Tag Archives: mining

The U.S. Navy Needs AWNIS for Mine Warfare

Mine Warfare Topic Week

By LT Colin Barnard, USN

Earlier this year, General Scapparotti, former Commander of U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO forces, sounded the call for a greater U.S. Navy presence in the Euro-Atlantic region to counter Russian aggression. The U.S. Navy has been increasing its presence in the region since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, most notably conducting patrols in the Baltic and Black Seas. More recently, the U.S. Navy reestablished U.S. Second Fleet in Norfolk, Virginia, the commander of which will also head NATO’s new Joint Force Command in the same location, and is providing the flagship for Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 for all of 2019, one of four groups that make up NATO’s Standing Naval Forces.

Despite these increases, General Scapparotti was correct to say that an even greater U.S. Navy presence in the region is needed. However, greater U.S. Navy presence in Europe means greater involvement in NATO; and greater involvement in NATO requires greater use of NATO doctrine, some of which is not currently practiced by the U.S. Navy.

One such doctrine is the Allied Worldwide Navigational Information System, or AWNIS, which is crucial for conducting military operations at sea, especially mine warfare, while minimizing disruption to merchant shipping. This crucial doctrine can help modify and reroute sea lines of communications as they become threatened and endure combat operations. But unfortunately, the U.S. Navy knows very little about this system, its processes, or its merits.


AWNIS is not a technical system but rather “instructions for the promulgation of navigational dangers during times of war,” as the first NATO Military Committee document described it in 1952. AWNIS is necessary to conduct operations at sea while minimizing disruption to the maritime domain because it provides the procedures to promulgate Safety and Security of Navigation (SASON) information on navigation hazards that result from military operations—e.g. sea mines—fulfilling legal obligations specified in international humanitarian law and conventions such as Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

To accomplish this, AWNIS collates inputs from tactical units—e.g. mine countermeasure (MCM) forces—then disseminates the information to merchant and military ships based on classification level. To promulgate the information to merchant ships, AWNIS uses the existing civilian Worldwide Navigation Warning System (WWNWS) architecture to transmit Navigation Warnings (NAVWARNs). To promulgate the information to military ships, AWNIS uses the Q-Message system. More information on AWNIS processes can be found in the primary AWNIS publication, Allied Hydrographic Publication 01 (AHP-01). The Q-message system is specified in a classified supplement to AHP-01.

AWNIS’ Origins

The British Royal Navy, in conjunction with what is now called the U.K. Hydrographic Office (UKHO), developed the AWNIS doctrine in response to lessons learned during WWI and WWII. During WWI, Central Powers sank more than 5,000 allied and neutral merchant ships in the North Atlantic Ocean with projectiles, torpedoes, and mines, creating navigational dangers for all seagoing vessels, including submarines. However, there was no procedure in any navy at the time to track the shipwrecks and sea mines, or disseminate their locations while taking into account operational security. Additionally, mine clearance and salvage operations take time, as do chart corrections.

Without a procedure in the military to identify and share information about navigational hazards during the war, civilian institutions had to locate and mitigate these hazards when the war ended. To this day, shipwrecks from the wars of the 20th century and, more dangerously, sea mines, are still being discovered in the waters around Europe. Germany placed over 40,000 mines around the British Isles during WWI alone. A key part of the AWNIS doctrine is post-conflict stabilization, which ensures all hazards to navigation that emerge during a conflict are tracked, then declassified and shared with civilian institutions to ensure restoration after the conflict is over.

AWNIS and Mine Warfare

In NATO, the AWNIS doctrine facilitates Mine Danger Areas (MDAs) and Q-Routes, in addition to other threats to safety and security of navigation. AWNIS Officers embarked with MCM forces draft MDA requests to the AWNIS lead, known as the Safety of Navigation Information Coordinator (SONIC), who is co-located with the MDA establishing authority, usually the Maritime Component Commander.

While it is crucial that MDAs be reported to all friendly naval forces, this detailed information is classified and cannot be shared with merchant shipping. If merchant shipping were told where MDAs are established, the enemy responsible for laying the mines would know which mines have been found. Thus, the details of an MDA are classified and distributed via the Q-Message system only. To fulfill the legal obligation to inform merchant shipping of the mine threat, NAVWARNs are used to establish Areas Dangerous to Shipping (ADS), which can cover a wider area than actually affected in order to maximize the safety of the merchant mariner and, ideally, freedom of maneuver for naval forces. Similar to a Maritime Exclusion Zone, which is also established by NAVWARN, an ADS should be carefully planned in order to ensure the least disruption to the maritime domain. Another doctrine exists in NATO and works closely with AWNIS in this effort—Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS).


More than 50,000 merchant ships sail the world’s oceans, carrying more than 90 percent of the world’s trade. Conversely, only 1,500 warships sail the world’s oceans, of which approximately 200 are at sea at any given time, the rest remaining in port for maintenance and training. While vastly outnumbered, what warships do at sea can greatly affect merchant shipping, potentially disrupting its free movement and thus the global economy. AWNIS and NCAGS work in concert to reduce this potentiality.

While the AWNIS doctrine is responsible for managing the environment on which both military and merchant ships sail, the NCAGS doctrine provides the procedures for military forces to cooperate with and guide merchant shipping, effectively assisting shipping to travel from point A to B safely, i.e. freedom of navigation. This can be accomplished using basic routing guidance like Sailing Information, or through more tactical measures like group transit and lead-through operations. NCAGS relies on the AWNIS overview of the environment to accomplish this task. In the event of lead-through operations, NCAGS also relies on Q-Routes, which are pre-planned channels and routes surveyed during peacetime. Utilizing the Q-Message system, Q-Routes are activated as needed to ensure access to ports or other areas of operational importance for military and merchant ships.

AWNIS and SLOC Protection

In addition to closely cooperating with mine warfare and NCAGS, AWNIS also collates information necessary for the Maritime Component Commander to efficiently position assets to protect sea lines of communication (SLOCs). When navigational hazards like minefields and shipwrecks caused by mines, torpedoes, or missiles are plotted, the Maritime Component Commander is able to visualize the battlespace and the threats to SLOCs. Overlay the operational intelligence picture of the adversary’s naval and anti-access capabilities, especially coastal missiles, and the picture becomes mostly complete.

NCAGS officers have the means to recommend routes for both merchant shipping and strategic sealift around these threats, effectively establishing a SLOC. This also aids in the deconfliction of military activity from merchant shipping. For example, during a scenario in which merchant ships must sail from the U.K. to Norway during a major conflict, NCAGS would rely on AWNIS to show where all recent missile and mine strikes have occurred at sea or in ports, all MDAs, and activated Q-Routes in order to accurately advise the ships where to sail. NCAGS officers deployed in ports or on merchant vessels would be used to communicate sensitive information such as the details of a Q-Route.

AWNIS and Hybrid Warfare

The AWNIS doctrine is increasingly relevant in the context of an aggressive Russia that is openly challenging the laws of the sea through hybrid maritime activity. In November 2018, Russia closed the Kerch Strait to innocent passage, first by promulgating a false NAVWARN, then by placing a merchant vessel under the Crimean Bridge to block the strait. More recently, Russia has been promulgating NAVWARNs for naval exercises in the Black Sea that cover larger areas than necessary, seemingly with the intent of disrupting freedom of navigation. In most cases, the Russian Federation Navy (RFN) does not fully use these exercise areas.

While the RFN is ultimately responsible for the safety of merchant vessels passing in or near these exercise areas, accidents are possible. Even worse, it is difficult to foresee how the international community would respond to such an accident, especially if there were indications the accident was intentional, e.g. to disrupt the passage of a merchant vessel bound for a Ukrainian port. Regardless, as long as Russia continues to abuse the international systems in place for disseminating SASON information, the international shipping community would be right to distrust information promulgated by and for the RFN. Conversely, the U.S. Navy and NATO need to take care to always use these systems correctly, which the AWNIS doctrine seeks to ensure. In peacetime, crisis, and conflict, the U.S. Navy and NATO stand ready to be recognized as trusted brokers of SASON information.

Practicing the AWNIS Doctrine

The U.S. Navy should look to other NATO navies in order to establish AWNIS expertise for its own purposes. The already well-established U.S. Navy NCAGS community, part of the Reserve Component, should become the primary AWNIS expertise for the U.S. Navy. This is how the navies of the U.K., Norway, the Netherlands, and Belgium manage the system. As AWNIS and NCAGS are inseparable in practice, the majority of reserve officers with warfare backgrounds in the U.S. Navy NCAGS community should be trained in both. From this new U.S. Navy AWNIS and NCAGS community, every numbered fleet commander should be assigned a Staff AWNIS and NCAGS Officer, acting as the principal adviser on SASON and ready to act as the SONIC in the event of an operation. If MCM forces are involved, reserve officers should be ready to support them with AWNIS expertise.

The central location for AWNIS and NCAGS expertise in NATO is the NATO Shipping Centre (NSC), part of NATO Maritime Command in Northwood, U.K. Though tasked with wider maritime situational awareness responsibilities, the NSC should play a role in establishing AWNIS expertise in the U.S. Navy, bearing in mind that AWNIS is not only relevant to the littorals of Europe. The mine threat is equally existential, if not more so, in the Strait of Hormuz and Taiwan Strait.

With the AWNIS organization in place, military units at sea and merchant shipping could be confident in the U.S. Navy’s ability to manage SASON information during crisis or conflict. More importantly, the Joint Force Commander could be confident in the Maritime Component Commander’s ability to protect SLOCs and help both merchant shipping and strategic sealift make it to their destination, whether to support the civilian population or the Land Component Commander.

AWNIS is not the only NATO doctrine the U.S. Navy needs to practice, but it is fundamental. No longer can the crew of a destroyer wait until they “chop” under NATO operational control to dust off the NATO publications on the back shelf. As recently argued by VADM Lindsey and members of his staff at NATO’s Combined Joint Operations from the Sea Center of Excellence (CJOS-COE), U.S. Navy knowledge gaps in NATO doctrine need to be identified and filled to ensure successful integration and interoperability with NATO forces. The U.S. Navy’s mine warfare community is already ahead of other warfare communities in this endeavor, through participation in NATO exercises like DYNAMIC MOVE. Adopting AWNIS is a natural next step.

Lieutenant Barnard is serving as a staff operations and plans officer at NATO Maritime Command in Northwood, U.K. He was previously gunnery officer onboard USS ARLEIGH BURKE (DDG 51) and weapons officer onboard USS FIREBOLT (PC 10), and he was recently selected to be a foreign area officer in Europe. He graduated from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland with a master’s in terrorism studies and holds a bachelor’s in political science from Abilene Christian University in Texas. His views are his own and do not represent the views of the U.S. Navy or Department of Defense.

Featured Image: HMCS St. John’s performs manoeuvres with other members of Standing NATO Maritime Group One while on Op REASSURANCE in the Baltic Sea, March 21, 2018. (Photo: CPL TONY CHAND, FIS)

Avatar: Shock and Awe-fully Dumb

Written by Matthew Hipple for Movie Re-Fights Week

The blockbuster Avatar is not only remarkable for its stunning visuals and brow-beating politics, but for the colossal  incompetence of the corporate and military leadership of the Resource Development Administration (RDA). 

Sure, humanity may be counting on you for their survival. Sure, you have arrived on an alien planet armed with the ability to transmit your consciousness into proxy flesh suits hewn together with the most advanced science. But hey, why not just “YOLO” it and see what happens? What could go wrong? It’s not like you’re 4.5 light years from earth with limited resources!

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Tactical Failure: If It Looks Smart and Doesn’t Work – It’s Stupid

Having thoroughly pissed off the blue bees nest on Pandora, RDA command is ordering you to destroy a tiny, purple-glowing “Tree of Souls.” The critical node in a vast planet-wide biological neural net, it is located  in the middle of an area of heavy radar interference and the aerial equivalent of deadly shoal water.

That's it? It's the size of a town Christmas tree! How hard could it be?
That’s it? It’s the size of a small town Christmas tree! Why does this have to be complicated?

RDA commanders probably read the old classic “Starship Troopers” and had heard of Star Craft’s “Zerg” and Halo’s “Flood” from the History Channel. Biological hive minds always end in billions of dead terrans. The mission was probably too important not to staff to death.

What would be more perfect than assigning a massive, vulnerable transport ship carrying a comically lashed-together bomb of mining ordnance through this rock mine-field? Granted, the target is only the size of a Denny’s… OH! Let’s add a ground assault through dense jungle with little to no air support. Never pass up an excuse to party “Ellen Ripley” style in an exo-suit. The plan looked awesome on power point, as one can see from the many unnecessary parts: a militarized space barge and a ground assault. The words “decisive,” “domain,” and “disruptive” probably appeared multiple times.

Yeah... this feels good. I'll sacrifice all my mobility to protect this lumbering militarized space barge.
Yeah… this feels good. We’ll sacrifice all our mobility to protect this lumbering militarized space barge. We look TOTALLY cool right now.

However, RDA had JUST blown up the Home Tree – a facility the size of a small city – using nothing but a token force of deadly and agile VTOL gunships. Not only was Operation Soul Tree against a far smaller and more fragile target – but it would be in a physically and electronically denied environment.  Why suddenly trade mobile lethality for for static defense on a flying dump truck? Why risk losing your entire ground force in a superfluous assault through dense jungle?  Seriously, how could this NOT go wrong?

Aurgh! A total disaster we could have NEVER predicted!
Noooooo! A total disaster we could have NEVER predicted!

Now, had the RDA forces learned the lesson of their own experience – they would have executed a multi-axis raid on the “Soul Tree” using a primary assault by gunships and a feint by a faux “bomber.” The ground assault would have been completely scrubbed.

Maintaining a “feint” – preferably using gunships and a transport on rudimentary auto-pilot – would draw enemy forces away from the actual angle of attack. The windows of the aircraft used for the feint would have to be blacked out. Recon for Airborne Pandoran forces would quickly discover that the cockpits were empty, and realize the bomber is a feint.

Detaching the primary aerial assault force from the  bomber would have allowed pilots speed and flexibility denied to them in the original plan to guard a militarized transport. With Pandoran forces distracted by the potential bombardment by the transport ship, the main assault force would move through the floating boulders at top speed, devastating the Soul Tree with their ordnance before quickly retreating back to base.

I love the smell of victory in the morning.
I love the smell of victory in the morning.

With the ground component completely scrubbed, the RDA would retain a significant force to continue defense of their facilities. While these bases are heavily defended already, these are static defenses that require augmentation from mobile components. It would be wise to keep some of the aerial component in reserve as well, in the off chance that Operation Soul Tree failed and human forces would have to hold out until military re-supply from Earth.

Of course, unlike in Operation Guard the Slow and Useless Target, we get to win this time.

Strategic Failure: That Escalated Quickly

Sooo... now that I randomly burned down all your homes just so I can dig under your tree, we're cool - right?
Sooo… now that I randomly burned down all your homes just so I can dig under your tree, we’re cool – right?

But let’s take a step back here – why did the RDA get to the point where it believed it had to commit all its forces to a winner-take-all assault on this Soul Tree network node? Oh, that’s right, they chose to burn down some blue people’s entire capital city.

Granted, the tree is sitting on top of an unobtanium stockpile critical to humanity’s survival… but this is the same human civilization that is capable of creating avatar meat-puppets that can be operated remotely to any location anywhere on this alien planet. Certainly, we can learn the ancient art of lateral drilling?

We can bring genetically engineered soldier suits trillions of miles through space - but can only dig like Gold-rush era miners.
We can bring genetically engineered soldier suits trillions of miles through space – but can only dig  like Gold-rush era miners.

The vast mining infrastructure operated by the RDA, and the automated technology available to it, would allow humanity some options OTHER than blowing a native city into oblivion to access the resources. It’s the future, surely there are automated mining units that aren’t the size of office buildings, or tunnel-boring machines that could serve this mission.

And let’s be real here – the outfit sent to collect all these resources is the “Resource Development Administration.” Mining should be their specialty.

Force Planning: Phoning it in

The mining technology angle leads us to a more general problem with the technology employed by the RDA. Considering the military and commercial operational needs, the capabilities developed from the technology available seem oddly under developed.

The lack of orbital strike capabilities is notable. From cracking open a large hole for mining to cracking open a target – the RDA would have found great use for an orbital weapon of some sort. It’s not like the mission’s importance to earth didn’t warrant the resources. They certainly had the technology for it. You could destroy ANY  tree you really felt necessary – and you wouldn’t have to risk any military forces. Hell, the Pandorans wouldn’t even know it was you. They don’t know how satellites work.

You came this far, with ALL this technology... and couldn't bring a space cannon?
You came this far, with ALL this technology… and couldn’t bring a space cannon?

More concerning is the lack of a real military application of the avatar technology the movie is named after. Sure, the modified blue people are a nice touch. Hearts and minds is always the better path then a tough military campaign in someone else’s backyard.

However, why settle for tall skinny blue people? Why not create a legion of 10 foot tall super-Cena ? You could add extra arms, camouflage skin, or even millions of tiny spider-like hairs for extra grip! Perhaps lower cost methods could be employed to save human personnel and maximize combat effectiveness, like making the combat exo-suits neural net operated. Perhaps remote neural control could operate the gunships… or even gunship swarms controlled by a single consciousness. In the movie Surrogates, the DoD was fighting wars with legions of brain-controlled robots… and they weren’t even advanced enough to land a mining operation in another solar system.

You can biologically engineer a whole new life-form that can be remotely controlled anywhere on the planet... and all you can make is REALLY tall blue people?
Why don’t we try this with 2-3 more feet in height, 5x the muscle mass, and 2 more arms for faster magazine change-outs, multiple melee and ranged weapon use, and better climbing abilities. Maybe the skin can be a color that blends in better with the environment. Really, we can do better than super-tall blue hipsters.

Hell, if the RDA had the ability to hack into the neurological network of a surrogate body remotely – why wasn’t anyone trying to tap into this planetary neural net? Imagine the processing capacity of a planet-sized biological computer, or the influence one could have on inter-tribal planetary politics with neural-net access. At the very least, the intelligence gathering potential would be invaluable for a force operating in a potential adversary’s backyard.

Conclusion: Insanity or Laziness

Humanity is in a tight spot – an energy crisis along with dwindling terrain resources mean that unobtanium is humanity’s only way out. Unfortunately, the RDA decision makers on Pandora has decided to phone it in.

You ask me for strategy? I offer you something better - a myopic pursuit of frontal assaults. I offer you the obsessions of a man who has clearly never seen the movie "Zulu" or read a Kipling poem, and has only been fighting wildlife for at least a decade.
You ask me for strategy? I offer you something better – a myopic pursuit of frontal assaults and kinetic effects. I offer you the obsession of a man who has clearly never seen the movie “Zulu” or read a Kipling poem. I assure you, though my experience in military operations was once great, I have done nothing but slowly go mad from the isolation and fight wildlife for at least a decade.

Perhaps it’s the cabin fever spending so much time away from civilization. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of mission requirements that involve fighting either animal opponents or blue people armed with sticks. Maybe it’s even the lack of good reading material. Whatever the case, those who were clearly once capable corporate, technical, and military leaders had long ago started slacking off – thinking down predictable or silly stovepipes in their execution of the Pandora mission. It makes a good case for regular leadership rotation. It pays to ensure one’s leadership does not become stale… or even lose their minds from isolation.

Whoever humanity sends to re-take Pandora – and capture the traitor, Jake Sully – will be a bit more on the ball.

We'll be back, hippies.
We’ll be back, hippies.

Matthew Hipple is the President of CIMSEC and host of our Sea Control and Real Time Strategy podcasts. He is also an active duty Surface Warfare Officer, whose opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or the Resource Development Administration.

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