Soundings Papers: Breaching The Surface: The Future Of Sea Mines In The Indo-Pacific

Soundings No. 18
Soundings No. 18

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Alia Huberman

This report argues that several dynamics of the coming few decades in the Indo-Pacific will see naval mines used once again in the region. It suggests they will form the basis of anti-access strategies for some Indo-Pacific states in a way that will be deeply transformative for the region’s strategic balance and for which Australia is thoroughly unprepared. It seeks to draw attention to the often underappreciated nature of sea mines as a uniquely powerful strategic tool, offering the user an unparalleled asymmetric ability to engage high-value enemy targets while posing a minimal-risk, low expense, and continuous threat. In the increasingly contested strategic environment of the contemporary Indo-Pacific - a region in which the threats to free navigation and the maritime economy are existential ones - there is considerable appetite for anti-access and sea denial weapons as defensive, offensive, and coercive tools. Naval strategists must,, prepare for the resurgence of mine warfare in the Indo-Pacific, and for the grand-scale and rapid timeline in which it can transform an operational environment.

This report first seeks to collate and outline those characteristics of sea mines and of their interaction with an operational environment that make them attractive for use. It then discusses the states most likely to employ mine warfare and the different scenarios in which they might do so, presenting five individual contingencies: China, Taiwan, North Korea, non-state actors, and Southeast Asian states. Finally, it presents three key recommendations for Australian defence policymakers in responding to the likely future proliferation of sea mines in the Indo-Pacific.