Air-dropped naval mines are a very deadly weapon. In World War II, mines dropped off the Japanese coast by B-29 bombers crippled Japan’s economy. In 1972, minefields barred merchant ships from entering Haiphong harbor, which helped persuade North Vietnam to agree to make peace.
But aerial minelaying is also hazardous. Historically, it has required aircraft to fly low and slow, as well as venture near heavily defended areas such as ports.
Hence the U.S. Navy wants a safer alternative and is thinking of using missiles to deliver naval mines. And it wants those missiles now.
The Long Range Aerial Delivered Maritime Mine (LRADMM) project aims to develop mines that can be employed without risking manned aircraft and crews.
“Combatant Commanders require the capability to precisely and accurately emplace maritime mines in contested environments from an extended standoff range,” notes the Navy Request for Information (RFI), which seeks ideas from industry.
“Existing mine laying aircraft must fly directly over each planned minefield at low altitude and speed to deliver mines, leaving the aircraft vulnerable to adversary air defense systems,” the Navy adds.
The Navy wants LRADMM developed “in the shortest practical timeline.” That means an “in-production air vehicle that can be modified to precisely and accurately deliver a maritime mine.”
The winning LRADMM design must be capable of being launched from existing aircraft. “The LRADMM system shall at a minimum be capable of launching from U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft external munition stores stations with internal munitions stores stations as an option,” the Navy said.
Which missile will it be
The Navy seeks a missile that can deliver a mine with a warhead of at least 1,000 pounds. Currently, the Navy’s mine arsenal consists of Quickstrike munitions – which are Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) glide bombs converted into naval mines – and the Submarine Launched Mobile Mine (SLMM), which is a modified Mk 37 torpedo transformed into a shallow-water mine.
Quickstrike would seem to be a more suitable candidate to arm LRADMM.
The Navy describes Quickstrike as a “family of shallow-water, aircraft-laid mines used against surface and subsurface craft. Quickstrike versions Mark 62 and Mark 63 are converted general-purpose, 500-pound, and 1,000-pound bombs, respectively. The Mark 65 is a 2,000-pound mine, which utilizes a thin-walled mine case, rather than a bomb body.”
A big question is the range of LRADMM. The RFI omits the desired range and accuracy as classified details, other than to note that the weapon should function in GPS-denied environments.
However, glide bombs probably wouldn’t be suitable. The Navy already employs JDAM through its Quickstrike munitions: the latest Quickstrike Extended Range kits can launch a bomb/mine out to 40 miles.
Presumably, LRADMM is aiming for a longer range. A clue might be found in a 2020 Navy market research request to determine whether industry could provide a long-range, air-delivered naval mine.
“The mine may be required to deliver a minimum 500-pound explosive payload a minimum of 100 nautical miles with 2000-pound explosive payload and ranges beyond 100 nautical miles desired,” the Navy said at the time “Additionally, proposed design concepts may utilize the current target detecting, safety, and arming devices that are part of the current Quickstrike family of mines.”
Harpoon missiles would probably be too small to carry a big naval mine. However, one candidate might be the Air Force’s JASSM AGM-158 JASSM (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile), a subsonic cruise missile that can carry a 1,000-pound warhead, and can be launched by Air Force fighters as well as Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets and F-35C stealth fighters.
Should LRADMM prove successful, it would be an enormous asset. Naval mines would play havoc with military and civilian shipping in major ports such as Shanghai or Murmansk, and turn key waterways into instant chokepoints. Even the psychological threat of mines could help deter conflicts such as a Chinese amphibious invasion of Taiwan.
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