August 10, 2008 Amphibious assaults are a dangerous business, which is why the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center is assembling a comprehensive Assault Breaching System. A key part of the new system is a Countermine System (CMS) designed to minimize mine-related human losses and not surprisingly, the new design is innovative, very complex and pretty scarey. Basically, it’s a warhead that dispenses its payload of 4000 neutralizer "darts" at a predetermined altitude to clear a safe pathway for the Marines that follow. The new CMS warhead is delivered accurately above the designated area required for clearance by the equally innovative JDAM guidance platform.

The CMS will neutralize mines in the beach and surf zone in advance of an amphibious assault by the Marines and greatly enhance the sea service's ability to successfully complete a Ship-to-Objective maneuver.

Boeing has been awarded the contract to lead the team which will design and develop the CMS. The Boeing-led team includes General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems for mine neutralizer testing, alternate neutralizer design and the modular payload system; Lockheed Martin for the baseline explosive neutralizer; and Nammo-Talley Defense Systems for the dispenser system.

The unique CMS warhead uses the combat-proven Joint Direct Attack Munition guidance set to accurately position the weapon above the mines. The warhead is designed to dispense its payload of more than 4,000 neutralizer "darts" at a predetermined altitude, clearing the way for safe beach landings. U.S. Air Force strategic bombers will use the CMS to clear assault lanes while Navy tactical fighters perform localized mine neutralization.

The technology, developed in conjunction with the Office of Naval Research's Mine Obstacle Defeat System program, has allowed the Navy to proceed with the CMS System Design and Development phase. The Navy plans to field the system in 2016.

The system doesn’t exist just yet so we took the editorial liberty of using a picture of a weapons loader (Staff Sgt. Jessica Kochman) preparing a GBU-31 guided by the Joint Direct Attack Munition for a mission at a forward-deployed location in Iraq.

First deployed in 1999, JDAM is essentially a tail kit that turns an unguided dumb bomb into an autonomous and very accurate smart munition. It can be released from almost any aircraft in the U.S. Air Force and Navy inventory from any altitude in (almost) any weather. Once deployed, it uses inertial navigation and the Global Positioning System to find its target. Perhaps its most significant property is its price which is several orders of magnitude cheaper than the laser-guided weapons which were, by necessity, used sparingly in Operation Desert Storm.

This prior generation of weapons were not very accurate, only effective in near perfect weather and were very (very) expensive.

The JDAM saw active duty for the first time in Operation Allied Force. B-2 Spirits flew 30-hour, nonstop, round trip missions from Whiteman Air Force Base, releasing more than 650 JDAMs during the conflict. In Afghanistan, B-52 Stratofortresses flying high above the battlefield and loaded to the hilt with JDAMs were regularly called in to provide close air support in addition to their regular missions. When the B-52 was conceived, it was for dropping large amounts of bombs with a low accuracy, yet by the Afghanistan conflict, it was performing a quite different role, transforming the roles the bomber fleet could perform. As accuracy improved, smaller bombs could be used, and in the second Iraqi conflict the 500-pound version of the JDAM weapon for the first time, as it was able to be delivered with ever greater accuracy in urban operations with very little collateral damage.

Now the low-cost, high-accuracy JDAM is to be used in an entirely different manner – to deliver an armament that effectively sprays a path through a minefield. Scarey but very clever.

If you are interested in this article, you might also like to read this article about the landmine – one of man’s most insidious inventions.