Deepwater Robots Developed by Navy to Dive for Dangers
Underwater mines are lurking in critical waterways around the world. Low-tech but highly destructive, they can blow up ships, destroy oil and natural-gas pipelines and wipe out telephone and Internet cables.
By U.S. Navy estimates, about 50 countries stock more than 250,000 maritime mines that could be dropped in the world’s oceans, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its May 14 issue. China has the most extensive and sophisticated inventory of mines, according to naval analysts. If Iran had shut down the Strait of Hormuz earlier this year, as some of its officials threatened, its strategy probably would have involved deploying its stockpile of mines.
“We have traditionally been under-equipped for the mine- sweeping mission” because U.S. allies picked up that role in the aftermath of World War II, says Andrew Krepinevich, president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington. “Right now the Navy is looking at mine-sweeping because the problem is getting bigger.”
The Navy currently relies on a small fleet of ships and divers dispatched from submarines to find mines and defuse them. Trained dolphins, equipped with cameras and sensors, also sniff them out. With the Pentagon facing as much as $1 trillion in budget cuts over the next decade, finding money for those missions “is going to be a huge challenge,” says Captain Duane Ashton.
Underwater vehicles can roam the seas with more autonomy than aerial drones, says Gary Roughead, a former chief of Naval Operations who is now a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California.
‘As much as people have been taken with unmanned aerial vehicles, you haven’t seen anything yet,’ Roughead says.