U.S. Navy Helicopter Mine Countermeasure Squadrons: Dragons vs. mines

Helicopter Mine Countermeasure Squadrons – designated HM – are a bit of the odd ducks among U.S. Navy squadrons. At this moment there are only two operational HM squadrons in the U.S. Navy, both based at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. They fly the mighty Sikorsky MH-53E ‘Sea Dragon’ helicopter during their mine-sweep missions and use several spooky devices to search for mines and neutralize them.

HM-14 and 15 the only two squadrons Navy-wide that have integrated an active duty airborne mine countermeasure squadron with its reserve counterpart. The primary mission is Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM) with secondary capabilities for Vertical Onboard Delivery (VOD), heavy lift and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) support.

Mine-sweeping missions are flown by carrying either internal equipment or externally transporting this equipment to a mine field environment. The MH-53E utilizes either a single-winch or multi-winch, depending on the mission that houses various types of cables reeled out of the aircraft. Only one type of device can be towed at a time by the MH-53E. In order to sweep an area, the aircraft positions itself in a hover outside of the mine-field to be swept and lowers the equipment via winches and tow cables into the water. This process is called ‘streaming’. The towing aspect occurs when the aircraft begins moving forward, placing tension on the aircraft via a tow cable and tow boom. The tow cable and tow boom connect the gear in the water to the aircraft. The aircraft will tow the particular device at a low altitude and airspeed through a designated area until the entire section has been swept or hunted. The aircraft is flown at low altitude (no higher than 150 feet) and slower airspeeds while tethered to the water. Once complete with the mission, the aircraft proceeds outside of the field and returns to a hover. The crew either brings the equipment back on the aircraft, returns the device to the recovery crews, or externally transports the Magnetic Orange Pipe to its storage location.

Our full story on the mine-sweeping mission was published in the January 2016 issue of Combat Aircraft Monthly and in the December 2015 issue of Full-Stop Magazine.