Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
October 17, 2012

U.S. Minesweeping Failures Make War On Iran Unlikely

The U.S. can not attack Iran because the attack and any Iranian retaliation would increase the price of oil to new record levels. Even if Iran were not to react to any attack the expectation of a possible reaction would be enough to explode the insurance premiums for any ship entering the Strait of Hormuz. With record oil prices over more than a few weeks all major economies would experience serious damage. Poorer economies would experience high price increases for staple food with social upheavals, like the Arab spring, certain to follow.

The Iran hawks argue against this. They say that U.S. navy is capable of keeping the Strait of Hormuz open even if Iran intends to close it. Even if the Strait were temporarily closed the U.S. navy would be able to reopen it immediately. They are wrong:

A major international naval exercise last month in and around the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea, led by the U.S. Navy with more than 30 other nations participating, located fewer than half of the practice mines laid at sea.

This outcome of the highly publicized military drills — not publicly known until now — underscores how difficult it may be for the United States and its partners to detect and incapacitate waterborne explosive devices that Iran has threatened to plant if its nuclear facilities come under attack.

Out of the 29 simulated mines that were dropped in the water, “I don’t think a great many were found,” retired Navy Capt. Robert O’Donnell, a former mine warfare director for his service, told the NewsHour. “It was probably around half or less.”
“I just felt that they should have done better,” said O’Donnell, clearly disappointed with the outcome of this key measure of performance. “That’s the point of the exercise, to do mine-countermine [operations] in an area, and to find the mines.”

Now a consultant, O’Donnell was invited by the Navy to observe the September exercise firsthand as it unfolded.

The maneuver was disaster. But for people knowledgeable in the field it was also unsurprising. The U.S. Navy is traditionally incapable of serious mine clearing efforts. Even official documents (pdf) acknowledge this. The proposed solution to this disability is a combined effort by various navies under U.S. command:
The threat of mines presents a Unified Commander-in-Chief (CINC) with problems affecting the time-space-force aspects of his command. Further complicating this matter, is the U.S. Navy's inability to adequately address the mine threat problem unilaterally. History demonstrates that the U.S. Navy's inability to maintain a mine countermeasures (MCM) force sufficiently large enough and technologically advanced enough has been nominally off-set by the strengths of a combined MCM force.
The recent maneuver was a "combined" effort. Over 30 nations took part and even then only half of the dropped mines were found.

This was only a maneuver. A scripted training event without any threat from real mines or from other forces. Under the threat of fire from Iran's Silkworm derived anti-ship missiles fired from this or that cave or truck on the Iranian coast plus under the threat of real mines the clearing percentage would likely be worse.

What conclusion will those ship insurers in London draw from this? Right.

The U.S. navy has for some time tried to develop new mine hunting systems to be put on the new class of oversized unarmed speedboats Littoral Combat Ships. These efforts have so far failed. When they eventually succeed the capability of the new system will likely be much less than expected.

Unless there is technological leap in mine hunting and clearing coming up (unlikely), the threat and the capability of mining the Straits is likely enough to keep Iran safe from serious military aggressions.

Posted by b on October 17, 2012 at 16:00 UTC | Permalink


Thanks, b - good post. Only place I have read about last month's exercise.

Posted by: Maxcrat | Oct 17 2012 16:55 utc | 1

B -

I too had not heard of this exercise until now. It is hardly a surprise given the rest of the naval warfare tests that have been run over the past 10 -12 years, all ending in what should be classified as failure (even if not nominally disclosed as such).

I have discussed the insurance on this site a couple of times. My assumption is, under those conditions, either the US or a consortium of nations (or perhaps the UN?) would either underwrite or reinsure these tankers in an attempt to keep oil shipments afoot from the Persian Gulf.

It would be a hell of a way for a company to dispose of old tankers and recoup their investment!

Posted by: Base | Oct 17 2012 17:20 utc | 2

@Maxcrat thanks. I am wondering myself why this was so little posted anywhere. There is only the PBS Newshour report I linked and so far I have seen nobody, not even the mil blogs, picking up on it. That is bit weird as the issue is really at the core of those "bomb Iran" discussions.

Posted by: b | Oct 17 2012 17:50 utc | 3

Eve if they can reopen the strait and even if they score direct hits the one aspect that even Obama and other EU countries can worry about is greed. Greed by Oil companies who will drive oil prices beyond any levels we see now by speculating and spreading fear to make a one time profit is one thing you cant overlook.
Nowadays the slightest hickup drives the price upward. Speculators dont need much to start the spiral of prices and economies will pay the price.

Posted by: ana souri | Oct 17 2012 18:04 utc | 4

As long as the west need oil, any attack on Iran won't be seriously contemplated. Politicians might talk about it, but such threats are purely for their domestic audience. Israel however, depending on what shape the hawks of the governing factions will be in - with their current troubles, could be a rogueishly wildcard. Iran not only is a major oilsupplier, but the real power they weild over the global oil-supply thru control of the Hormouts-strait is the motivation for the abnormal US interest in controlling Iran.

Posted by: Alexander | Oct 17 2012 18:07 utc | 5

@Alexander - Israel does not have the capability to attack Iran.

Did you notice that little drone recently the IAF didn't see for hours while it was flying over Israeli sea and ground? There are more of those and they will hit if Israeli tries any overt attack.

Iran and Hizbullah likely planned for this drone to be caught just to make it clear to the Israeli public what the dangers are. Nasrallah and Iran bragged about it to make the point. It prevents any games Netanyahoo might have planned for. Read the Haaretz editorial on this provided here. The Izis are shitting their pants.

Posted by: b | Oct 17 2012 18:22 utc | 6

War, at least intentional war, has always been unlikely, as we all recognized. Each side has a strog disincentive to launch an open and direct war. On the other hand, each side is also stepping up their diplomatic attacks, economic attacks, cyber attacks, and just plain attack attacks on the other. This spiral is likely to continue, as each side feels the need to match the other and yet feels confident that the other side won't respond by formally starting a war.

The result is a low-grade, unofficial war with no end in sight and a whole lot of possibility of accident that could trigger a war that both sides want to avoid.

Posted by: Bill | Oct 17 2012 19:03 utc | 7

Interesting stuff, & explains some of the recent backtracking in vehicles that were formerly very gung-ho. Foreign are still doing some pro-war stuff - a big 'policy' paper from Douglas Feith, no less (bringing out the big guns!), but there is a lot more nuanced articles published there & in other policy linked magazines.

Hadn't read about either the results of the mine-clearing exercises or the SA-7's going to Gaza (most pieces I read only had the Syria angle), & I follow quite a bit of military news - excellent pickup, b.

Posted by: KenM | Oct 17 2012 22:14 utc | 8

One can appreciate the extraordinary degree of difficulty in keeping the constricted Straits of Hormuz open in an international conflict, but nonetheless we have to wonder about the efficacy/rationale/priorities of the enormous security expenditures promoted by the USA frat boys.

The mighty armed forces of the ‘West’ can’t protect commercial shipping lanes from the ‘Somali pirates’? Or keep our kids safe from gangs in their neighborhoods?

Posted by: Watson | Oct 18 2012 0:19 utc | 9

Its obvious, even to Ron Paul,(he has said as much), that Isreal is capable of providing the "incentive" for a US action against Iran. A false flag attack on US interests, blamed on Iran, will do the trick. Those crazy fucks calling the shots in Israel couldn't care less if our mine sweepers are capable or not. If we don't act, Israel will simply murder a slew of us, blame it on Iran, and immerse us in another Israeli instigated clusterfuck that will cost lives, treasure, and international credibility.

Posted by: PissedOffAmerican | Oct 18 2012 2:14 utc | 10

As I've said before, Iran does not need a nuke. It has all the strategic deterrence it needs. By targeting major oil terminals just across the Gulf, Iran can swiftly cripple the industrialized economy, just as it crippled Saddam's.

The news that Iran's mines could be equally devastating reconfirms their ample non-nuclear deterrence capabilities.

The whole Iran nuclear weapon threat is just another crock, promoted by the same people who determined that Chris Stevens was killed because of some obscure video.

Posted by: JohnH | Oct 18 2012 3:02 utc | 11

Who had the forethought to do this exercise? It demonstrates an inordinate amount of rational thought. How hilarious!

I'm currently working in a large institution and am getting a first hand look at just how irrationally the many parts do not work together -- and in fact create high levels of chaos. Especially the aspect where people enjoying the process of identifying the so-called incapable persons that should be first ridiculed and then eliminated -- creating fear and bad decision upon bad decision. Lovely stuff. Amplify this one institution's creative decision making capabilities and looking out over the horizon, the vast expanse of world decision makers, one can only rejoice. Love this stuff, the wild, wild west/east and in between.

Thanx for lovely post!

Posted by: Kim Sky | Oct 18 2012 7:02 utc | 12

If there are true free-market libertarians out there, then they should oppose government intervention in the market, and would simply refuse to spend government money to guarantee access to a resource from a dangerous part of the world, basically a de-facto subsidy for the oil industry.

Posted by: ralphieboy | Oct 18 2012 7:25 utc | 13

"Under the threat of fire from Oran's Silkworm derived anti-ship missiles..." Don't bring Algeria into the Persian Gulf.

Posted by: scottindallas | Oct 18 2012 9:15 utc | 14

@scottindallas - thx, corrected

Posted by: b | Oct 18 2012 11:25 utc | 15

ana souri @ #4 Was the "hiccup" in ur post in anyway related to this story about the oil futures trader from PVM ????? ;-) LINK

"b", GOOD catch - reminds me of pre Iraq war games that the retired General won by going old school as in No mod COMMs - kept sinking the fleet and landing craft using suicide Cessna's and explosive speedboats from memory. Different exercise senario's but similar results - Navy Fails.

Posted by: DontNnSUName | Oct 18 2012 13:05 utc | 16

@DontNnSUName - that war game was actually against Iran: Millennium Challenge 2002

Posted by: b | Oct 18 2012 15:47 utc | 17

With due respect, and offense intended b, but something doesn't smell right about this story. I assume the mines were dropped/placed by boats other than the ones which took part in the half-successful search. If so it would seem only logical (to me) that the droppers would GPS each drop site so that the mines which weren't discovered could be picked up, after the exercise had failed, for re-use. Also, knowing where the mines had been placed would enable the mine map and the search tracks to be compared for the purpose of improving future search sweep patterns.
We all know the Yankees aren't terribly bright but I have trouble believing they're THIS stupid. Imo, they probably intended to 'lose' some of the things they left behind, whether they were mines or monitoring gizmos.

Also back in May 2011 the crew of the Cheonan, a S Korean corvette, backed it onto a reef and sank it. After initially admitting that it was an accident, S Korea did a backflip and agreed (with USA) that the ship was sunk by N Korea. During the discussions and speculation which followed there were stories pointing out that there are several types of mines apart from the WWII type permanently tethered to an anchor on the sea bed.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Oct 18 2012 16:47 utc | 18

er ... NO offense intended.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Oct 18 2012 16:48 utc | 19

@13, I'd rather the Govt. ran the economy than Rapey McPillage.

Posted by: ruralito | Oct 18 2012 19:29 utc | 20

“Every platform that was sent to find a shape found a shape. We stand by that.” [...] “Each ship, unmanned underwater vehicle and helicopter that was tasked with finding a practice mine in a particular geographic operating area did.
so, they told each unit exactly what to look and where, and each unit found one specimen of it: my impression is that without "hints", they wouldn't have found any mines at all

Posted by: claudio | Oct 18 2012 21:18 utc | 21


Thx for the post, I haven't watched any TV news, period (other then occasional Congressional hearings) in a long time.

> Unless there is technological leap in mine hunting and clearing coming up (unlikely), the threat
> and the capability of mining the Straits is likely enough to keep Iran safe from serious military aggressions.


However, POA @ 10 points to recent history's oft repeated US actions, nonsensical by every measure ahead of them, executed nonetheless repeatedly, w/predictable disastrous outcomes, in many domains (financial, war/invasion/"liberation", and bailing out our WS thieves w/public debt, while the rest of the country is... broke).

Don't underestimate the ability of fools, to act upon the self-delusions of a fool (or group of them), believing cutting off somebody else's nose, increases our "freedom".

I've kind'a come to the place, of being ready for anything, but not expecting much. Self Reliance... in a non-self-confining manner, is the most profitable resource today, at least as I've found.

Our Air Force Base has toxified our only water supply here, twice the size of Exxon Valdez spill. Over 50 years in the making. It is, at minimum, a 30 yr. undertaking... well over $100b, just to contain it. Yet, they tell us they don't have the money, while also saying (no pun intended) they are "right on top of it" (aquifer is 500 ft. below them). There are, currently in the US... 42 Air Force SuperFund sites, and barely enough financing to begin any of 'em. Ours (ABQ) though, is by far... the biggest.

Still, we got news just a week ago, announcing a $400b project, to "refurbish" 30+ yr. old nukes... 1000's of 'em. And this, while our Base (Kirtland) has ready, always, 2500 nuke missiles... "keeping us safe", as they say.

Go figure...

I dun'o... not much evidence of sanity, that I can see.

Posted by: jdmckay | Oct 18 2012 21:24 utc | 22

It was a big deal.

September 17, 2012

Navies from six continents and more than 30 nations kick off the most widely attended international exercise ever held in the region, Sept. 16.

International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX) 12 is the first of what is intended to be a recurring partnership event.

"This exercise is about mines and the international effort to clear them," said Vice Admiral John W. Miller, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. "Represented here are the best of our individual countries' efforts dedicated to securing the global maritime commons and I look forward to seeing how this exceptional team of professionals moves forward."

The wholly defensive exercise consists of two distinct phases, the first is a symposium where senior leaders from participating countries will exchange ideas and view the latest mine hunting, sweeping and neutralization technologies provided by a panel of industry representatives and presenters.

In the second phase, ships, crews and observers get underway to train together to prepare for tactical execution. Ships will conduct at-sea maneuvers in three separate geographic areas, which will include mine hunting operations; helicopter mine countermeasure operations; international explosive ordnance disposal mine hunting and diving operations and small boat operations focused toward underwater improvised explosive devices.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Oct 18 2012 21:51 utc | 23

Mines are dangerous. Since 1950, naval mines have inflicted three times the number of ship causalities on the U.S. Fleet than all other threats combined. And has been indicated, US Navy mine counter-measure (MCM) capability is limited.

The US Navy has four minesweepers in the area, plus some helos and other aircraft. To coordinate these meager resources the Navy refurbished, refitted and deployed in June the USS Ponce (LPD-15) to support naval forces in the region — an interim Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB), focused on the MCM mission. The Ponce was first launched in 1970 and would be a prime Iran cruise missile target.

Iran has acquired a stockpile of 3,000 to 6,000 mines, mostly of Soviet/Russian, Chinese or North Korean origin. Most are unsophisticated but still dangerous bottom-moored buoyant contact mines, like those that damaged Roberts and Tripoli .

Other mines, such as the Manta that struck Princeton, are bottom mines that come to rest on the bottom and wait for a target to satisfy various parameters. These influence mines fire when increasingly sophisticated target detection devices sense magnetic, acoustic, seismic, water pressure, electric-potential signatures of their victims.

One Iranian mine, the Chinese-produced EM-52, is a multiple-influence (acoustic, magnetic, pressure) rocket-propelled straight-rising mine, armed with a 600-pound high-explosive warhead, that can be deployed by surface vessels in waters as deep as 600 feet.

The inventory also reportedly includes about 600 advanced, multiple-influence mines bought from Russia, including the MDM-3 that can be dropped from an aircraft.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Oct 18 2012 22:09 utc | 24

I think those silkworm missiles are not the most dangerous antiship defenses that Iran possesses. These are relatively simple rocket propelled devices that are probably vulnerable to Aegis defense in that they are only mach .8. The Iranians also have the ramjet cruise missiles, sunburn-sn-22 and -27 that have speeds of 1.8 and 2.4 mach respectively. These also have much more sophisticated targeting systems.

Posted by: ToivoS | Oct 19 2012 22:20 utc | 25

Iran can make re-supply for a ship-based arsenal in the Straits interminably tricky. Silkworms are dangerous enough for NATO to expend their Aegis missiles on fleet protection. And, fired in salvos, some of them will get through. This tactic will help identify the ships which should be Sunburnt (or Yakhonted) first. Iran has already said it will target Israel and regional US bases if it is attacked.
All this "keeping the Straits open" blather is just half-baked, run-of-the-mill, Neocon bs which only Yankees could believe.
If Iran decides to close the Straits then the Straits will be closed and the Yankees will be so busy with damage control that it'll be months before anyone does more than TALK about re-opening them.

Iran has had 24 years to prepare for its next 'engagement' with the Yankees. IF this comes to pass it will be one showdown Madelaine Albright, POTUS, and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, won't be in a rush to describe as "worth the price."

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Oct 20 2012 15:58 utc | 26

@ ToivoS, Even so, the silkworms are a very big threat. Each one could possibly destroy something that costs thousands of times more than it does. There are only so many missiles in each Aegis installation, and if there was a barrage of cheap missiles and drones, it would be very easy for silkworms to get through to the most heavily defended carriers. There's also the possibility of the anti missile missile simply missing its target or being on target but not fully damaging it. You're right about Iran possessing better missiles than the silkworm, but under any kind of sustained anti ship missile barrage, the carrier is a sitting duck. This is one of many reasons why military people don't want this ridiculous war.

Of course Israelis couldn't care less if thousands of American marines and sailors died at the bottom of the gulf in a 6 billion dollar ship. The fact that the results of this exercise weren't big news shows that the US Military may have improved its ability to sidestep unwinnable wars, but it's certainly still vulnerable to sustained neocon marches to war.

Posted by: Crest | Nov 1 2012 3:36 utc | 27

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