A joint Navy and Air Force test successfully deployed a 2,000-pound shallow-water mine from altitude and at speed from outside a presumed enemy’s anti-aircraft range – a first for the U.S. military – during the recently completed Valiant Shield 2018 exercise.
A U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber dropped the 2,000-pound Quickstrike-extended range (ER) mine into the water near the Northern Marianas, and the mine was directed into position by a Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) kit, according to a U.S. Pacific Fleet statement. A Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft monitored the test to collect data, and Navy divers recovered the inert mine afterward.
“Quickstrike mines in the past were dropped by just gravity weapons. So the B-52 or other bombers had to be low to meet their accuracy,” Air Force Capt. Craig Quinnett, the Quickstrike’s B-52 test lead, said in a video of the test released by the Air Force. “So now with JDAM and the Quickstrike ER, this gives us the ability to deploy precision mines, so we can stand off, put these weapons exactly where we know they’re going to go, so we don’t have to get in, get low next to the enemy’s weapons. So the Quickstrike-ER is a huge step forward for the naval mines.”
Laying mines from the air is not new for the Navy and Air Force. The problem with older mines, though, is that accurately placing them in the water required bombers to fly low and slow, often making several passes over what could be a heavily defended target area, according to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command officials in a news release.
“There’s the legacy Quickstrike mines, which have the standard parachute tail fin,” Jeffrey Dudgeon, from INDOPACOM’s Joint Innovation and Experimentation division, said in the release. “To deploy them, it requires carrying the load slow, getting close in, and making several small passes. What this weapon allows us to do is precision placement from altitude, at speed.”
During Valiant Shield 2016, Air Force B-1B Lancers and Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornets demonstrated how smaller 500-pound mines in both the Quickstrike-JDAM precision mines and Quickstrike-ER longer-range standoff precision mines could be deployed from altitude and at speed, according to Pacific Fleet.
Though the recent mine test at Valiant Shield with the larger mine size validated a big leap forward in U.S. capability, those who monitor offensive mining capabilities have been arguing the need for mining advancements for many years now.
For decades, sea mine technology used by the U.S. had been an afterthought, starved of resources and deprived of research, Air Force Col. Mike Pietrucha wrote in a 2016 essay for USNI News. Just two years ago, the Navy and Air Force had only successfully deployed 500-pound Quickstrike mines from altitude and at speed, Pietrucha wrote. The Navy and Air Force were starting to perfect the deployment of larger 2,000-pound munitions.
For military planners, Pietrucha wrote, the goal of such precision-laid minefields is not to stop enemy naval vessels. The target would be to disrupt the commercial shipping routes that increasingly serve as economic lifelines to various countries.
“The accurate placement of large naval mines can have an interdiction effect massively disproportionate to the density of the actual threat,” Pietrucha wrote in his essay.