With the new LCS class of ships delayed by cost overruns and program management
problems, the U.S. Navy is hustling to refurbish its existing Avenger class
minesweepers. The Avengers are getting new engines, new sonars, improved
hydralics and new mine destruction systems. The 3,000 ton LCS ships are
designed for minesweeping (and a lot of other jobs), but the 1,400 ton Avengers
specialize in minesweeping. Built mostly of wood, and very little iron, the
fourteen Avengers entered the fleet between 1987 and 1994. Twelve are still in
service, and the upgrades will be completed by next year, and will enable
Avengers to remain in service at least until 2016.
224 foot long ships draw only 15 feet of water, enabling them to operate close
to shore. They are armed with two .50 cal. (12.7mm) machine guns, two 7.62mm
machine guns, two 40mm Grenade Launchers and have a crew of 83 sailors. The
four diesel engines in each Avenger have never been very reliable, and in the
past few years, training days at sea have been cut from 104 to 72 days a year
largely because of that. With the new engines, the Avengers will still be able
to move at up to 27 kilometers an hour. Normally, however, the Avengers move
much more slowly (3-4 kilometers an hour) when searching for mines.
Avengers operate out of Bahrain, in the Persian Gulf, and two out of Sasebo,
Japan. The rest are based at Ingleside, Texas. The Texas Congressional
delegation thought they had scored a coup when they forced the navy to base its
mine hunting ships at this Texas base. But this was the last place the navy
wanted it's mine hunting ships. That's because the most likely places mine
hunters would be needed in wartime are at the major ports on the east and west
coasts, not in the Gulf of Mexico. But the Texas Congressional delegation has
made keeping the minesweepers, (and all the local jobs and business for Texas
firms) right where it is, a major issue. Not even a president from Texas has
been willing to go up against that.
navy also has a dozen smaller Osprey class coastal mine hunters (900 tons
displacement, crew of 51), but these are being given away to foreign navies,
and replaced by the LCS (which has been delayed) and new minesweeping
helicopters (which are on schedule).