Mines are the ninjas of warfare: silent, deadly and a bit unsavory. Sneaky weapons that are extremely effective not just for the damage they cause, but also for the fear and uncertainty they sow.
Naval mines are especially potent. American air-dropped mines in Japanese waters in 1945–chillingly but accurately code-named Operation Starvation–sank more ships than U.S. submarines in the final months of the war. The 1972 mining of Haiphong harbor helped drive North Vietnam to the peace table, while Saddam Hussein’s underwater booby traps threatened U.S. naval supremacy in Desert Storm. “In February 1991 the Navy lost command of the sea—the North Arabian Gulf—to more than a thousand mines that had been sown by Iraqi forces. Mines severely damaged two Navy warships, and commanders aborted an amphibious assault for fear of even more casualties,” says a U.S. Navy mine warfare history.
But when a high-altitude B-52H bomber dropped a Quickstrike naval mine on September 23, 2014, something extraordinary happened: instead of falling into the sea below, the mine glided to a splashdown 40 nautical miles away. The reason? The mine had wings.
It was a hybrid weapon, a combination of a Quickstrike mine and JDAM, or Joint Direct Attack Munition, the clever concept that attaches fins and GPS guidance to conventional “dumb” bombs, thus turning them into cheap guided bombs. This Quickstrike mine had been fitted with JSAM-ER, which slips actual wings on to the weapons, enabling it to glide long distances. The new weapon, designated GBU-62B(V-1)/B Quickstrike-ER, has a range of 40 nautical miles when launched from 35,000 feet.