- Sea mines remain a real and terrifying threat and are a central part of many countries' plans to disrupt maritime operations in the event of a conflict.
- The US Navy has been looking at remote and autonomous systems to help counter mines at sea for some time.
- The Marine Corps is also looking for AI and other systems to spot and neutralize mines near the shore in order to ensure the success of amphibious landings.
After nearly two decades of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Marine Corps is looking to reorient toward its specialty, amphibious operations, while preparing for the next fight against what is likely to a more capable foe.
Peer and near-peer adversaries are deploying increasingly sophisticated weaponry that the Corps believes will make amphibious landings a much more challenging proposition in the future.
The Corps is looking for high-tech weapons to counter those looming threats, but it's also looking for a sophisticated system to counter a persistent, low-tech, but decidedly dangerous weapon — mines hidden close to shore.
According to a recent post on the US government's Federal Business Opportunities website, first spotted by Marine Corps Times, the Marine Corps Rapid Capability Office is looking to autonomous and artificial-intelligence technology to "increase Marines' ability to detect, analyze, and neutralize Explosive Ordnance (EO) in shallow water and the surf zone"— two areas where amphibious ships and landing craft would spend much of their time.
"Initial market research has determined multiple technically mature solutions exist that can assist Marines ability to achieve this capability," the notice says.
Potential systems envisioned by the Corps' request for information include autonomous or remotely operated vehicles, unmanned underwater vehicles, and unmanned aerial vehicles outfitted with sensors and other gear to detect and evaluate explosive devices.
"Some solutions may provide the ability to neutralize detected ordnance, which is desired but not required," the RFI states.
The Corps wants contractors to submit up to three prototypes from a single family or multiple families of systems.
Requirements outlined in the RFI for contractor-submitted systems include being able to detect and identify explosive devices in waters ranging the surf zone, where depths are less than 10 feet, to very shallow waters, which range from 10 feet to 40 feet in depth.
The proposed system must also be able to navigate and avoid obstacles in the littoral zone, which includes shorelines out to coastal waters of 200 feet in depth or more.
The system submitted to the Corps must also be able to use geolocation information to "mark" explosive devices to within a meter in environments where communications and GPS are contested or denied.
The Corps is also looking for systems that are man-portable and can be launched and recovered by one- or two-man teams in a small boat, like the Combat Rubber Raiding Craft.
While mines have grown more sophisticated in recent decades, even rudimentary ones are still a potent threat.
An Iranian sea mine that almost sunk the US Navy frigate Samuel B. Roberts in 1988 was a World War I-era device. Since the end of World War II sea mines have destroyed or damaged more US Navy ships than any other weapon.
Mines have become a cornerstone of anti-access/aerial-denial strategies adopted by countries like Iran and China, which have plans to deploy them in important maritime areas like the Strait of Hormuz or the South China Sea.
The Navy has dedicated mine-countermeasures systems, including specially designed and equipped Avenger-class ships that are deployed around the world and rapidly deployable MH-53H Sea Dragon helicopters that often accompany Avenger-class ships.
Those systems are aging, however, and the Navy has been working on a slew of remotely operated and unmanned mine-countermeasures systems that would be deployed aboard the service's littoral combat ships, with the goal of "taking the man out of the minefield."
While there has been recent progress with LCS-based anti-mine systems, the LCS program and those mine countermeasures have encountered delays, malfunctions, and cost overruns that have hindered the program and its implementation.
The Corps has also made progress with countering mines that Marines would encounter on shore.
In December 2017, Marines conducted the first amphibious landing with a modified full-width mine plow prototype, which was attached to an assault breaching vehicle and sent ashore on during an exercise on the West Coast.
The regular full-width plow was too big to fit aboard the Navy's landing craft utility boats. The modified version is easier to transport and safer to use, a Marine Corps Systems Command official said earlier this year, and it gave commanders more flexibility with their ABVs.
Once ashore, the plow supplements the ABV's other mine-countermeasure systems, helping clear a path for Marines to advance off the beach.
"This plow prototype makes the ABV transportable and gives the commander options to accomplish his tasks on the battlefield," Alvin Barrons, an assault breaching vehicle engineer, said in a release at the time. "The capability makes the force more lethal because it helps keep other combat vehicles intact and saves the lives of Marines."