Home » Aviation » Navy, Air Force Test Deploys 2,000-Pound Mine at Stand-off Range


Navy, Air Force Test Deploys 2,000-Pound Mine at Stand-off Range

U.S. Air Force Airmen with the 96th Aircraft Maintenance Unit prepare a Quickstrike mine to be loaded onto a B-52 at Andersen Air Force Base, Sept. 16. Air Force photo.

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.

  • Michael Hoskins, Privileged

    Having served as a mine field planner: If unchallenged, that is avoided and unswept, the miner wins, without a single detonation.

    If unchallenged, Naval mines can function like land mines channeling ships into kill zones.

    If challenged mine fields change adversaries timelines (sortie), speed of advance, and resource computations. The absolute worse case for the enemy is to be observed tied up in a mine field then attacked. Bad day at Black Rock.

    • Marauder 2048

      I presume the standoff capability (esp. cross-range) makes it harder for the adversary to infer the layout of the minefield just by monitoring the position of the aircraft.

      • Michael Hoskins, Privileged

        Warning! This is a sea story.

        While learning the ins and outs of mining operations circa 1980, I was introduced to the awesomeness of the BUFF as a mine layer. A single aircraft can carry enough weapons to cover several mid sized harbors in a single coastwise sortie. One of the keys to a good minefield is a random distribution of mines inside the box. In initial trails B-52s were found to be too accurate, their bomb release system and autopilot were so good that mines were in perfect patterns, thus finding the first two led you to all the rest.

        The story is that the Air Force still had a crusty old colonel around who had flown B-24s in Europe. He had the crews turn off the autopilot and hand fly the beast at relatively low and slow speeds; thus slinging bombs all over the place, making great random distributions. A dangerous mission profile but a hellava result.

        • Centaurus

          So ? Your point ?

          • Al L.

            Apparently inferences are not your strong point. Nor is your comprehension of MIW.

          • Centaurus

            You play a lot with armchair stratagem. Ha, no tickey, no washey.

        • Ed L

          Sounds marvelous. Such a way to lay a mine field that is not in a predictable pattern

          • RDF

            Not good If you have to go in later and clean them up. We lost a bunch of sweepers around Japan after the conflict because of your ‘crusty old colonels’.

        • LT Nemo

          Are you sure this is a sea story? It didn’t start with, “This is no sh…”

          • Michael Hoskins, Privileged

            Lol. My self censor kicked in.

      • DaSaint

        Agreed. The enemy now has to doubt the exact placement of the mines when it’s from such an altitude.

      • NavySubNuke

        Standoff capability also makes it more likely for the plane laying the mines to survive the laying so that it can come back and lay some more the next day either in the same harbor or a different one. That is the biggest benefit.

        • Marauder 2048

          Oh sure. Just pointing out that there are other, less obvious, advantages.

      • USNVO

        It also allows for fewer tracks. Previously, to deploy mines in a quasi-random fashion, you had to make several passes with a few mines dropped each pass. With GPS/INS and standoff capability, you can sow the entire field in one pass and get a seemingly random distribution. But with GPS accuracy, although they appear random to the enemy, the miner can know very precisely where the mines are allowing them to be avoided or neutralized later.

    • Centaurus

      Let’s sow a whole buncha them in the Taiwan Straits just to P off the Chinese, then listen to them be angry at the UN.
      ‘Should be quite a show. I like killzones. Why haven’t we declared War yet ?

      • PolicyWonk

        Great idea – but it’ll PO the Taiwanese, too.

  • Al L.

    A few comments:

    1. Whoohoo! Finally!
    2. Now we need to encourage this capability to be introduced en masse to the Navy/AF/MC
    3. Why? Deterrence. Imagine Iran says ” Were going to close the Straight of Hormuz with mines” then we can say “Fine we’ll close every Iranian port the next day for months”
    4. Look at China’s sea lanes and imagine tens of thousands of these dropped in the passes through the first island chain.

    • Centaurus

      Yes, the Mk.62 Quickstrike -ER is what we’ve needed to deploy for a long time. All over the Persian Gulf and the coast of China. Let’s get crackin’ !!!!!!!!! WHOOP ! WHOOP ! WHOOP !

      • Al L.

        You did see the word “deterrence” in my post did you not?

        The US has thousands of atomic weapons. The world has tens of thousands. How many have been used in war?

        Perhaps the ability to close ports “if” needed can limit the need to destroy cities?

        • Centaurus

          I guess I’m not a ‘deterrence’, kind of person….. more on an ‘attack them’ on any kind of provocation, sort of person. Makes for a more dangerous kind of world, wouldn’t you agree ? I guess that makes for a more dangerous sort of world that I would agree to live in, yes, no, perhaps I would prefer to have, eh ?
          Perhaps I like to live in more danger and you less…but I am more crazy and you less ?.

          • Al L.

            Maybe you crazy, me practical? Yes no, maybe so? Up down ,left right, back forward?
            RU nuts? Eh?

            We lived for decades in a MAD world. Anything we can do to enable conventional deterrence and limit the chances of nuclear war is good by me. I got tired of planting my head on the floor in the basement of my grade school to prepare for the big flash 4+ decades ago.

          • Centaurus

            Iran and China hardly play with us on the “deterrence ” level. Let me know when Chinea starts sending Boomer patrols offa the Atlantic Coast. Or rather, I won’t need you to lemmie know. Xinhua will have already started yelping its big, hot Dragoany mouth ’bout it

      • Centaurus

        So Captor or it’s improvement does not work ? Deter, deter who de-cares…how much do Mk.-62’s cost anyway ? Drop them from B-1’s or P-8’s for P-nutz….

    • registered_with_discus

      China is a bigger concern. Their artificial islands were built as AA platforms – so keeping out of their range becomes paramount.

      • PolicyWonk

        If we were going so far as to lay minefields on the ChiComs – an overt act of war – then wiping out their artificial islands (Patton referred to fixed fortifications as “monuments to stupidity”) would be a high priority, and pretty straightforward.

    • PolicyWonk

      The Iranians don’t have to use mines: that waterway is constrained enough to simply use the cavitating torpedoes and ASM’s they bought from the Russkies and ChiComs, and the mere threat of doing so would be enough to tie it up for days.

      OTOH, if you look at a map of Iran, you’d find a), they don’t call it the Persian Gulf for nothing; and b) we’d need to deploy a whole LOTTA mines.

      • Duane

        The super cavitating torpedoes don’t work.

        The Iranians could cause some temporary interruptions on the first day or two of war using naval assets, such as they are … then the game will quickly end for them.

        Mine laying, however, is their longest term play, though again it takes only a matter of days to clear a channel, then over more time widen it out as needed.

        Of course your favorite ship to hate, LCS, is the ideal SSC to do a number on Iranian naval assets as well as mine clearing. No other ship on the planet is as lethal and well equipped to do naval combat, in SuW, ASW, and MCM as the LCS that will shortly be deploying to the Persian Gulf.

        • Jason

          Huh? Weird response. In the constricted waterways around the straight of Hermuz and the thousands of potential launch sites for short to medium ranged cruise and ballistic missiles directly in Iran, and their large if not particularly capable brown water navy which can pop up just about anywhere, Iran absolutely has the means to effectively shut down the waterway for months, if not years, barring a full scale invasion. Remember they don’t have to shoot at everything that passes by to make the Persian gulf too treacherous to pass. They just have to pick there targets well and saturate them one at a time.

          If Houthi rebels can effectively launch missiles at U.S. vessels, the country that gave those missiles to them probably can as well.. just a thought. Only Iran has thousands of missiles that can be launched from trucks, trailerable boats, or even in houses, not dozens like the Houthis. The LCS has an air defense battery of exactly 21 rolling air frame missiles. It has no standard missile and it doesn’t even have evolved sea sparrow missiles. Your statement, in other words is entirely daft. After all, The LCS can not hide in the Persian gulf. If each missile Iran launches cost 1 million dollars, (which they don’t) You’ve just guaranteed the sinking of 1/2 a billion dollar vessel for about 22 million dollars. That’s not a good deal, even for a country as rich as the United States.

  • RunningBear

    When do we ever lay mines?;

    “Additional mining missions began on 11 May. By the end of the year Navy
    and Marine Corps bombers had dropped more than eight thousand mines in
    North Vietnamese coastal waters and three thousand in inland waterways.”
    Fly Navy
    🙂

    • waveshaper1

      Here’s an interesting tidbit from that time; Excerpt;
      20. During the height of the mining operations, an unexpected
      event occurred which caused a great burden on the already strained combat support commitment.
      21. During the first few weeks of August, a series of extremely strong solar flares caused a
      fluctuation of the magnetic fields, in and around, South East Asia. The resulting chain of events
      caused the premature detonation of over 4,000 magnetically sensitive DSTs (Destructors), which
      were over half of the DSTs planted over the past several years. (8) Consequently, the task
      of re-seeding the depleted fields was an enormous evolution, which demanded immediate
      execution and was of the utmost priority. This was an extremely sensitive operation of enormous
      consequence to the South East Asian Mining campaigns, requiring immediate and decisive action.
      I cannot emphasize the tremendous strain that it imposed on the Pacific fleet Minemen, aside
      from the vast war commitments that were already delegated to the U.S. Mines divisions at that
      time.

  • RDF

    The best most accurate Airborne mine layer the Navy ever had is sitting at Davis Monthan. 4 Mk55 is a rude catshot.

  • Franken

    I’m at a loss as to why we’d go public with this capability. In an era when we have stated our intent to not trumpet our successes and shortcomings, this bit of tactical ‘triumphantcy’ is odd to me.

    • USNVO

      One of the great things about mines is that to be effective, often all you have to do is convince the enemy that they are there. So by advertising the capability and practicing it now, it provides credibility to your claims later, even if you are running a deception operation as opposed to an actual mining operation.

      • Joe

        What if I said we did this or that with some mines and I had my fingers crossed?

  • Western

    I would have thought the Mk 67 submarine launched mine would be a stealthier, more accurate placement system…anyway, glad we have options. Space-launched mines coming.

    • USNVO

      In a word, no.

      The SLMM is more stealthy but it isn’t more accurate than GPS placement. Additionally, it displaces a torpedo or Tomahawk on a one-to-one basis and is not nearly as responsive since you need to load it before the submarine departs on patrol. The aircraft can also enter areas where submarines can’t get to like rivers, lakes, harbors, and inland seas. Further, an aircraft is invulnerable to its own mines if used for reseeding a field whereas the submarine is not. Finally, the aircraft has much deeper magazines and more flexibility. A B-1 could easily drop 24 JDAM-ERs in a single sortie and then do other things like launch JASSMs in a day or to. A submarine just doesn’t have the magazine depth and would take weeks off-station to reload.

  • Hugh

    Hence the need for a robust mine sweeping/hunting force for each relevant country, and effective mine avoidance sonars for their naval vessels.

  • Jason

    All the more reason for the Navy to acquire its own fleet of bombers. No need to make them carrier capable. In a real war, the air force would not likely have the time or capacity to deploy mines or sink minor fleets using a bevy of LRASMS. A handful of Naval B-21’s or even surplus B-1’s would be more than sufficient to significantly augment the Navy’s ability to control the seas. After all, the best light cruiser the world has ever seen is almost certainly a bomber. 1 B-21 cost about as much as an LCS, and frankly I’d take a handful of B-21’s any day of the week if I were the Navy. Just equip it with a hose and drogue system instead of a boom receptacle. The Navy would then have a penetrating stealth bomber capable of delivering massive loads and the drones to refill it at sea.

    • Excellent suggestion. Bombers were a vital part of Navy forces during WWII and should have remained so. However, I doubt hose and drogue would be sufficient for such a large aircraft.

  • Leroy

    Too bad Global Hawk or Triton can’t carry and deploy these. Maybe the MQ-25A if they make accommodations for wing hard-points or even an internal weapons bay. Now would be the time to design it in.

    Wonder how much it would raise the price? Sure would be worth the capability! Could even sneak in some bombs too. Should be able to double as a UCAV anyway – some day once they get used to operating it off of a flight deck. .

    • Marauder 2048

      It does seem like the canonically dirty + dangerous task that would be better fulfilled by some unmanned platform.

      • USNVO

        Like maybe from a GPS guided glider that could be deployed from 40nm away?

        • Marauder 2048

          I’m totally sold on mine + wing-kit. But you are still endangering a manned strategic bomber, one of the only platforms capable of carrying standoff munitions in the 100s – 1000s nm range, in the course of carrying out an automatable task that Quickstrike-ER enables almost any platform to perform.

          • USNVO

            True, but there are several reasons you might want to use a strategic bomber (note you do note have to use a strategic bomber, you choose to use one).
            – number of sorties. One B-1 can carry 24 Quickstrike ER, same as probably 12 tactical aircraft. There might ba better use for your 12 in theater tactical aircraft
            – range. The strategic bomber can mine areas that are inaccessible to other aircraft.
            Sure, if you have a better use for your strategic bombers, then use them for that, But historical examples show that is not always the case.

            Operation Starvation – The 20th Air Force dedicated one B-29 bomber group, an insignificant amount, to mining in 1945. By all accounts, the mining campaign had a far more devastating impact on the Japanese economy in 1945 than making the rubble bounce. Even the factories that were undamaged couldn’t operate because the inter-island transportation was totally disrupted. Tactical aircraft couldn’t reach the targets except periodically and bombers carried far more mines.

            But the important thing to remember is that the ability to deploys mines doesn’t mean you have to, just that you can. If you have a better use for your bombers, do that instead.

  • R’ Yitzchak M

    One of the better held secrets in the WW2 that actually 75% of all tonnage lost were due to the MINES as opposed to the U-bots.. it almost broke the British backbone..

    Today’s Russian focus is on “stealthy” emplacements of 100 Megaton “tectonic” busters.

    “Tsar” 57-70 megatons H-Bomb was detonated at 3,500m altitude. The Result was that due to the blast earth buckled 4 times after the detonation. Now imagine the analogy of the firecracker blowing above the palm of the hand.. nothing? Or on the hand.. slightly burned? And the between the closed palms.. no palms? A few kilometers of ocean depth is “tight enough”? especially along the West Coast tecktonic plates. The far away of the territorial waters of the USA. Could be Russian? Chinese? Pakistani (Taliban) etc. etc. of course claiming the playable deniability? Buying a precious time for the last ditch of “diplomacy”efforts before “speacies wipeout event”?

    • During 1941 (the peak of the U-boat campaign), Allied losses were due to the following:

      Submarines: 2,172,000 gross registered tons
      Aircraft: 1,017,000 GRT
      Surface Ships: 488,000 GRT
      Other: 421,000 GRT
      Mines: 231,000 GRT

      As we can see, mines were actually the least effective weapon and were responsible for just 5.3% of tonnage lost – not 75%.

      Even in the Pacific where the US used mines far more effectively, they were still responsible for only 11.5% of Japanese tonnage sunk by US forces over the duration of the war.

      • R’ Yitzchak M

        My friend Information i gave to you was based only on Information declasified JUST a year ago.. it was shown on a “HISTORY” channel

        Yes they stated tha statistic on “subs accomplishents” were PURPOSEFULLY scewed to deflect German wildly SUCESSFUL EFFORT to the more manegable one (subs)

        .. it is a really a new and a trully monumental PARADIGME CHANGER on whole naval warfare history od the WW2

        • Yeah, you can believe the “History” channel all you want – I’ll stick with citing internal government documents (now widely available online).