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'Panic in Gulf, Money in Bank'

August 27, 1987

It seems amazing to me that the United States, the most powerful military force on earth and a nation which commits billions to defense, could be caught so unprepared from attack by ocean going mines.

Mining a harbor, channel or coastline is clearly a remarkably safe and inexpensive way for a nation to impede traffic in its waterways.

Our recent experiences in the Persian Gulf are reminiscent of the events of 1950 when U.S. Navy ships were blown up at Inchon Harbor, Korea, victims of enemy mines. Steel-skinned minesweepers were defenseless against influence mines so the Navy hastily recommissioned a handful of World War II wooden-hulled sweepers to meet the challenge. Yes, even then we had the technology to clear the waterways of contact, magnetic and acoustic mines without significant danger of damage to the minesweepers themselves.

The U.S. is clearly committed to keeping the world's waterways open for shipping, a worthy goal, especially where such strategic cargoes as crude oil are involved. But how can we do it when our maritime dollars are invested in nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines to the exclusion of forces to combat the more common threat of explosions in the sea lanes?

It was reported that the first American-flagged and escorted Kuwaiti tanker to be damaged in the Persian Gulf was hit by a 1909 model moored contact mine, not exactly the ultimate in sophistication.

Don't we ever learn from history? What kind of naval leadership would send escort ships to the Middle East without the ability to first clear the sea lanes of their most obvious threat? And what is wrong with our strategic planning that we would let 35 years slip by without designing and building a sophisticated mine force capable of locating and destroying any type of sea-borne armament from the most mundane to the most technically advanced?

When it comes to defense dollars it is high time Americans demanded their money's worth!


Lake Arrowhead

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