Ships of the Surface Fleet: Mine Countermeasures (MCM) Ships
When you think “minesweeper” do you think about the computer game from the early ‘90s? You know, the game where you had to use logic (and a bit of luck) to avoid detonating hidden mines and ending your game? Well, the U.S. Navy has its own version of minesweeper and while the goal is similar – to find and either detonate or inactivate mines – ours is anything but fun and games.
Dangerous explosive devices known as sea mines lurk in waterways around the world, capable of damaging or even sinking military and commercial vessels, particularly in sea lanes where the vast majority of the goods needed by people all around the world travel regularly. Here’s something to consider; approximately:
– 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water.
– 80% of the world’s population lives near the sea.
– 90% of all world trade by volume travels by sea.
That’s an awful lot of water to cover and, unlike in the game minesweeper, there is no restart button after a miscalculation.
To combat this threat, the U.S. Navy’s Surface Fleet currently has 11 mine sweeping ships in service. These 224-foot mine countermeasures (MCM) ships manned by a crew of 84 Sailors use sonar and video systems, cable cutters, and a mine detonating device that can be released and detonated by remote control to find and inactivate or destroy mines, keeping sea lanes clear and safe. Avenger-class MCMs are the only ships in the Surface Fleet constructed with wooden hulls sheathed in fiberglass. This design allows the hull to withstand a nearby blast from a mine and also minimizes their risk of detonating any nearby magnetic mines.
Both technologically sophisticated sea mines and underwater improvised explosive devices pose threats to vessels and have been used to challenge military forces and commercial use of the seas. In fact, 28 years ago today, USS Samuel B. Roberts was struck by a mine during her maiden deployment to the Arabian Gulf in the midst of the Gulf War. Though the ship was saved through the valiant actions of the crew, this mine strike underscored the importance of MCM ships in the fleet, and we continue to utilize and improve mine hunting techniques today.
On April 4, 2016, navies from more than 30 nations kicked off the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX), a training exercise designed to address multiple elements of the maritime security challenge and promote deterrence of threats to global shipping. The event, which is being held in the international waterways of the Middle East, will involve scenarios in mine countermeasures, maritime security operations, and other helpful techniques to address terrorism threats. IMCMEX will conclude on April 26.
Please check back for future installments to learn more about the different types of ships that comprise the U.S. Navy Surface Fleet.