The U.S. Navy needs offensive mine warfare functionality, and it needs it quick. That’s the message from a brand new undertaking referred to as MEDUSA contained within the Navy’s newest finances launch.
Mines have lengthy been a strong drive in naval warfare; throughout World Struggle II they sank extra ships than plane or gunfire. Within the fashionable period they’re nonetheless efficient, not simply as weapons however for shaping an adversary’s actions. Throughout the 1991 Gulf Struggle, Normal Stanley McChrystal deserted plans for a mass amphibious assault as a result of the danger of sea mines was too nice — although allied minesweepers had been over the waters. (Two U.S. warships have been broken by mines throughout the battle anyway).
David Strachan, Senior Analyst of Strikepod Programs, notes that fashionable mines could be activated or deactivated at will remotely, to allow them to be emplaced in peacetime, citing The Commander’s Handbook on the Regulation of Naval Operations:
“Managed mines might…be emplaced in worldwide waters…if they don’t unreasonably intrude with different lawful makes use of of the oceans.”
“As a result of managed mines don’t represent a hazard to navigation, worldwide discover of their emplacement isn’t required.”
Strachan not too long ago printed a paper detailing the U.S. Navy’s offensive mining technique. The issue is China, with an offensive mining drive being an efficient approach to maintain Chinese language forces and specifically submarines bottled up in harbor and blunt their attacking edge. Strachan’s analysis exhibits that improvement of the Orca XLUUV, the U.S. Navy’s new super-sized unmanned submarine, is pushed primarily by a necessity to supply that mining functionality.
Underwater minelaying is required as a result of whereas the U.S. can drop QuickStrike mines from the air, that is extremely seen and opponents might transfer to find and neutralize the mines. Underwater automobiles can lay complete minefields covertly. The issue is that Orca and comparable developments won’t be prepared for a while.
“I’d say that we’re nonetheless a number of years away from platforms like Orca and Snakehead offering a dependable means for clandestine mine warfare,” Strachan instructed me. “Which is why the Navy, I consider, is hedging its guess within the close to time period.”
MEDUSA, brief for ‘Mining Expendable Supply Unmanned Submarine Asset,’ is described within the Navy’s new R&D finances as “a medium class UUV [Unmanned Underwater Vehicle] able to offensive mining capabilities deployed from a submarine. It might doubtlessly carry different superior payloads sooner or later to fulfill extra mission wants. MEDUSA options torpedo tube launch functionality, lengthy vary, excessive payload placement accuracy, and might deal with heavy payloads.”
Just about no different particulars can be found; all we all know is that it’s an unmanned automobile, fired from a torpedo tube, which travels to the goal space the place it lays mines — it may well carry two, and place them in numerous areas. In some methods it’s a extra refined model of the outdated Submarine Launched Cellular Mine, which labored in the same means. The distinction is that the Clandestine Delivered Mines, or CDMs, dropped by MEDUSA are networked and distant managed. Not solely can the minefield be turned on or off at will, however it could even be doable to vary the goal set, for instance, setting the mines to assault submarine or floor targets solely.
“A prototype [MEDUSA] system can be demonstrated in FY2021 utilizing dummy payloads through an in-water launch from a bunch submarine,” in accordance with the Navy finances.
This prototype was developed underneath a earlier undertaking initially often called CDM/Bull Shark, which was a improvement of Fleet Modular Autonomous Unmanned Car (FMAUV). This in flip was based mostly on a heavily-modified Mk 48 Heavyweight torpedo given new sensors, navigation, management programs and propulsion. No photos or different particulars have been launched of the FMUAV or MEDUSA, and there aren’t any particulars of vary or different capabilities.
Price range paperwork do reveal that MEDUSA can be launched from a Los Angeles class nuclear-powered quick assault submarine. If the demonstration is profitable, an acquisition planning will comply with quickly with the intention of awarding manufacturing contracts in FY2023.
The unique MEDUSA prototype was developed by Hydroid Programs, a specialist in robotic subs of all styles and sizes, which was acquired final 12 months by the navy shipbuilding big Huntington Ingalls. The sector has grow to be extra aggressive, although, and so they might face competitors from different massive gamers like Boeing
There isn’t any doubt it is a extremely strategic space for the U.S. Navy, as such mines are prone to play a key position in any battle with China.
“If issues begin heating up with Taiwan, and the Navy needs to preposition mines outdoors PLAN ports, such mines would work properly in that position,” says Strachan.
Due to the challenges concerned in getting shut sufficient to put mines, small, stealthy unmanned craft are vastly preferable to bigger manned submarines. MEDUSA would allow U.S. subs to remain properly again in worldwide waters. Particulars of doable operations are categorised, however the intentions are clear.
“The way forward for mining can be [unmanned underwater vehicle] clandestinely launched mines. And that’s most likely as a lot as I can say right here,” Capt. Chris Merwin, head of the mine warfare division on the Naval Floor and Mine Warfighting Growth Heart, instructed USNI Information in 2019.
The Medusa of Greek mythology turned opponents to stone with a look. The fashionable MEDUSA goals to have a equally paralyzing impact, bringing enemy submarines and transport to a sudden halt when the minefield is activated – and even by its presence. Truly sinking vessels could also be a secondary aim to limiting the adversary’s choices and protecting them penned in.