Navy spends billions on mine-detection IT

The Navy is undertaking a billion-dollar research effort to apply cutting-edge information technologies to detect mines placed in the coastal waters of the world's oceans and seas, a move that some experts believe is critical to the success of future Navy and Marine Corps warfighting strategies.

Since 1992 the Navy has invested almost $1.2 billion in research, development, testing and evaluation to improve its mine warfare capabilities, according to a report released last month by the General Accounting Office. Over the next six years the service plans to spend an additional $1.5 billion on mine warfare R&D, according to GAO.

Much of the money will be spent on advanced information technologies to detect mines, including advanced sensors, more powerful microprocessors, geographic information systems, ruggedized computer components and higher-speed communications.

Mines have been a deadly presence on the high seas, threatening the free passage of military and civilian ships ever since Adm. David Farragut "damned the torpedoes" at the entrance of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. But today the threat from mines has shifted from the deep waters of the high seas to the shallow coastal waters, where the Navy and the Marine Corps believe they will fight the majority of the next century's conflicts.

"With 95 percent of all material to be sent to support future regional conflicts going by sea, the ability [of mines] to close vital waterways comprises a threat of strategic proportions," wrote former chief of naval operations Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda in a Navy strategy paper.

The Coastal Warfare Systems Department at the Dahlgren Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City, Fla., specializes in mine warfare technologies and is developing advanced sensor and processing systems that will be integrated into the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) architecture.

"We're seeing a revolution in integrating C4I systems, such as the Joint Maritime Command Information System, aboard the ships," said Lyle Burnette, the division manager for the Mine Countermeasures (MCM) Systems Division. The original configurations of the Navy's MCM ships "were limited in their communications capabilities." Today these ships have a C4I capability "equal to any ship in the fleet," he said.

Advances in information technologies will allow the Defense Department to "progressively remove the man from the minefield," according to a study by Daniel A. Crute, the technology program manager for advanced concepts at the Dahlgren Coastal Systems Station. In addition, tremendous increases in the power of microprocessors and the ruggedness of miniaturized electronic components will provide mine technologies with greater reliability, reduce maintenance and "contribute to our ability to develop an integrated system of systems," Crute said.

The goal is to create a distributed network of sensors linked by advanced communications devices to provide military decision-makers with an integrated, real-time picture of where mines are located. Plans also call for the development of remote-controlled sensors to provide wide-area reconnaissance and real-time reporting of the locations and composition of mine fields over the C4ISR network.

The Office of Naval Research's Joint Countermine Program also is researching mine countermeasures. Officials at the countermine program could not be reached for comment. But agency documents claim "a new paradigm of mine hunting is beginning to emerge, capitalizing upon the recent breakthroughs of acoustic modem communication technologies."

According to Office of Naval Research documentation, the agency is looking at ways to develop many small, low-cost underwater vehicles that would be linked to remote-controlled workstations via high-speed modems. A network of underwater positioning system buoys will transmit the location of objects that military planners believe could be mines. The vehicles then will inspect the objects and transmit data back to workstation operators and analysts aboard a ship.

The Coastal Systems Station has taken mine sensing and countermeasure technologies airborne with the development of the Magic Lantern Deployment Contingency system. Magic Lantern will be deployed on helicopters to search for floating mines. The $102 million project uses electro-optical sensor technology to transmit digitized imagery of mines back to analysts aboard ships.

Developers at the station also are working on a remote mine-hunting system that will employ computer-aided detection and Global Positioning System technology for the detection and classification of mines in support of surface vessels, such as destroyers. The program will cost the Navy almost $148 million, according to GAO.

The Coastal Systems Station also is working on a project called Reach Back, which will provide analysts aboard ships with the capability to interact with mine warfare and simulation experts in the United States.

Ships on the front lines will transmit information to experts in the United States, where the data will be plugged into simulations to test theories, concepts and countermeasure strategies and outcomes. By doing so, Navy analysts on ships will have a better idea of the threats from mines and instant access to the mine experts.

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