MCM FORCE - Coalition in the Gulf
Cdr Tim Davey RN, MCM 1 based in Faslane, has kindly given permission to TCA and MCDOA to reproduce details from an article previously published in the RN Warfare Officers Newsletter 2015. The article, written Lt Tom Foley RN recounts his recent experience on the battlestaff of Commander UK Mine Counter Measures Force (COMUKMCMFOR) aboard RFA Cardigan Bay, acting as the Afloat Forward Support Base (AFSB) for Operation Kipion in the Joint Operations Area (JOA).
Lt Foley has produced an excellent summary of the strategic position in the JOA and of the MCM technology currently deployed in different tactical situations. It is recommended reading for those who wish to keep abreast of developments in MCM doctrine and technology.
Regrettably, the full article, with supporting photos, would be too large to print in TON Talk, but it can be read on the websites of TCA [www.tca2000.co.uk – RN & RM News] and MCDOA [www.mcdoa.org.uk – Latest News].
For many of us old and bold, who learned our MCM trade by dragging wires and orpoesas through the waves and pulsing loops, the differences with modern concepts and equipment are nothing short of revolutionary.
It is not just the technology that has changed, so have the strategy and tactics - and the jargon and acronyms have multiplied. Herewith an update on just a few of the differences:
• A suspected minefield is treated as a battlefield subject to air, surface and underwater threats, with corresponding countermeasures. The mines may have been laid/refreshed by hostile aircraft, surface vessels and submarines and all three arms might also attack the vulnerable slow-moving MCMVs. These expensive assets have to be protected by a friendly frigate and/or air cover.
• Nor should shore-based threats be ignored – remember the WW2 newsreels of “Smokey Joe” trawlers of the RN Patrol Service sweeping mines in the Dover Straits while under bombardment from shore-based artillery ? The JOA includes equally narrow seas around the Suez Canal, Bab al Mandeb (southern end of the Red Sea) and the Straits of Hormuz, so substitute Exocet, Silkworm or similar land-based missiles for Big Bertha and a similar scenario arises.
• The MCM battlefield hence covers all three elements and the MCM effort will have to coordinate a variety of friendly assets in the air, on the surface and underwater.
• The Senior Officer of the MCM Squadron does not drive his own ship in the minefield, as in days of yore, but conducts the air, surface and sub-sea battle from an Afloat Forward Support Base; akin in some ways to what WooHa, MANXMAN and ABDIEL did but with more resources, both for re-supply of logistics to the MCMVs and also to co-ordinate responses to tactical situations via his Battlestaff.
• The Battlestaff, of a dozen or so personnel, includes specialists in Mine Warfare, Engineering, Communicators, Oceanography, Meteorology, Intelligence, Logistics and a Medical Officer, plus representatives of allied forces engaged in the exercise/operation.
• They man an operations room co-ordinated by a Battle Watch Captain (aka Ops Room Officer/Combat Information Centre Co-Ordinater in earlier jargon) to maintain an intelligence picture in each dimension and to direct the deployment of friendly assets.
• Robotic technology is increasingly being used to remove the sailor from the minefield, including remotely–controlled Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats towing side scan sonar to map the suspect area, programmable unmanned underwater vehicles to investigate, and potentially dispose of, suspect Mine Like Objects and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to photograph, survey and gather intelligence and potentially to attack incoming threats.
Lt Foley’s paper complements other articles about current and future MCM technology that have appeared in TON Talk: “Jewel in the Crown” by Cdr Martin Mackey (Oct 2012), “Civilian approach to UXO” by Cdr Tim Curd (April 2014) and “Underwater Robotics” (June 2015). It is understood that the NATO Naval Autumn Exercise in 2016 will include demonstrations of capability of robotic devices currently under development in all three elements.
Lt Foley is currently undertaking Mine Clearance Diving Officer training before re-joining the Fleet as an MCMV Operations Officer. We wish him every success and look forward to hearing more from him … Ton Talk Editor