Key point: War with Iran could require an intensive demining effort.
In the event of war with Iran, the U.S. Navy’s small, aging force of Persian Gulf-based minesweepers would struggle to locate and disarm Iran’s underwater mines.
The consequences for U.S. military operations, not to mention world trade, could be severe.
Four of the Navy’s 11 1980s-vintage Avenger-class minesweepers sail from Bahrain and, if war broke out, would be responsible for clearing the strategic Strait of Hormuz and other important waterways of mines.
But the Avengers suffer from obsolete equipment and a lack of spending. The minesweepers “routinely need repairs,” one Navy officer told Pro Publica reporters Robert Faturechi, Megan Rose and T. Christian Miller.
The Navy for years has diverted minesweeping funding into the development of multi-mission Littoral Combat Ships. The LCS were supposed to replace the Avengers, but the new ships have proved expensive, unreliable and unsuitable for many of the missions the Navy hoped they would handle.
The sailing branch in 2016 canceled development of a dedicated minehunting robot for the LCS. All the while, the Avengers slowly have rusted away.
“The companies that used to make a variety of spare parts no longer exist,” the reporters added. “A sailor recently aboard one ship said the sonar meant to detect mines was so imprecise that in training exercises it flagged dishwashers, crab traps and cars on the ocean floor as potential bombs.”
Minesweeper USS Devastator with the hull number MCM 6 was non-operational for so long that sailors jokingly referred to her as “Building 6,” since she never moved.
Senior Navy officials have called their mine warfare fleet in the Persian Gulf — a mix of aging ships, high-tech drones and helicopters — “the best and the brightest around,” and a Navy spokesman recently said the minesweeper fleet was “fully capable” of fulfilling its mission of finding and neutralizing mines. The Navy’s underwater drones, the spokesman said, “have a high rate of success,” and the sonar systems on the ships “are very accurate at detecting mines.”