A better choice would have been the modern and capable Osprey mine hunters. Built in the 1990s on the design of the Italian Lerici-class mine hunter, Ospreys have fiberglass hulls to minimize the chance of setting off a magnetic mine. Equipped with excellent sensors, they played a major role in clearing Soviet-type mines placed in the Gulf by Iraq during the First Gulf War. They not only cleared transit waterways, but also proved effective at clearing mines from harbors, including Basra, and have significant advantages over helicopter anti-mine systems.
Too bad Navy infighting forced the liquidation of the Osprey program in 2007.
Osprey ships are far less expensive than helicopters; have better sensors; and are much better for escort operations, since a pair of them could escort large oil tankers through constrained passageways. Ospreys could find bottom-tethered, deep water, and magnetic mines that threaten the massive steel hulls of large oil tankers, while the helicopters that will be on the deck of the Ponce are useful only against mines at or near the water’s surface.
Too bad we don’t have any. Or do we?
At one time, there were twelve Osprey mine hunters in the U.S. Navy; two were home ported in Bahrain. All have been decommissioned and a number have been sold.
Two (MHC 51 and MHC 54) are berthed in Beaumont, TX. MHC 52 and MHC 53 have been transferred to Greece. MHC 55 and 59 have been sold to Taiwan, but are still under refurbishment in Texas. MHC 56 and 57 were offered to Lithuania but not sold, and are thus still available. MHC 58 and MHC 62 have been authorized for sale to Turkey and MHC 61 and 62 have been sold to Egypt.
While eight Ospreys can be considered gone, at least four are retrievable and could be put back in service in a few months. Between two and four would be optimal for service in the Gulf.
Every serious littoral country has its own mine hunting ships — except the United States. If it is U.S. policy to protect tanker transit in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf, the Osprey beats the Ponce hands down.
It is not too late to restore the Osprey to the U.S. Navy.