Australia deploys smart sea mines against Chinese naval threat

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In response to the escalating tension with China, Australia has enhanced its naval capabilities, receiving its first batch of advanced sea mines. This news was delivered by Air Vice Marshal Leon Phillips, the head of the Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Enterprise [GWEO], at the 21st Australian Defence Magazine Congress in Canberra. 

Photo credit: Shutterstock/FOTOGRIN

During the announcement, AVM Phillips revealed how these advanced sea mines are set to be utilized, emphasizing that they have already been incorporated into Australian Navy drills. This step signifies a significant leap in Australia’s efforts to upgrade its naval arsenal and increase its strategic maritime deterrence. 

The procurement of these sea mines was conducted under Project SEA 2000 Maritime Mining, following an agreement with RWM Italia, a subsidiary of Rheinmetall AG in Italy. Details about the agreement, including the quantity and nature of sea mines procured, remain confidential. 

Technology transfer

The Australian Department of Defense highlighted that the decision to partner with RWM Italia was reached after extensive consultations with industry stakeholders, leading to a final decision in August 2023. 

The contract with RWM Italia provides for technology transfer and expertise acquisition, setting the stage for domestic manufacturing and maintenance of these sea mines. This extends to potential partnerships in electronic services, routine maintenance, and the utilization of Australian-made explosives for filling and assembly, aimed at strengthening local defense manufacturing. 

Photo credit: BAE Systems

These technologically advanced sea mines can be deployed from submarines, ships, and aircraft, enhancing Australia’s naval deterrence across various naval platforms. Although the exact cost of the purchase has not been disclosed, it’s estimated to be in the range of $500 million to $1 billion. 

Explosive materials division

In his address, AVM Phillips discussed the broader objectives of the GWEO Enterprise, which include local production of sophisticated weaponry, increasing war reserves such as sea mines, and enhancing long-range strike capabilities. 

The GWEO is leading efforts to establish local competencies for servicing, loading, assembly, and packaging of sea mines. Central to these efforts is the role of technology transfer. 

Although specific details are sparse, Naval News has disclosed that Enginium Pty Ltd, an Australian company, has contributed to the establishment of an explosive materials division within the SEA 2000 project team.

The need for this ammunition

Imagine stumbling upon an explosive, typically hidden underwater at critical maritime sites such as harbors and straits. We call these age-old instruments of warfare ‘sea mines’. Although they have origins dating back to the 14th century, Western naval forces, including that of Australia, have recently sidelined their use. 

Photo credit: Chinese Defence Blog

The type of sea mines currently wielded by Australia has an impressive attribute: they can be remotely activated and deactivated post-deployment. This certainly ensures safe passage for friendly naval and commercial vessels along waterways and ports, devoid of any harm. 

Greg Mapson, a former naval officer with a special interest in mine warfare, brings the historical impact of sea mines into focus. They, he points out, have a record of sinking more ships during World War II than any other tactic. 

Characterizing sea mines as potentially the “most potent weapon system ever used in maritime warfare,” Mapson emphasizes their dual benefits — providing both defensive and offensive strategies to nations. 

100K Chinese sea mines

China, in the course of its intense military surge, has stockpiled around 100,000 sea mines. Given the tense China-Australia relations, Australia seemingly has no other choice but to enhance its naval capacities. 

Weighing in on this topic, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute [ASPI] revealed that Australia’s ten priority ports and seven major ports, which handle 99% of international commerce, are extremely vulnerable to blockades. 

Moreover, in the words of the think tank, a brief analysis of the routes to these ports, coupled with scrutiny on what would constitute a formidable protective minefield against enemy naval forces, concludes that acquiring anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 weapons in the initial procurement phase would be logical. 

Photo credit: Sohu

In the event of a conflict or escalating tensions, the Australian Defence Force [ADF] would need to multiply this estimate by ten to ensure a robust defense of waterways and ports.

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