Key Point: Although deadly, innovative drones might reduce their effectiveness.
Though often overshadowed by anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles, sea-mines are amongst the oldest, cheapest and most dangerous anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) threats faced by the United States Navy. Indeed, since the end of the Second World War, sea-mines have damaged or destroyed more U.S. Navy ships than any other type of threat. Moreover, while only major powers like Russia, China or Iran can afford high-end A2/AD weapons such as supersonic sea-skimming anti-ship missiles, sea-mines are available to even the poorest of coastal states.
“Sea mines, one of the oldest weapons in the naval inventory, are often the cheapest and most available form of anti-access/area denial weapons to a vast number of maritime nations,” said retired U.S. Navy Capt. Jerry Hendrix, director of the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program at the Center for a New American Security. “Even if their budget will not allow them to purchase high-end missiles or aircraft, most maritime nations can afford to sink any number of mines off their coast in order to dissuade another power from approaching their shores.”
To make matters worse, sea-mines are not only cheap and deadly, they are also vexingly difficult to find—even with modern equipment as the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG-59) discovered during the first Gulf War in 1991. The multi-billion dollar Aegis cruiser was severely damaged by a pair of Italian-made MN103 Manta sea-mines that cost only a few thousand dollars. Earlier, a First World War-era mine nearly sank the guided-missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts in 1988 during the Iran-Iraq War.