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USS Patriot Mine Countermeasures (MCM-7)

USS Patriot, MCM-7 (from wikimedia.org)

Built by the Marinette Marine Corporation and christened on May 15, 1990, the USS Patriot (MCM-7) is an Avenger class mine countermeasures ship that was commissioned by the Navy on December 13, 1991 to augment its mine detection capabilities.

Concept

Whether it be tactics or technological advancements, naval warfare is ever changing.  One such change was the creation of the submerged mine.  The mine is an economically efficient weapon that serves both as a physical and psychological weapon.  Naval vessels themselves are damaged or sunk by mines, but those sailors that hear of such mine damage are psychologically affected as well, to the point of fearing to move for the risk of being damaged if not sunk by a mine.  The fact that mines are usually not seen is another factor contributing to fear.  For these reasons the navy decided to upgrade its mine countermeasures capabilities by replacing the 1950s era technology that it had been using when the Avenger class ships were commissioned.

The USS Patriot is a 224 foot long vessel that is rated for a speed of 14 knots (approximately 16 miles per hour).  The reason that this ship goes at such a low speed is that there is not really a need for a fast vessel that searches for mines.  Usually the slower and more cautiously one moves, the less likely that a ship is to trigger a mine.  This also explains why the ship has a depth of only 16ft amidships from the main deck.  Shallower ships are able to go in shallow water, and a smaller submerged portion means if the ship somehow fails to detect a mine, it will be less likely to trigger it.  In addition, the ship utilizes a laminated wooden structure so as to avoid triggering magnetic mines that would be triggered by a metal hull.  The USS Patriot also has a composite glass fiber exterior sheathing so as to minimize structural damage should the ship trigger a mine.  When the USS Patriot has 76 enlisted and 8 officers aboard it is said to be operating at maximum efficiency.

People might ask why an entire class of ship is necessary to combat a single type of weapon, namely a mine.  The fact of the matter is that for years, the American Military has held the belief that we should develop newer and better technologies to deal with situations as they arise.  This is done in opposition of the idea of strength in numbers.  To clarify, strength in numbers to a degree such that the numbers are able to overwhelm the opponent, while at the same time disregarding the cost of “throwing” those numbers at an opponent.

One example of this, of America’s high regard for the cost of human life, is exemplified by the end of WWII.  Towards the end of the war, while America was island hopping in the Pacific, there were certain islands in which the number of American lives lost was appalling.  In particular, the conflict at Iwo Jima resulted in thousands upon thousands of American casualties.  These losses primed President Truman to look toward technology for an alternative to losing so many American lives again, should the U.S. launch an invasion of Japan.  The opportunity arose in the development of the atomic bombs, which Truman decided to use upon the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  And this idea of paying the cost of technology rather than the cost of human lives continues today.  This is seen in continued research and development by the armed forces and their contractors, such as in the continued development of drone technology: America is trying to distance people from conflict and is using technology to do it.

This was the intent in development of the USS Patriot: to create a form a technology that we could utilize to further safeguard American and others’ lives.  And this newer and improved technology could not come soon enough.  Playing a large part in the creation of the Avenger-class ships was the Yom Kippur war which caused the United States oil crises of 1973 in which the price per barrel of oil tripled, halting economic growth.  Thus oil was an even more coveted resource, and therefore the tankers that transported this oil needed to be protected.  Additionally events occurring around the time of the USS Patriot’s christening only exemplified the need for this technology.  During the Iran-Iraq war and during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, United States’ ships and assets, as well as foreign ships that were critical for the well-being of America (again, the importance of oil tankers) were being damaged, if not sunk by mines.  Even warships such as the USS Samuel B. Roberts, a frigate, was damaged after having conducted an escort mission for a Kuwaiti tanker.

Imagine though if it had been the tanker than had been damaged, if not sunk, by this mine.  There would have been an oil loss, but the world would have gone on.  Imagine though that the United States continued on and didn’t develop mine countermeasures ships.  First it is one tanker.  Then another.  And then another tanker yet.  The Strait of Hormuz sees the transport of approximately twenty percent of the world’s oil.  If tankers were damaged enough by mines that they couldn’t transport oil, the price would go up, possibly causing the United States to limit its naval activity due to rising costs.  If we aren’t as active as a Navy, then more tankers in the Strait of Hormuz as they are repaired could be susceptible to attack, or tankers elsewhere could likewise be vulnerable in a continuing domino effect that continuously weakens the United States and continuously makes it more vulnerable to enemies.  Clearly by spending money now on the Avenger-class ships, not only does the United States save money in the long run, but the United States remains as a strong power and advocate for the value of human life.

Reality

When it was commissioned by the Navy on December 13, 1991, the USS Patriot became a great asset to the United States.  Contracted through Marinette Marine, the USS Patriot cost the Navy approximately $51.8 million (Maritime Reporter).  In addition to the value gained by having this ship, by contracting this ship and the others of the same class through Marinette Marine, the Navy stimulated the local economy, enough so that in addition to the jobs gained by winning this contract, Marinette Marine built a ship-erection facility to accommodate for the building of these ships.   With this new facility, Marinette is poised to continue building other ships for the Navy, improving the ability of the United States’ industry to produce ships in time of need.  And with this increased ability, the United States can put forward the assets it needs so that it, its citizens, and also its allies are protected at home and abroad.

Upon being commissioned, the USS Patriot was based in Charleston, South Carolina at Charleston naval base.  However in August of 1993, all mine countermeasures ships were consolidated together at Ingleside, Texas to create a “Mine Warfare Center of Excellence.” The Patriot was based here until 1994.  In 1994, the Patriot and another Avenger-class marine countermeasures ship, USS Guardian, were conducting fleet operations in the Pacific when they were ordered to continue west to Sasebo, Japan.   It was thought that these ships would be based here temporarily, so they had a rotating crew.  But in February of 1996, Sasebo, Japan, became the permanent home port of USS Patriot and USS Guardian.  And in this becoming their new home port, each ship changed from a rotating crew to a permanent crew.  Sasebo remains USS Patriot’s homeport to this day.

Over the years, the USS Patriot, as well as USS Guardian, has divided its time between several activities.  These include time in port for crew rest, time in dry dock for repairs, time actively spent performing mine countermeasures operations, as well as time in fleet and joint fleet training operations.  To conduct these operations, the USS Patriot utilizes various detection systems to locate and safely detonate mines.  Included are a magnetic/acoustic sweep system as well as a mechanical one, various mine hunting sonar systems, and mine neutralization equipment. One of the fleets that the USS Patriot trains with, as well as supports, is the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.  As recently as this year, debate was going on about whether the Japanese Self-Defense Forces would go mine sweeping in the Strait of Hormuz (Pollmann, Mina).   So here, too, Japan is looking to the future: Japan is trying to prevent situations in which damage to tankers would raise the cost of oil and thereby limit its ability to provide for the defense of its citizens.

It is not just a matter of having the technology and throwing it where it needs to go.  This is exemplified when back in 2005 the USS Patriot ran aground and damaged its hull as well as its underwater sonar in what was a preventable incident (United States Navy).  So preventable in fact that Lieutenant Commander Mike Little, who had commanded the USS Patriot when it ran aground, was relieved of duty due to a “loss of confidence in his ability to command.”  Due to the damage to the ship, it had to enter dry dock for repairs, but was able to return to active duty after repairs were performed over the course of several weeks.  This just shows that even with technology that helps people, people have to be intelligent enough to operate that technology.

It is perhaps this reason that the USS Patriot conducts as many training exercises, both with the United States fleet, as well as others such as Japan’s fleet, as it does.  One such exercise, conducted in 2012 and named Foal Eagle, was designed to be defense oriented and to increase preparedness for the defense of the Republic of Korea (Dow, Devon).  And despite earlier mishaps such as in 2005 when the USS Patriot ran aground, it has since acquired several years of consecutive awards for battle effectiveness as a member of the United States’ forward deployed forces.  It is this increased training that enables the USS Patriot, as well as other ships, crews, and anyone involved with the exercises to be at the top of their game so that they are prepared to defend the United States, her assets both at home and abroad, as well as those of her allies.

Official Patch of the USS Patriot MCM 7
Official Patch of the USS Patriot MCM 7 (from Flying Tigers Surplus)

As a member of these forward deployed forces, the USS Patriot has adopted for its crew the patch as shown to the right.  This patch bears the Latin phrase “audentes fortuna juvat”. (fortune favors the bold).  If we look at bold, we know it to mean the ability to take risks; confident and courageous.  Mike Little, the Lieutenant Commander who ran the USS Patriot aground in 2005 was not being bold when he moved to shallow water.  However, every time the USS Patriot is actively searching for submerged mines, she and her crew are being bold.  They have technology that is greatly increasing their ability to locate and neutralize mines so that they, their country, and the assets of their country can perform their operations without fear of dying from some sort of unseen threat.  It is assets such as the USS Patriot that help prevent recurrences of the USS Samuel B. Roberts being damaged, if not sunk, by a submerged mine when technology can be used instead and keep United States sailors and civilians relatively safer (Thompson, Mark).  It is for this reason that it is good that the United States Military continues to invest in new technologies in all branches.  By doing this, the United States is keeping its Military safer.  And by keeping these citizens safer, the United States is in turn taking steps to make the rest of the United States, both in terms of its physical land and of its inhabitants, safer as well.

Primary Sources:

  1. Maritime Reporter. (1986) “Marinette Marine…,” Maritime Reporter. 14 October.
  2. Thompson, Mark. (1988) “U.S. Warship Reportedly Hits…,” Inquirer Washington Bureau.
  3. Dow, Devon. (2012) “USS Patriot participates in Exercise Foal Eagle,” Commander U.S. Pacific Fleet.
  4. United States Navy (2015) “USS Patriot MCM 7,” United States Navy.

Secondary Sources:

  1. Federation of American Scientists. “The Future of Mine Countermeasures,” Federation of American Scientists. February 2015.
  2. Pollmann, Mina (2015). “Could Japan Go Minesweeping in the Strait of Hormuz?Tokyo Report. Tokyo.
  3. Truver, Scoot C. (2011). “Taking Mines Seriously,” Naval War College Review 65, No. 2. pp. 30-41.
  4. Long, Allen. (1953) “Navy Foils Magnetic Mine,” The Science News-Letter. Vol. 64, No. 8. pp. 123-124.
  5. Knoles, George H. (1960). A review of “Most Dangerous Sea: A History of Mine Warfare, and an Account of U. S. Navy Mine Warefare Operations in World War II and Korea,” by Arnold S. Lott. Pacific Historical Review. Vol. 29. No. 3. pp. 318.
  6.  Naval Sea Systems Command. (2014) “Mine Countermeasures Ships – MCM“.

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