The military exercise BALTOPS 2015 is in full swing off and on the coast of Sweden, with a large-scale amphibious landing happening last weekend. Finnish, Swedish, British and American Marines all stormed the Swedish coastline in a joint manner, with multiple landing craft and air support assets bringing the fight to an imaginary enemy.
Last weekend also saw the U.S. Air Force make good on its promise to deploy B-52Hs in the maritime mining role for the exercise. Two of the bombers streake in low over the allied flotilla, dropping 16 inert Mk.62 ‘Quickstrike’ naval mines in an effort to simulate denying enemy vessels access to a particular area off the Swedish coast.
The Mark 62 mine is a fairly ingenious weapon. It uses a Mk. 82 500 pound general purpose bomb as a warhead, with a special fusing system and tail-kit attached. The tail-kit is of the high-drag variety, which is usually the BSU-86 folding fin kit similar to a ‘Snakeye” tailkit used to strike land targets via low-altitude aircraft delivery.
These fins deploy as the bomb is dropped from the aircraft to slow the weapon’s descent rate and orient it vertically as it enters the water. This improves accuracy, helps protect the weapon from skipping across the surface, and allows the low-level flying drop aircraft to exit the area without being damaged by an accidental detonation.
Once the mine drops into the water, it lays in wait for a certain time period or indefinitely, only activating when certain acoustic, seismic and magnetic signatures are detected near it. At which point in time it decides if the signatures it is detecting are real or a countermeasure device. If the mine’s computer thinks it is real, it explodes. The 500lbs of high explosive bomb creates a large cavitation and the resulting shockwave is powerful, with the idea being that it ‘lifts’ a ship and breaks its keel or pummels a submarine with its shockwave hard enough to kill it or at least disable it.
Like all mines, the downside is that they can kill an allied ship as well as an enemy one, so plotting exactly where they are supposed to be dropped, and delivering them precisely on that target, is key so that they can be avoided in combat and/or found and detonated later.
Sea mines, like many other controversial munitions, have not been impervious to certain improvements in technology in recent years, including better target discrimination and the ability to self destruct on command or via a set of algorithms. Still, they are seen as a double-edged sword that must be used in combat only under certain circumstances and destroyed after hostilities end, which can be a tedious, dangerous and expensive endeavor.
Mine laying operations as part of BALTOPS 2015 is especially troubling for Russia, whose ports of nearby St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad can be shut down by such an operation during hostilities, trapping and rendering Russia’s Baltic fleet more or less useless. Although for this exercise the B-52s used only dropped 16 of Mk.62s, but in actual wartime they can drop as many as 51 on a single pass. Their B-1B Lancer stablemates can drop up to 84.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com