Staff, Seapower Magazine
1 June 2015
As commander of Naval Mine & Anti-Submarine Warfare Command (NMAWC), RDML Russell Allen is responsible for the development of training, doctrine and tactics of mine countermeasures (MCM) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) for the fleet. His command serves as a focal point for all of the stakeholders in developing fleet warfighting capabilities in the undersea domain.
Allen enlisted in the Navy Nuclear Power Program upon graduation from the University of Texas. He served as an H-46 helicopter pilot, completing three deployments before leaving active duty in 1992 and becoming a Selected Reservist in Helicopter Combat Support Squadron Five (HCS-5), flying HH-60H combat search and rescue helicopters. He was mobilized for Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003 while executive officer, and served as deputy commander of the Joint Special Operations Air Detachment-Arabian Peninsula. He assumed duties as HSC-5’s commanding officer from June 2004 to October 2005 and led the squadron’s second major deployment to Iraq.
Allen also served a command tour at Navy Reserve, Strike Force Training, Pacific, including an active-duty tour as chief of staff. He later served as deputy commander, Naval Air Force Reserve, and at Third Fleet Joint Force Maritime Component Command as commanding officer from December 2008 to December 2010. He currently also serves the U.S. Seventh Fleet as commander of Task Force 77.
Allen discussed the mine warfare aspect of his portfolio with Managing Editor Richard R. Burgess. Excerpts follow:
Are sea mines a growing threat worldwide?
Allen: Lots of countries have huge inventories of mines. So I wouldn’t call it a growing threat or a new threat. It’s been that way for years. It is a worldwide threat in the sense that lots of countries throughout the world have them, and so they could pose a threat to Navy operations anywhere that we conduct operations.
Mines are cheap. You can buy a mine for $1,000 and put it somewhere that could impact a shipping channel or do damage to a multimillion or billion-dollar vessel in the U.S. Navy inventory. It is a significant threat worldwide.
What types of mines constitute threats in this era? Are underwater IEDs (improvised explosive devices) a threat?
Allen: Acoustic, magnetic, pressure, contact and even those that are capable of multiple types of activation. An underwater IED is another name for a mine, and we have leveraged counter-IED research and lessons from our recent ground wars to help improve our maritime countermeasures. Another wave of the future is, right now, with the UUVs [unmanned underwater vehicles] getting bigger, submarines getting smaller – Is it a small sub? Is it a large UUV? Is it a mine? What is it? Same thing holds true for IEDs. They can put an IED on just about anything. We have not seen that yet, but it is certainly something we have to be prepared for.
The U.S. Navy has lost more ships to mines than any other cause since World War II. Is part of your mission to get the fleet to take the mine threats seriously?
Allen: Absolutely. The former Mine Warfare Command in Corpus Christi, Texas, was disestablished in the 2006 or 2007 timeframe. We transferred that capability to NMAWC. And so, I own that mine warfare command role and we absolutely take it seriously. We are the means that the fleet has for training, doctrine and development and actual employment of forces worldwide for mine countermeasures and the full spectrum of mine warfare. We take it seriously.
The CNO [chief of naval operations], all levels of Navy leadership, take the mine threat seriously and we will continue to do so.
How do mine countermeasures fit into the revised maritime strategy?
Allen: It is a critical element. Even a perceived threat of a mine or mine field can stop ongoing seaborne operations until that threat is neutralized. You don’t want to have a repeat of the Tanker Wars [in the Persian Gulf in the late 1980s] – where a ship gets hit by a mine and you almost lose the ship – in order to start dealing with that threat. Mine countermeasures are a key enabler to successful implementation of any maritime strategy but, even more so, as the mine technology continues to evolve.
What does NMAWC do to help the fleet counter the mine threat?
Allen: You might guess we don’t train carrier strike groups in mine countermeasures. They’re not equipped to do that. They’re not minesweepers. They’re not mine detectors. What we do is we educate them in doctrine of what the mine threat is. We focus our efforts on the mine countermeasures personnel and ships. We do everything from doctrine, development, training to personnel readiness.
Our staff is at the deck plates for the type commanders for training and certifying mine warfare staffs, developing operational plans and doctrines and representing fleet mine warfare requirements. And as future MCM systems and advanced undersea weapons come online, we work closely with all stakeholders – resource sponsors in OPNAV [Office of the Chief of Naval Operations] as well as TYCOMs [type commanders] and the fleets – to ensure the fleet is fully prepared to optimally employ those technologies.
What are some of the sensor and weapons systems used in the fleet or soon to be used to counter mines?
Allen: Let’s also include in this discussion the full triad of mine countermeasures – air, surface, subsurface, which incorporates explosive ordnance disposal [EOD] forces as well. They train to the MCM mission. They’re a very important part of the triad.
Right now, we have the Avenger-class [MCM 1] surface mine sweepers, MH-53 helicopters and unmanned underwater vehicles (USVs). We have made a significant investment in resources in keeping those legacy systems capable and able to continue their deployment for several years into the future. This investment has paid off in terms of performance, operational availability and, as we sundown the ships and the H-53s, we’re going to be transitioning to the LCS [littoral combat ship] in that mine countermeasures triad that changes the nature of that triad significantly.
Along with the LCS mission packages, we’re investing in unmanned air, surface and underwater vehicles that are designed to detect, identify and neutralize with a single pass. Some technology prototypes currently fielded include the Mine-Hunting USV (MHU), an 11-meter RIB [rigid inflatable boat] that is able to drag a towed body and also several variants of the Mk18 UUV.
How do you think the LCS, with its MCM mission package, will make a difference in how the fleet conducts mine countermeasures?
Allen: We’re looking forward to the LCS MCM mission package fully coming on line. We are conducting the operational evaluation this summer and, based on our observations so far, the mission package does bring a significant increase for search capability and capacity. The ability to conduct sustained MCM search with the Remote Mine Hunting System while simultaneously conducting neutralization with the MH-60S brings increased capacity.
Also, like a lot of weapons systems, ships, aircraft that we develop, the LCS mission package allows us to spiral in new technology as we move forward to respond to changing threats and new technology with follow-on variants. The Knifefish UUV is a good example of spiraling in new technology.
As we bring on new technology, we can insert that into the new triad very quickly and easily. I just saw some photos of an EOD team that took a Mk18 Mod 1 and air-dropped it and parachuted afterwards. They inflated the combat rubber raiding craft and had the little fish [Mk18] swimming within a couple of hours of launch. To me, that represents a technology and a capability that is worldwide. It’s pretty exciting.
What new technologies look promising for fleet MCM?
Allen: The UUVs – the Mk18 Mod 1, the Mk18 Mod 2 – represent an incredible capability of getting something in the field or in the littorals on very short notice, almost immediately, to do unmanned mine hunting, which is an incredible enhancement of our current techniques or capabilities.
Moving forward, I see unmanned systems conducting sustained MCM and neutralization operations. We will also continue leveraging our command-and-control capabilities that allow our forces to operate forward in a contested environment with full battlespace awareness. Right now, it is difficult to do minesweeping with the MCM 1-class ships in a contested environment. We see that improving in the future. Knowing where the mines are translates into effectively neutralizing them simply through avoidance, which is a significant enhancement that these UUVs represent.
The challenge is the rapid and accurate sharing of sensor and location data from a distributed MCM force. We are focusing on improving those MCM command-and-control programs and we will be watching those technologies as they hit the fleet in the days to come.
Are the acquisition and test establishments responsive enough to get the technology fielded when you need it?
Allen: Yes. I’ve been very impressed in my short time here at NMAWC on how quickly we’re getting things to the fleet. The Mine Hunting Unit is actually being deployed ahead of schedule, which is a very promising trend. For future development: large-diameter unmanned platforms such as the Autonomous ASW Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel or the Large Diameter UUV. They both are changing the way the Navy thinks about autonomous capability and the requirement to work interchangeably with manned platforms.
There is a big appetite for getting those unmanned systems to the fleet so that we get the operators out of that environment. It has CNO support all the way down through the TYCOMs and resource sponsors. They are pushing very hard
to field these things as quickly and as rapidly as possible so that we can transition from the legacy systems to the new systems.
Is the U.S. Navy leveraging allied and partner nations for their MCM capabilities?
Allen: Absolutely. This is a coalition effort no matter where we are. We actually find that a lot of NATO countries conduct significant real-world mine-clearing operations in their waters. They’ve been doing that since World War II.
I was in New Zealand last year for a Western Pacific naval symposium mine countermeasures exercise involving 22 nations. We found four World War II mines as a part of that exercise and they weren’t planned to be found. Countries like Great Britain and France have incredible skill and capabilities in mine clearance, in mine warfare.
Our allies and partners bring significant capability to the fight. They’re a tremendous force multiplier and we regularly train and exercise with them. These exercises range from small platoon-level bilateral engagements to large scale multinational exercises like RIMPAC [Rim of the Pacific] and, every time, we find our partner nations are a key part of the mission. They actively participate in our operational planning and employment wherever possible.
Is there anything that you would like to add? ALLEN: In my own background – years in the combat search-and-rescue [CSAR] community – CSAR is one of those things that you don’t need all the time and you don’t think about it until you see a Jordanian pilot who is shot down over Syria and now a combat CSAR becomes incredibly important to the entire nation. Just like mine clearance operations, it’s a capability that we don’t see the need for.
It’s kind of a forgotten capability we have in the Navy, but as soon as you have a ship like the [frigate] Samuel B. Roberts ship hit by a mine and almost lost [in 1988 in the Persian Gulf], then it becomes incredibly important to the nation. We have to maintain the ability to do full-spectrum mine warfare all the time. That is why we are investing in the LCS mission package, the MH-60S with its AMCM [airborne MCM] capabilities, the EOD expeditionary companies with their underwater MCM capabilities, because we have to be prepared to execute them on short notice anywhere in the world that our Navy travels and operates.