A patrol boat guards the Port of Los Angeles last July. As sea service officials revisit the threat of mines to U.S. ports,
determining the roles and responsibilities of the agencies whose duties touch on the issue — including the Navy, Coast
Guard and FBI — will be key to establishing a strategic plan to prevent a scenario where mines block a major U.S. port
or to provide rapid action to restore access should that situation occur.
The efforts to address this re-emerging threat to
domestic ports are in the very preliminary stages, but
are getting high-level attention.
Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations,
told defense writers recently that he remembers “my
younger days, when we had a plan for the ports. I can
tell you we’ve had some discussions with the Coast
Guard, very preliminary discussions.”
Roughead said the issue also is being addressed at
Northern Command (NORTHCOM), which has
responsibility for homeland defense.
“So I think you’ll see movement,” he said.
Vice Adm. D. Brian Peterman, the Coast Guard’s
Atlantic Area commander, confirmed that his commandant, Adm. Thad Allen, and Roughead have
“warfighter talks” regularly on issues of mutual interest, including mine countermeasures.
“It’s being discussed at the highest levels,” Peterman
And Rear Adm. Christopher Colvin, deputy operations director at NORTHCOM, said its commander, Air
Force Gen. Victor Renaurt, “is particularly concerned
about the potential for mines in U.S. ports. …
Consequently, he’s placed it as one of the highest priorities on the integrated priorities list.”
The mine threat those commanders must address “is
becoming increasingly sophisticated and is proliferating
all over the world,” said Capt. Bruce Nichols, mine warfare branch head in the Expeditionary Warfare Office.
At least 50 nations possess sea mines and more than
20 nations — including Russia, China and Italy — sell
them, frequently with little concern about who buys
them. These underwater threats can be had for a few
thousand dollars. And, as the incidents in the Suez and
the Persian Gulf showed, planting mines in crucial locations is a decidedly low-tech operation.
The response to this threat, however, is going
beyond the high-level talks.
Several officials noted that the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are working
to get funding to do detailed surveys of the major U.S.
ports. That data would make it easier to locate underwater explosives, if they were planted, Nichols said.