons. Old and outdated, the 28 MH-53Es are only on the East Coast, (again, emphasis applied–Chuck) and suffer from notoriously serious readiness and material issues. While they are slated to remain in the fleet until the final operational capability (FOC) of the LCS mine warfare module in 2024, they are already struggling and will continue to degrade.

I doubt the Coast Guard has had a mine warfare expert since WWII, so I would certainly would not expect any massive shifts in that direction, but there probably is more we could be doing. Back in the Stone Age, when I was active duty, the Coast Guard through the Maritime Defense Zone organization participated in a Craft Of Opportunity Program using side scan sonars to map predesignated routes in and out of harbors to map mine like objects on the sea floor so they would not be mistaken for mines if it became necessary to clear the route–no idea if that still happens.

Types of Naval mine. A-underwater, B-bottom, SS-Submarine. 1-Drifting mine, 2-Drifting mine, 3-Moored Mine, 4-Moored Mine (short wire), 5-Bottom Mines, 6-Torpedo mine/CAPTOR mine  ,7-Rising mine–by Los688

Mine warfare does seem to be changing, particularly the surface ship methods. Instead of specialized ships with low acoustic and magnetic signatures actually entering the minefield, mine hunting, sweeping, and destruction is being done by unmanned systems. Several of our ships, including buoy tenders, might be useful in supporting MCM operations.


10 thoughts on “A Coast Guard Role in Mine Countermeasures

  1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the Duty of Mine Laying in WWII performed by the US Army (i.e. US Army Corps of Engineers)?

    • The Army was responsible for “Coast Defense” and had a number of “mine planters,” many of which became USCG buoy tenders for laying defensive mine fields, including remotely controlled mines. The Navy had a number of mine layers including converted destroyers for laying offensive mine fields. Air Force and Navy aircraft also laid offensive mine fields.

  2. People have forgotten the scale of resources needed to deal with a serious mining threat and technology means that the option of hanging gear off a fishing Trawler has long gone, mines are smarter and most of the larger trawlers are registered in the third word.. Given that the USN has always considered MCM’s to be a third tier task transferring responsibility (and resources) to the Coast Guard would be a good idea.

      • I had not heard this, but it would make sense. The Viet Cong also floated mines in pairs down river with them connected by a line. The idea was that a ship would encounter the line, either its bow or anchor chain, the mines would then be swung against the side of the ship by the movement of the water relative to the ship. The same thing would happen to a buoy. The line would attach the mines to the buoy.

      • In the documentary about the USCG role in Vietnam. I think it’s called “Coast Guard at War” When the Tenders were redoing the Channels from the French system to the US system, they would have UDT check the buoy for implanted explosives before they brought it aboard. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen it.

  3. Pingback: How the Coast Guard and Navy Could Plan to Mobilize the Cutter Force in a Major Conflict | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

  4. Pingback: Modular Mission Packages for Cutters | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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