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Russia needs to increase its minesweeping capabilities.

| 2019

Recently, the USA have taken the decision to redeploy B-52 bomber aircraft in Europe. Some of them took part to a joint exercise with European NATO allies and made several flights close to the Russian borders. This aerial threat could be armed with sea mines and thus be a problem for the Russian naval forces. Therefore, Russia could seek to increase its naval minesweeping capabilities.

Russia needs to increase its minesweeping capabilities The first Project 12700 Alexandrit-class MCM vessel (Picture source : Sredne-Nevsky Shipyard)

To effectively estimate the threat the B-52 and other U.S. strategic bombers could be for the Russian Navy, it is necessary to consider their upgraded capabilities to engage non-nuclear weapons. It is specifically vital due to the B-52 activities near naval bases (whether in the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Black Sea, or the Pacific Ocean).

Instead of conventional payload (bombs or missiles), those bombers could indeed be armed with sea mines. The capabilities of the mines have grown of late. The talk is, in particular, about Quickstrike-ER made as a free falling bomb and armed with Joint Direct Attack Munition - Extended Range (JDAM-ER). It has a wing and a GPS guidance system to increase precision and range. The mines can be dropped from a distance of 50 nautical miles (over 90 km) without entering the air defense zone.

Quickstrike-ER is a weapon that could help the USA to operate a blockade on the Russian naval bases. They are armed with a magnetic/seismic/ hydrodynamic detonator and the control system identifies the target by a complex signature, including acoustic, magnetic and other characteristics. It does not react to sweeps and dummy targets which complicates their detection and elimination. Such mines can be dropped from various aircraft including fighter jets, antisubmarine planes and strategic bombers. If a B-52 can be detected and intercepted a hundred kilometers from the target, it is much more difficult to deal with a low-signature bomber whose mission is more likely to be successful.

Relatively cheap smart mines are a dangerous weapon. They can be precisely used in dozens of units to create dense and hard-to-overcome minefields. There are no available response measures except for preventive deployment of the fleet in a period of threat to the sea and standby bases. However, it does not resolve the problem of the blocked exit of the main naval bases. Even strengthened air defense does not guarantee it will prevent the adversary from accomplishing such a mining operation.

The growing mine threat will trigger a high demand for anti-mine weapons. The Russian Navy plans to get ten new-generation minesweepers of project 12700 by 2027. Nowadays, the Navy has a lack of minesweepers and their weapons are outdated while facing new-generation mines. In case of a conflict, such mine threats could paralyze the Russian Navy. Yet, so far, the Defense Ministry has not publicly commented the threat and potential response to it, the Izvestia daily writes.

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