- Reaction score
Not exactly glowing news for the USN minesweeper fleet.
As tensions heat up in the Persian Gulf, the Navy’s minesweeping fleet may once again be called into action, but its sailors say the ships are too old and broken to do the job. “We are essentially the ships that the Navy forgot.”
The U.S. Navy officer was eager to talk.
He’d seen his ship, one of the Navy’s fleet of 11 minesweepers, sidelined by repairs and maintenance for more than 20 months. Once the ship, based in Japan, returned to action, its crew was only able to conduct its most essential training — how to identify and defuse underwater mines — for fewer than 10 days the entire next year. During those training missions, the officer said, the crew found it hard to trust the ship’s faulty navigation system: It ran on Windows 2000.
The officer, hoping that by speaking out he could provoke needed change, wound up delaying the scheduled interview. He apologized. His ship had broken down again.
“We are essentially the ships that the Navy forgot,” he said of the minesweepers.
Thousands of miles away in the Persian Gulf, another officer, this one assigned to a minesweeper in the Navy’s 5th Fleet, offered much the same account. While tensions with Iran seem to escalate by the day, the officer said the four minesweepers based in the Gulf were so physically unreliable that he doubted his superiors would actually send them into action in a crisis.
The ships are one of the Navy’s primary tools for finding and neutralizing mines. They use sonar to hunt for them. The bombs are then disabled by divers, underwater drones or towing equipment dragged behind the stern.
But the aging minesweepers routinely need repairs, the officer in the Persian Gulf said, and the companies that used to make a variety of spare parts no longer exist. 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.
Clearing mines from the Persian Gulf effectively would require multiple ships underway for a sustained period. A Navy spokesman acknowledged that the service has struggled to put a “fully mission-capable” squad to sea. Only a quarter of the time over the last year did more than one ship meet that definition — although he said the ships could still be sent out.
“We are eager to operate if called upon,” the officer aboard one of the Persian Gulf ships said. “We’ll operate the systems as best as they can operate. My concern is the ships are old and, like any old ship, they break.”
The Avenger-class ships were built in the late 1980s and early ’90s and slated for retirement years ago. But their retirement date has been continually delayed because the service still doesn’t have a working replacement. The Navy’s latest estimate is that the ships will all be decommissioned by fiscal year 2023.
[More at link]