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USNI News Video: Avengers Assemble

The Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Chief (MCM-14) pulls into Jeju Island in the Republic of Korea (ROK) as part of a routine port visit on Sept. 26, 2017. US Navy Photo

For nearly three decades, the Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships have sought to identify and kill moored and bottom mines.

Developed in the early 1980s, the Avenger-class was designed to clear shipping lanes of mines. This threat to shipping became most pronounced during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, when both nations targeted commercial tanker traffic in the Persian Gulf, as detailed in a 1988 Proceedings article.

Avenger-class MCM ships were used during the operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991, according to the Navy. The fiberglass-sheathed, wooden-hull ships use sonar and video systems to identify mines and can deploy a mine-detonating device to remotely explode mines. The ships are also capable of conventional minesweeping activities.

The Navy’s 11 Avenger-class MCM ships today are distributed between homeports in San Diego; Sasebo, Japan; and Manama, Bahrain. The Navy plans to eventually replace the Avengers with Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) outfitted with MCM mission packages that rely on unmanned aerial, surface and underwater systems to detect and neutralize the mines – keeping sailors farther from potential dangers than they are with today’s legacy MCM platforms.

As the LCS program progresses, the Navy is preparing to test MCM mission packages in 2020. USNI News previously reported the MCM mission package for LCS is expected to achieve initial operational capability in Fiscal Year 2021.

USNI News Graphic

Meanwhile, the Navy has approved the Austal-built Independence-variant LCS to operate all the unmanned aerial systems in the MCM mission package. These systems include the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS), the Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS) and the Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA).

  • DaSaint

    And then there were 11. There were 14 I believe, with 2 decommissioned, and 1 dismantled after breaking up on a reef in the Philippines.

  • Marcd30319

    Part of the legacy from the Reagan Administration’s 600-ship Navy!

  • Ed L

    Then it’s time to forward deploy those LCS with there vaulted minesweeping ability

    • Duane

      The LCS will start performing the MCM role as the old minesweeps are retired, beginning in FY 2021 (a bit over 2 years from now). Most of the MCM mission module gear is already developed and tested, but the final IOC integrating all four sets of gear will take place sometime late FY2020 to early FY2021.

    • USNVO

      Vaulted?

  • jlarribeau

    OK, lets deploy a metal ship into a field of magnetic influence mines to act as a mine hunter. What could possibly go wrong?

    • Ed L

      Used the Aluminum hulled LCS’s or not. I though those remote mine hunting gizmo’s allowed the LCS to stand off at a safe distance while sweeping. Looks like the helicopter mine sweeping squadrons will have to pickup the slack

      • Duane

        That’s what they do, with a combo of unmanned aircraft, unmanned surface craft, and unmanned submersibles.

        • Graeme Rymill

          That’s what the LCS with the MCM Mission Package might eventually do. In 2021 though they will have a manned MH-60s carrying the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) and the Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS). The AMNS deploys 4 expendable “neutralizers” equipped with shaped charge warheads to destroy mines. They will have an Unmanned Surface Vehicle to tow the AN/AQS-20A sonar. No unmanned aircraft and no unmanned submersibles unless you count the neutralizers that blow up if they locate a mine.

          • Duane

            It already does it. Testing has already been succesfully conducted on most of the major ummanned components of the MCM mission package, including the Knifefish, the remote aerial mine detection and neutralization system on MQ8B, and preliminary testing has been successfully completed of remote mine detection and neutralization by the CUSV. The MCM package consists of four separate unmanned systems, and IOC will be declared when all four systems are fully integrated aboard LCS … but in addition to LCS, the MCM package of systems will also will be integrated with other platforms including Expeditionary Sea Bases and even DDG51.

          • Graeme Rymill

            Knifefish is yet to complete development testing or operational assessment. The Milestone C decision, which initiates production and deployment, is scheduled for the end of 2018. Given the fiasco with the RMMV drone it is not a given that Knifefish will sail through these tests.

            The MQ-8B has been tested with the AN/DVS-1 COBRA airborne mine detection system. IOT&E Phase 1 testing was completed in late 2017. There are 4 more IOT&E testing phases to be done. Possible completion date is the end of 2018. Actual IOC on an LCS? That’s anyone’s guess. There has been zero testing of either the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) or the Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS) on the MQ-8B. As a 25 October 2017 USNI News artile commented: “Capt. Mark Leavitt, commander of Helicopter Sea Combat Wing Atlantic,
            said the MH-60S is meant to deploy the Airborne Laser Mine Detection
            System (ALMDS) and the Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS).”

    • USNVO

      I guess you didn’t read the part about remote systems? The ship won’t enter the mined area, it will operate remote systems that will enter the mined area. Really this is pretty simple.

    • Duane

      Wood hulled minesweepers have been used since the early 20th century. They may not trigger magnetic influence mines, but that does not protect them from other types of mines.

      The last time the US Navy faced off with an opponent protecting their coast with minefields was the Korean War. Most of the US and allied ships that were sunk by those mines in Korea were USN minesweepers, sunk during minesweeping.

      That’s why we intend to do MCM ops in the future with remote unmanned gear

      • Graeme Rymill

        “The last time the US Navy faced off with an opponent protecting their coast with minefields was the Korean War.” Iraq protected its coastline and that of Kuwait with minefields in 1991. USS Tripoli, an Iwo Jima class amphibious assault ship, hit an Iraqi LUGM-145 sea mine on 18 February 1991. The Iraqi made contact mine made a 6 m X 20 m hole in the Tripoli. That same day USS Princeton was hit by two Italian made MN103 Manta influence mines. The explosions locked the Princeton’s starboard propeller shaft and locked the port rudder among other damage. Iraq laid an estimated 1,300 sea mines in the northern Persian Gulf.

        • Duane

          If you want to say that the miniscule Iraq mining was equivalent to the North Korean mining, you are very misinformed. First of all, the Iraq War was not an amphibious invasion, and we did not “face” a major mine warfare obstacle to invasion … any losses to mines were incidental to the conduct of the war. The Inchon landing in Korea was the second largest amphibious invasion in history. The minefields were a direct obstacle to the landing and their destruction was a key to winning on the ground. At that point in the war, the NORKs controlled 90% of South Korea and thought they already had the war won.

          The two MCM campaigns were in no way comparable. Korea was clearly the last time the US Navy faced off a significant mine warfare threat.

          • Graeme Rymill

            If you had written “”The last time the US Navy attempted an amphibious invasion against a country protecting their coast with minefields was the Korean War” I would have agreed with you and said nothing.
            But you didn’t say that. instead you simply said “faced off with an opponent” which was exactly the case in 1991. Initial planning did include an amphibious invasion. This proved problematic so instead it went ahead as a faint to draw Iraqi forces and attention away from the real offensives.

            The northern Persian Gulf mine threat in 1991 was no where near comparable to Inchon as you say. Even so Iraq was protecting the Faw Peninsular and Kuwait with mines and US Navy forces “faced off” against that threat in order to convince the Iraqis an amphibious invasion was about to happen.

        • Duane

          Again, any Iraqi minelaying was minor and entirely incidental to the Iraq invasion, SINCE IT WAS A LAND INVASION NOT AN AMPHIBIOUS INVASION.

          Get it? By land, not by sea. It makes all the difference in the world as to whether a significant threat was posed by sea mines, or not.

          Stop being obtuse.

          • Graeme Rymill

            I forgot the First Rule of Duane:

            Duane is always right even when he is wrong!

          • Duane

            You are merely trying to be argumentative while completely ignoring the point I made, i.e., that minesweepers are the most likely ship to be at risk from mines. Any other ship, once alerted to the presence of a minefield, will stay away unless it has an urgent need to go there anyway Minesweepers go where the mines are, obviously. The last time we had to run large numbers of ships into areas we knew to be mined, because we intended an amphibious invasion of Korea to prevent total NORK victory was in Inchon. And as I pointed out, we lost more minesweepers in the Korean War than any other ship types.

          • Graeme Rymill

            Words have meaning. “The last time the US Navy faced off with an opponent protecting their coast with minefields was the Korean War.” This sentence has a clear meaning. It doesn’t exclusively mean an amphibious landing. “Faced off” means confronted. There can be no doubt that the US Navy confronted the Iraqis in 1991. The cost of that confrontation was two valuable ships, one an amphibious ship, badly damaged.

          • Graeme Rymill

            “The 1980’s Iran-Iraq War and the 1991 Gulf War both involved significant mining incidents of strategic importance” stated Captain Gregory J Cornish, United States Navy, in his 2003 research report. He went on to say “During the Persian Gulf War in 1990-1991, Iraq planted approximately 1150 mines in fairly sophisticated
            minefields off the Kuwaiti coast, directly affecting naval operations during most of the campaign. The Iraqi’s used a dual mining strategy, protecting their seaward flank from an amphibious assault and deliberately seeding some mines adrift to disrupt naval freedom of maneuver. This strategy worked well, confounding coalition planning for an amphibious assault and severely damaging two U.S. naval ships.”

          • Graeme Rymill

            In a 2008 paper entitled Mine warfare: lessons learned and forgotten by Rickson E. Evangelista, LCDR USN commented:

            U.S. mine countermeasures forces in the Persian Gulf consisted of the newly
            commissioned USS Avenger (MCM-1), three 30-year-old MSO-class minesweepers, six MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters, and twenty Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams. USS Tripoli (LPH-10) was detached from the amphibious task force to act as an MCM support ship. Augmenting this U.S. Mine Countermeasures Group (USMCMG) were five British minehunters, two Belgian minehunters, and four minesweepers from the Royal Saudi Navy.The majority of these forces were in theater by October of 1990. However, mine clearing operations off the Kuwaiti coast did not begin until 16 February,
            despite evidence of Iraqi mining activity as early as December. Clearing operations began on 16 February 1991. The objective was “to clear an
            approach channel and a staging/fire support area of more than 200 nm for an amphibious landing near Ash Shuaybah. Estimated clearance times ran as high as 40 days.” Two days into the clearing operations, “USS Tripoli hit a moored contact mine in 30 meters of water. The explosion ripped a 16ft x 20ft hole below the water line.” Less than three hours later, USS Princeton (CG-59) actuated a Manta mine, resulting in “a cracked superstructure, severe deck buckling, and a damaged propeller shaft and rudder.” Fortunately, heroic damage control efforts by both crews saved their ships from sinking.
            Subsequently, captured Iraqi charts revealed that the coalition mine clearing operations had commenced inside the initial line of mines. This critical error was caused by a lack of intelligence on Iraq’s mining activities over the previous months and incorrect assumptions regarding Iraqi mining tactics. In retrospect, the coalition was extremely fortunate that only two ships struck mines and neither of which were lost.Ultimately, the objective of clearing a path for an amphibious landing into Kuwait was not achieved and the landing was cancelled.

  • USNVO

    Where are the guns and missiles? Everyone keeps saying the LCS is so much worse than the ships they are replacing. 14 (well 11 now) of those ships are MCMs and 12 were MHCs. Let’s see,

    LCS – 57mm Gun w/FCS MCM – Sailor operated .50 cal
    LCS – RAM w/FCS MCM – Sailor operated Stinger (maybe)
    LCS – Air Search Radar. MCM – mk1 eyeballs
    LCS – ESM system. MCM – mk1 eyeballs
    LCS – Chaff launcher. MCM – party favors?
    LCS – reduced RCS. MCM – stealthy vs magnetic mines only
    LCS – 3500nm at 20kts. MCM – 2000nm at 8kts
    LCS – SH-60S and FireScout MCM – mail, we don’t need mail
    LCS – stays out of mined area MCM – Takes 84 Sailors into the minefield
    LCS – UHF/SHF/EHF Satcom. MCM – UHF only
    LCS – High speed broadband. MCM – 1200baud at $7.50/min
    LCS – DTS. MCM – Never know what’s going on in world
    LCS – Aluminum. MCM – planks, plywood, and fiberglass
    LCS – soot from the stacks. MCM – dry rot
    LCS – AMNS. MCM – SLQ-48 (enough said)
    Beyond all that, the LCS has significantly higher search rate and can simultaneously search and neutralize. Additionally, it doesn’t have IF non-magnetic engines.

    The MCM does have some advantages. Pretty much impossible to hit with a magnetic torpedo, 12inches of Douglas Fir planking is awesome insulation in hot areas, you can have wood floors in the Wardroom, you have a bow thruster when the turbine works, Magnetic offload is a great way to get rid of a bunch of junk that accumulates on ships, you can refuel from a tanker truck on the pier, astern refueling (to be fair you can alongside refuel from an RFA oiler or you can convince a USNS oiler to set up a close in rig which they really hate to do), and who doesn’t like the saying “Wooden Ships and Iron Men?”

    • Graeme Rymill

      LCS with the MCM module is also replacing 2 squadrons of mine sweeping MH-53E Sea Dragons. Then-chief of Naval Air Systems Command Vice Admiral Paul A. Grosklags
      in March [2018] testified before a Senate panel on military aviation that ‘‘the
      MH-53E will continue to perform its primary mission of airborne mine
      countermeasures as well as transport of cargo and personnel until it is
      replaced by the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).’’ The US Senate has asked the Navy for a report on the feasibility of a CH-53K mine-hunting variant to maintain this capability.

      • USNVO

        It will be interesting to see what happens with the MH-53s.

        Some of their capabilities are easily matched by other assets, some are not. They spend most their time doing the heavy lift mission and LCS certainly can’t do that.

    • Duane

      You forgot a few of the many other advantages of LCS over the old minesweeps, but you make your point well.

      Mine warfare is a significant component of naval warfare. In WW2 mines accounted for more tonnage sunk than any individual warship type but submarines and the air wings of aircraft carriers … about 15% of ship losses during the war.

      It is great that we finally have an MCM capability that does not put our sailors in harms way from the very mines they are trying to find and neutralize. And the LCS is a great platform to use this capability, being a fully functional warship with a great deal of both offensive and defensive capability.

    • tiger

      Do they even still have mineman as a rating? Never actually met one.

      • USNVO

        They do although it is not just an ordnance rating anymore. Back in the 90s they consolidated the STG, OS, BM, and GM rating billets on the MCM and MHC with the traditional ordnance MNs. So a typical MCM has something like 14 or 15 MN billets. Additionally there are something like 17 MNs in each of the MCM mission package crews, several MNs in the three 53 Squadrons on the air side to run MEDAL and do PMA (and possibly run the small boats that hook up the MK105/MK106 sleds but I do not know what became of that proposal), and there were also some working with the UUVs and on various staff, research, and training billets. I used to know the exact rating distribution but that was over a decade ago, there have been numerous changes, and I haven’t paid much attention since.

    • Graeme Rymill

      “the LCS …… . can simultaneously search and neutralize.” Are you referring to the MH-60S? If so it appears that a single MH-60S will not carry both the the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) and the Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS) simultaneously. Nor does it appear that the MH-60s is able to send mine localization data back to the LCS via datalinks.

      “the precise localization capabilities are housed within the MH-60S’s ALMDS system. Once an operating area has been designated that is likely to contain mines (either by intelligence provided from other communities or by utilizing the LCS’s onboard sensors), it is expected that the helicopter will launch to perform a more thorough sweep of the operating area. This information will be returned to the ship; while the helicopter removes the ALMDS and installs the AMNS., the ship’s company will perform the post-mission analysis that will identify mines using the obtained data.” [From a December 2016 report written for the Naval Postgraduate School entitled “Efficacy Evaluation Of Current And Future Naval Mine Warfare Neutralization Method”

      • USNVO

        The MH-60S can only do one thing at a time but you are missing the way all the systems will operate together. A MCM mission module is planned to include not just a MH-60S w/ALMDS and AMNS, but also 2 mineshunting systems (WLD-1A or more probably CUSV with AQS-20A), 2 Minesweeping systems (CUSV with OASIS), and two UUVs (Knifefish w/synthetic aperture SONAR). They also have the FireScout w/COBRA but that operates in the surf zone.

        The beauty of unmanned systems is that they largely proceed independent of what the host ship and other remote systems are doing. So you can be doing minehunting, minesweeping, and mine neutralization at the same time. You do have some issues with fatigue, phasing of launch and recovery of the MH-60S and the remote vehicles, doing PMA in a timely fashion, and control of the various systems at the same time, but it moves much more in parallel.

        An MCM has to do things sequentially. Conduct a magnetic offload, get to the mined area (8kts), minehunt through the mined area (not going very fast), and then conduct mine neutralization with the SLQ-48 or EOD (both systems have limitations, stand off distances, etc.). If they are minesweeping, they have to stop minehunting, rig for the appropriate sweep, deploy the sweep, and then conduct minesweeping. Fatigue, phasing operations with EOD, and system reliability are also issues.

        If an MCM needs to replenish, you have to exit the minefield, go to the Oiler (at a whole 8kts), replenish,and then return to the minehunting. An LCS could launch its CUSV/UUVs and go replenish while they conduct their search pattern and return in time to recover them.

        • Graeme Rymill

          Thanks – a very informative reply.

  • Ed L

    Time to do a SLEP on the Avenger Minesweepers and build more Cyclone Patrol Boats