Extract from All Party Reserve Forces Group report http://www.reserveforcesparliament.com/upload/upload15.pdf
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Minewarfare â€” A Serious Gap
The Royal Navy remains a world leader in minewarfare and recently was involved in multinational efforts to clear the northern Persian Gulf. Historically the RNR provided a substantial pool of minewarfare expertise and manpower (something like 80%) of the RN's minesweeping capability. Until 1993 the RNR operated the vessels of MCM10, a squadron of 12 mine countermeasures vessels. The sweepers of the late 80s had a very specific war-role that has not been required since the end of the Cold War and capability is now delivered by the RN-manned Sandown Class.
The RNR still has expertise in minewarfare, and the Minewarfare Specialisation remains an important part of the RNR. This specialisation contains some 60 personnel, officers and senior rates, whose role is to deploy in a command and control (C2) function. Captain [named in original], the officer responsible for the RNR Minewarfare Services views the role of the specialisation as â€œproviding the expert Minewarfare personnel at times they are required by the Fleet.â€ This is reflected in the way the Branch is manned and deployed: largely as expert personnel who slot into established headquarters and onto vessels. An RNR minewarfare team deployed to the Northern Gulf in March this year, at just two weeks notice. Minecountermeasures are intensive in terms of men and equipment.
Modern minecountermeasures vessels use high definition sonar and unmanned submersibles (called â€˜REMUSâ€™) to hunt mines. The sonar can find mines on the seabed or in mid-water by bouncing high frequency sound waves off them. The submersibles are then guided to the mine and destroy it using a high explosive charge. Before this, however, a diver is sent to gather intelligence about the mine â€” i.e. to disarm it and discover how it operates.
Beyond the headquarters function of the Mine Warfare Service, the RNR is building teams of divers for a new role known as Under-Water Force Protection. These divers do not do any deep sea diving â€” their role is to check harbours and ports before a ship arrives. They can seek out mines but have to rely on RN or Army bomb disposal (EOD) divers for destroying them. Given the high skills inherent in working with explosives under water, destruction of mines is perhaps best left to full timers, although the TA Sappers have a considerable (land-based) EOD capability. Two small RNR diving teams were deployed each for nine months on OP TELIC 1 and 2, in Iraq.
The Under-Water Force Protection Branch is only two years old, and consists of three teams comprising 12 men, which can be deployed as half teams or 12-man teams. All personnel are former full time military divers, experienced civilian divers supporting oil rigs in the North Sea or qualified sports divers. By March 2008 half the teams were at trained strength, and all teams will be ready by 2010. Reservists have to be kept â€˜in dateâ€™ with their qualifications â€” lots of training is required, at some expense (due to the requisite support infrastructure â€” doctors, recompression chambers etc.).
Nevertheless the threat from mine warfare is intensifying. Mines are a cheap and effective way of denying areas of sea to an opposing naval force or civilian shipping â€” as reflected by their occasional use in the Gulf. Mine countermeasures vessels and dedicated personnel are expensive and intensive to maintain.
Inthe future it is possible that MCM capabilities will be a modular fit added to ships as required. The threat from maritime mining is serious â€” particularly to a country as dependent on maritime trade as the UK. 95% of all British imports, by weight, arrive by sea and Britain is critically short of port capacity for unloading containers. Even more important, stockpiles of many categories of food would last only a matter of days. The narrow, relatively shallow approach channels to many UK ports are intrinsically vulnerable. Sowing cheap, low-tech mines offers a good potential return to any terrorist.
A survey of each major port is normally undertaken every two years, to provide the essential sonar pictures needed as a backdrop for mine warfare. Nevertheless, faced with a serious threat from terrorists using mines, perhaps at several locations at once, the Royal Navyâ€™s dedicated mine clearing capability would become quickly overstretched. This is an area where reservists could provide essential spare capacity at low cost or nil cost, if replacing a much smaller number of regular posts. It seems extraordinary, for example, that the RNR has no teams to operate REMUS. The regular teams clearly cannot work round the clock for very long and REMUS is deployable from small boats. Providing spare REMUS crews for defence of the UK (or a major crisis in the Gulf) would provide a substantial and very cheap force multiplier.
In this context there is a clear role also for the RNR Minewarfare Service as a pool of expert specialists â€” not only in the headquarters role but, as new ships move away from the specialist Minewarfare role, as specialist practitioners of minewarfare, UWFP divers, and submersible operators.
Will anybody Listen?