domingo, 9 de março de 2008

What Mine Sweepers Do

What Mine Sweepers Do: USS Scout

The USS Scout (MCM 8) is an Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship, so its main mission is to find mines and get rid of them.

Mines are like the sea’s version of Improvised Explosive Devices. Instead of blowing up a truck or part of a convoy, they are designed to sink ships.

Historically speaking, they have been pretty good at doing that for a long time, so the Scout’s mission is extremely important.

Around the Gulf, the Navy likes to have four of these ships working at any one time, so Scout is joined by USS Gladiator (MCM 11), USS Dextrous (MCM 13), and USS Ardent (MCM 12). Ships from other countries often supplement the 4, and the US has a total of 14 of this class of vessels:

USS Avenger (MCM 1), Ingleside, TX
USS Defender (MCM 2)
, Ingleside, TX
USS Sentry (MCM 3), Ingleside, TX
USS Champion (MCM 4), Ingleside, TX
USS Guardian (MCM 5), Sasebo, Japan
USS Devastator (MCM 6), Ingleside, TX
USS Patriot (MCM 7), Sasebo, Japan
USS Scout (MCM 8), Manama, Bahrain
USS Pioneer (MCM 9), Ingleside, TX
USS Warrior (MCM 10), Ingleside, TX
USS Gladiator (MCM 11), Manama, Bahrain
USS Ardent (MCM 12), Ingleside, TX
USS Dextrous (MCM 13), Manama, Bahrain
USS Chief (MCM 14), Ingleside, TX

You might notice that the home ports largely correspond to areas with oil platforms, namely, Texas and the Persian Gulf, but the ships will be deployed to any area threatened by mines.

The Gulf Coast of the US is threatened by hurricanes. The ships can help keep the oil flowing even when Mother Nature is the threat. For example, after Hurricane Katrina, Scout and its sister ships used their sophisticated sonar to search under water for debris that oil tankers might hit, like buses, houses and other large items washed out to sea. In the Persian Gulf, they’ll be looking for floating mines that might hit oil platforms. Much of Iraq’s income is derived from its oil exports, and if one of its few, key oil platforms, where big ships belly up to be loaded, is damaged, it is going to hurt Iraq’s cash flow.

How does the ship do its job? It has sonar, and it has underwater video systems. If it finds a mine, it can snip the cable that attaches it to the sea floor, or it can send a remote explosive to detonate the mine. If you know someone on these ships, they might have a role in locating the mines or in detonating them. The ship also has remotely operated reconnaissance vehicles, like miniature submarines that search for mines. Interestingly, in spite of the high tech, the ships have wooden hulls covered in fiberglass. That is because some mines are magnetic. The wooden hull protects the ship because it won’t attract such mines. The ships have some machine guns but rely on other vessels for most of their protection.

There are not always mines in an area, so the ships have other duties, too. As the Navy says, "seaborne mine countermeasure ships contribute to MSO by conducting waterborne security missions and protecting oil platforms . . . escort duties, direct liaison and joint operations with coalition patrol forces and combatants." MSO means Maritime Security Operations.

The Scout is 1,300 tons and 224 feet long. By Navy standards, that is not a gigantic ship. USS Gladiator, when it came to the Gulf, was actually floated over a submersible German ship designed to go up and down in the water. The once the German ship went down, Gladiator was floated over it, and then the German ship was raised up to carry the Gladiator, piggy-back, on the long trip. Just a few of Gladiator’s crew were there to help. This means that the smaller ship arrives in perfect condition, without the wear and tear of a long sea trip. The rest of the crew is flown over, so they too don’t have the fatigue that might result from the long trip. The Army does the same thing on a smaller scale with tanks. You don’t want to drive a tracked vehicle thousands of miles cross country if you don’t have to, so they are driven onto trucks for long journeys.

This article shows just part of what it's like on a mine coutnermeasures ship.

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