More than thirty countries produce mines, and twenty countries export them. Iran has reportedly laid several thousand naval mines, North Korea’s 50,000, China 100,000 or so, and Russia estimated quarter-million. Since World War II, sea mines have damaged or sunk four times more U.S. Navy ships than all other means of attack combined, according to a Navy report on mine warfare.
Traditional navies as well as maritime terrorists can and have used mines and underwater improvised explosive devices (UWIEDs) to challenge military and commercial uses of the seas. With 95% of the world’s commerce moving by sea, the security of waters, coastlines and military personnel remains a key issue for navies. Sea mines and underwater explosives have become cheap to acquire and easy to deploy now pose a real threat to navies and commercial shipping by reducing freedom of movement in shallow waters and strategic choke points.
Mines can quickly wipe out, or seriously impair, the effectiveness of surface and submarine forces. Mines can also jeopardize the steady flow of seaborne materials, equipment, and fuels needed to sustain operations of land-based air and ground forces.
Navy requires Cheaper, Faster, More reliable and More capable mine countermeasure and neutralization systems. Airborne platforms can provide rapid search and detection of mines. Two airborne systems, the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System ( ALMDS) , and the Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS), both will operate aboard the Navy’s MH-60S chopper to locate and take out sea mines from the air by means of powerful armor-piercing warheads. Both the AMNS, and ALMDS reached initial operational capability in November 2016.
ALMDS is a laser-based, high-area-coverage system designed to provide a wide-area reconnaissance and assessment of mine threats for Carrier and Expeditionary Strike Groups (CSG/ESG). It uses pulsed laser light and streak tube receivers to image the entire near-surface volume to detect, classify and localise near-surface, moored mines. AMNS-AF is designed to tackle the threat of modern mines. It has the ability to provide reacquisition, identification and neutralisation capability against bottom and moored sea mines. After identifying the threats during mine-hunting operations, AMNS-AF emits a warhead to explosively neutralise the target.
The Airborne Laser Mine Detection System, or ALMDS, which also works with MH-60S helicopters, uses Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technologies to detect, classify and localize naval mines near-surface moored sea mines. “ALMDS is an optical system flown over the water, not towed through it. This enables the helicopter to conduct mine detection operations at greater speeds. This speed, combined with the laser’s wide swath, delivers a high area coverage rate,” explained Baribeau. Detecting mines more effectively and at greater distances with systems such as AMNS, naturally, could massively impact the US navy’s ability to respond to a wide range of threats.
The AN/ASQ‑235 Airborne Mine Neutralization System, or AMNS, receives surveillance information from a range of different navy systems before it reconfirms the target, deploys expendable destructors from MH-60S helicopters below the surface, and destroys the mine. Those vehicles are controlled from a console while they ID mines. Once they do, warheads are detonated to destroy the mines. The Airborne Mine Neutralisation System (AMNS) is designed to enable Carrier Strike Groups, Expeditionary Strike Groups and Amphibious attack missions to improve combat access while lowering risk to surface ships and sailors.
The Airborne Mine Neutralisation System (AMNS) is designed to enable Carrier Strike Groups, Expeditionary Strike Groups and Amphibious attack missions to improve combat access while lowering risk to surface ships and sailors. “The navy established a requirement for rapid neutralisation of bottom and moored sea mines to support operations in littoral zones (areas near the shore), confined straits, choke points and the amphibious objective area,” said Navy spokesman, Alan Baribeau. Mine Warfare program manager Captain Danielle George told that the Archer Fish is typically cued from a towed sonar. “It goes after bottom targets but not those that are found near the surface,” she said. This advancement will improve protection for submarines and surface ships while bringing new combat ability to maritime war operations, navy officials said.
In 2019, the US Navy’s Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Two Eight (HSC 28) has used the latest airborne mine countermeasures (AMCM) systems in the BALTOPS exercise in the Baltic Sea. HSC 28 performed AMCM operations as part of the BALTOPS 2019 Mine Warfare Task Group. The Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) and Airborne Mine Neutralization System-Archerfish (AMNS-AF) were used in the Baltic Sea and the Naval Forces Europe area of operations for the first time. Aircrew operated the ALMDS and AMNS-AF systems from the MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter. US Second Fleet commander vice-admiral Andrew Lewis said: “You should not underestimate the significance of this deployment for this squadron or naval aviation or the littoral combat ship platform.
ALMDS and AMNS-AF are part of the MCM Mission Package certified to be integrated on the Independence-variant littoral combat ships (LCSs). Assets that were part of BALTOPS 2019 Mine Warfare Task Group included more than 15 MCM ships, 15 unmanned undersea vehicles, five drone ships, and AMCM.
The abundance and sheer variety of mine threats can also make detection more challenging. Some so-called “bottom mines” can be buried or shallow-water mines easily triggered by surface ships or submarines. Moored mines, however, often tethered to the ocean floor, can be found in deeper parts of the water column. Emplaced mines are also difficult to counter and neutralize, especially in the presence of hostile forces. Because of these factors, mines are one of the most effective and deadly weapons that a naval force can employ. Dummy mines, or mine-like objects (such as empty barrels), can also be laid in a minefield. These objects can greatly complicate mine countermeasure (MCM) efforts as they must be hunted and classified to ensure that they are not live mines.
The Navy employs a number of different mine countermeasures. One includes the use of the MH-53E Sea Dragon, which can be operated from aircraft carriers and other Navy vessels. The platform can tow a variety of mine-hunting systems such as the Mk 105 magnetic minesweeping sled, the AQS-14A side-scan sonar and the Mk 103 mechanical minesweeping system, according to service documents.
The LCS mine countermeasure mission package includes the employment of aircraft and unmanned surface, semi-submersible and submersible vehicles that employ a variety of sensors that can detect and neutralize mines, according to Navy documents.
Raytheon has received a potential two-year, $58.1 million contract to assemble, fabricate and test airborne systems designed to help the U.S. Navy neutralize bottom and moored mines to help U.S. and allied naval forces operate in littoral zones, confined straits, choke points, and invasion beaches.
“MCM is hard. MCM is difficult in any environment. It’s particularly hard for amphibious operations in very shallow water, in beach settings,” said Neal Kusumoto, director of mine warfare at the Surface and Mine Warfare Development Center. Mine countermeasure platforms must be able to operate in GPS-denied environments and be interoperable, he said. Additional unmanned systems integration, better sensors and improved power and portability are also needed, he added.
ALMDS (Airborne Laser Mine Detection System) uses LIDAR for Surface Mines
ALMDS uses Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technologies to detect, classify and localize naval mines near-surface moored sea mines. The untethered sensor is capable of day or night operations and can attain high area search rates with accurate localization to support follow-on mine neutralization. The ALMDS uses the forward motion of the aircraft to generate image data, which simplifies the scanning process and helps ensure high system reliability.
The Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis system, known as COBRA, detects minefields and other obstacles in surf and beach zones ahead of an amphibious assault. It can be integrated with the Navy’s MQ-8 Fire Scout, an unmanned helicopter that can operate from ships. COBRA reached initial operational capability in July 2017.
The US Navy has attained initial operating capability (IOC) for its AN/AES-1 Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS). Designed and built by Northrop Grumman,The ALMDS will be integrated into the MH-60S helicopter to provide rapid wide-area reconnaissance and assessment of mine threats in littoral zones, confined straits, choke points, and amphibious objective areas. The ALMDS will be embarked as part of the mine countermeasures (MCM) mission package on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).
The ALMDS uses pulsed laser light and streak tube receivers housed in an external equipment pod on the MH-60 helicopter. These lasers are designed to search the water column from the surface to about 40 feet in depth — the area where mines are the biggest threats and coincidentally where mine-hunting sonar systems are least effective. The system takes an image of the entire near-surface water column potentially containing mines.
The ALMDS projects a pulsed wide 538-nanometer blue-green laser beam into the water and samples at rates greater than 100 per second. According to a Defense Science Journal publication, the wavelength of the blue green laser has the unique ability to maintain about 50 percent of its radiation intensity when penetrating ocean water. Blue-green lasers emit wavelengths of about 450 to 550nm, according to a report by the Australian Defense Force, with wavelengths closer to 550 nm used for more opaque water, and shorter wavelengths used to penetrate clearer water.
This wavelength of blue-green laser “can penetrate water much better than other wavelengths. It goes a long way down,” says John Horton, head of the mine warfare systems department at the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City, Fla.
However, when the Defense Department inspector general reviewed the three platforms, investigators found signs they weren’t meeting requirements, according to a report. There were known performance problems with both the AMNS and ALMDS, the report states. Officials approved a plan to pursue initial operational capability to gather data and lessons learned. But the results of previous tests were used to justify it being rated mission capable before those performance problems were corrected, according to the report.
Because the mine countermeasures mission package relies on seven systems, each must “provide full capability and operate in conjunction with each other” to accomplish the mission, the inspector general found. If the Navy proceeds, sailors aboard the LCS and other platforms might receive gear that “cannot fully perform their mine detection and neutralization missions,” according to the report. “This in turn could lead to degraded mission performance, delayed delivery of needed capabilities, and the need to pull those units off-line and spend additional money to correct shortcomings in the fielded units,” the report states.
AN/ASQ-235 Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS)
The AN/ASQ-235 AMNS consists of two major subsystems: the helicopter-deployed launch and handling (LHS) system equipped with four unmanned Archerfish™ neutralizer vehicles which destroy mines via remote control from the operator in the MH-60S helicopter. The LHS performs data processing during an AMNS mission, while the LHS manages the neutralizers, and enables the helicopter’s common console to communicate with the neutralizers or warheads.
The LHS consists of all hardware and software necessary for data processing during an AMNS mission. The LHS manages the neutralizers during helicopter transit and launch phases, and provides a communications interface between the neutralizers and the common console. The LHS interfaces with the Carriage Stream Tow and Recovery System (CSTRS) and can carry up to four Destructors on any one mission.
Each of the four Destructors can be launched one at a time without recovering the LHS. The Destructor contains a sonar, video camera, and light to accomplish target reacquisition, identification, and prosecution. The Destructor communicates with the common console via a fiber-optic data link and provides sonar and video data to the common console for display and use by the sensor operator.
The Destructor is negatively buoyant, has six degrees of motion, can maintain a hover position, and can be operated in either automatic or manual mode. Additionally, the Destructor can monitor depth and relative distance from the bottom and has the ability to avoid bottom plowing. The Destructor’s position is determined by an Integrated Track Point II acoustic tracking system contained in the LHS.
BAE Systems to develop airborne mine-hunting LIDAR
BAE Systems has been awarded a £15.5 million contract by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to manufacture and deliver Archerfish mine neutralisers, continuing its support to the U.S. Navy’s minesweeping operation. Archerfish is a remotely-controlled underwater vehicle equipped with an explosive warhead to destroy sea mines. In addition to Archerfish mine neutralisers, manufactured at BAE Systems’ Broad Oak facility in Portsmouth, United Kingdom, the contract also includes the supply of fibre-optic spools. The fibre-optic spools provide a communications link between the Archerfish mine neutraliser and the launch platform, an MH-60S helicopter deployed from the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships.
Officials of the U.S. Office of Naval Research in Washington announced an $8.9 million contract to BAE Systems Spectral Solutions LLC in Honolulu for development of a multi-sensor suite and onboard processing to detect, identify, and pinpoint moored and drifting sea mines from manned and unmanned aircraft. The sensor suite will consist of a visible-to-near-infrared (VNIR) multispectral imaging sensor, a broadband longwave infrared sensor (LWIR), and a 2D light detection and ranging (lidar) sensor, Navy researchers say.
Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM)
VIAN LLC was awarded a $15M contract providing logistics support and training for current and future Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM) systems onboard the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City Beach, Florida. AVIAN will provide technical support to the government by developing and sustaining Life Cycle Management (LCM) and Integrated Logistics Support (ILS) processes and products for AMCM systems. The effort includes activities pertaining to the established Integrated Product Support elements during acquisition of future AMCM systems, and sustainment of currently fielded AMCM systems.
“We are very proud and excited to once again support the MH-53E helicopter community that not only I grew up in, but also our founder, Jeff Sherman, and several other members of the AVIAN family,” said Geoff McConnell, AVIAN’s Southeast Operations Manager in Panama City Beach.
U.S. Navy seeking information for production ready airborne laser mine-hunting system
The U.S. Navy is seeking information from industry for a new, airborne laser mine-hunting system to detect, classify and localize floating and near-surface moored mines. The Naval Sea Systems Command posted a U.S. government’s main contracting website notice in Nov 2019 for market research that will be used to determine potential and eligible businesses capable of providing the supplies and services to provide a rapid wide-area reconnaissance and assessment of mine threats in littoral zones, confined straits, choke points and amphibious objective areas for Carrier and Expeditionary Strike Groups.
The service is interested in ALMDS (Airborne Laser Mine Detection System) production-ready systems. The Airborne Laser Mine Detection System is used on the MH-60S multi-mission helicopter and Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Mine Warfare (MIW) Mission Package (MP).
ALMDS is a laser-based, high-area-coverage system that uses streak-tube imaging light detection and ranging (LIDAR) to detect, classify and localize near-surface, moored mines. AMNS-AF provides rapid reacquisition, identification and neutralization capability against bottom and moored sea mines. AMNS-AF will explosively neutralize unburied bottom and moored sea mines that are located during mine-hunting operations.
The ALMDS consists of the APS, Peculiar Support Equipment (PSE) required for the transportation, storage, and maintenance of the APS, and training and logistical data products required to support the ALMDS integrated into the LCS MIW MP and MH-60S. The NAVSEA intends to issue a Full and Open Competitive solicitation for the manufacture of the ALMDS including, safety, depot and software support, and PSE in support of the mine detection program.
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