My Cardboard Box

Mines, Hormuz and the Gulf

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One of the more… experienced… posters at Rantburg‘s Wheelus O-Club (“The Fliteline Lounge’) asked me a question about Mine Countermeasures (MCM) and then followed up with this:

I was thinking more along the lines of the Iranians using fishing boats to mine the harbors near the oil terminals with timer-activated mines, and as you mentioned, letting mines drift — they are reckless enough to do that on purpose, and stupid enough to do it accidentally

When one doesn’t have the forces to take on the navies of the West directly, asymmetric warfare is the next option. The question is: where does it get applied?

Without going into a lot of boring detail, I have a little experience with mines, oil fields, Iranians, and the Gulf. The idea that the Iranians could mine the Strait of Hormuz itself seems sound strategically, but falls apart a bit when it runs up against hydrology and oceanographic conditions. This isn’t to say that Iran couldn’t close off the strait, but minelaying it would be more of a terror-weapon reminiscent of the Iran-Iraq war.

Mine warfare is often considered a sort of ‘equalizer’ between nations without real naval capability and nations with large naval assets. Significant assets and lives have been expended both for mining and mine countermeasures during conflicts in the 20th century. The Chinese have long advocated use of mines as part of a conflict; as an offenseive weapon, part of an anti-submarine warfare campaign, as well as a blockade device. Iran has also developed or procured a significant mine warfare capability:

Mines, however, are one area in which Iran had made advances. It can produce non-magnetic, free-floating, and remote-controlled mines. It may have taken delivery of pressure, acoustic, and magnetic mines from Russia.  Also, Iran was negotiating with China for rocket-propelled rising mines.

I’d also toss North Korea into the mix as a vendor.

The use of rocket-propelled mines means the Iranians could mine the waters outside the gulf as an anti-submarine warfare tactic:

Today, China reportedly offers two types of rising mines for export. Rising mine systems are moored, but have as their floating payload a torpedo or explosive-tipped rocket that is released when the mine system detects a suitable passing vessel. The torpedo or rocket rises from deep depth to home in on and destroy its intended target, typically a submarine. As one source notes, “The so-called ‘directional rocket rising sea mine’ is a type of high technology sea mine with accurate control and guidance and initiative
attack capacity.… Attack speed [e.g., against a target submarine] can reach approximately 80 meters per second.” China’s EM52, a guided rocket propelled destructive charge, reportedly has an operating depth of at least 200 meters. Russian rising torpedo mines such as the PMK-2 are said to be capable of being laid in waters as deep as 2,000 meters.
[ CRS Report: China Naval Modernization: Implications for
U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress, Appendix B, page 106

What could also cause real problems with less effort and more economy would be mining the waters near Iran’s neighbors: oil terminals, harbors, and shallow transit areas. The objective would be to deny non-Iranian naval assets access to support facilities, disrupt economies, and attempt to remove whatever support the Gulf states are giving Western forces.  In fact, Iran would likely use the Gulf States’ support of the Fifth Fleet as justification.

Speaking of the Fifth Fleet there are approximately a half dozen MCM vessels within the Gulf, both from the US and UK navies. Other MCM assets (air or surface) would either have to be brought in from outside

As for the Gulf States, the Saudi Navy has a small MCM force of British design. None of the other nations have any MCM assets of significance.

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Written by PappyBro

August 6, 2008 at 19:23

Posted in WoT

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