Royal Navy experts observe Japanese mine warfare exercise

For the first time Royal Navy mine experts have been invited to watch their Japanese counterparts at work in their homeland.

Two British observers joined the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force at its major annual test of its minehunting forces in Mutsu Bay at the northern tip of main island of Honshu.

Some 20 Japanese minehunters were involved in the exercise, centred on Ominato Naval Base, about 400 miles north of Tokyo.

The ships left port in formation for what was a test of the core of the Japanese mine warfare forces to see whether they could deal with all possible underwater explosive devices.

They were expected to locate and neutralise mechanical and influence mines – the former detonate if struck by a ship or submarine, the latter blow up when ‘influenced’ by a passing vessel, such as detecting its magnetic field, propellers or noticing changes in water pressure.

On top of that, the Japanese were also keen to develop their use of autonomous minehunting systems – a field the RN is particularly keen on, especially with Unmanned Warrior looming in Scotland in October; that sees companies from around the world demonstrating what their hi-tech systems can bring to naval warfare.

This was a fantastic opportunity for the Royal Navy to build understanding of Royal Navy and Japanese mine warfare procedures

Commander Donald Crosbie, Royal Navy’s Liaison Officer

“This is the first time that Royal Navy observers have attended the Japanese mine counter-measures exercise and it comes at a time when we’re seeking to revolutionise our operations incorporating greater use of autonomous technology,” said Lieutenant Simon Reeves, Executive Officer of Portsmouth-based minehunter HMS Hurworth.

“The Japanese have a capable, professional and defensive-focused mine counter-measures force.”

He observed the exercise alongside Commander Donald Crosbie, the Royal Navy’s Liaison Officer with the Japanese Navy and the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet, based in the Far East, plus colleagues from South Korea and Australia.

Although the Royal Navy has a worldwide reputation for being at the forefront of mine warfare, the Japanese have a wealth of experience in the field – not least clearing 55,000 of their own and 17,000 American mines laid around their coast during World War 2.

While their minehunters and dive teams have mostly focused their efforts in home waters, they have dispatched forces to help with the international effort clearing mines from the Gulf after the first war with Saddam in 1991 and most recently took part in the world’s largest mine warfare exercise – alongside the Royal Navy among other participants – staged in the Middle East.

“This was a fantastic opportunity for the Royal Navy to build understanding of Royal Navy and Japanese mine warfare procedures and to identify areas where we can co-operate further with our forces working together,” said Cdr Crosbie.