Dive team development in San Diego

Published on LEUT Glenn Blizzard (author)

Location(s): San Diego, California, United States of America

Topic(s): Exercise RIMPAC

Personnel from AUSCDT1 observe one of their team leaping from a US Navy MH53E Sea Dragon while conducting airborne mine disposal exercises. (photo: Unknown)
Personnel from AUSCDT1 observe one of their team leaping from a US Navy MH53E Sea Dragon while conducting airborne mine disposal exercises.

Australian Navy divers had a rare chance to work with dolphins during recent mine detection exercises, as a small contingent shared tactics, training and procedures with counterparts from other countries in San Diego during Exercise Rim of the Pacific 2016 (RIMPAC 16).
Under the command of Commander Australian Mine Warfare and Clearance Diving Task Group Commander Etienne Mulder, personnel from Australian Clearance Diving Teams One and Four, Australian Mine Warfare Team 16, as well as task group staff, deployed to southern California to participate in mine counter measure operations.
The contingent was embarked in USS Pearl Harbor with Navy personnel from the United States, Canada, Germany and Japan conducting very shallow water mine countermeasure operations.
The combined forces applied their new-found familiarity to operational activities such as clearing boat lanes, anchorages and 'Q-routes' in support of subsequent amphibious landings by an actual follow-on forces scenario.
A highlight for Team One was the rare opportunity to work with the United States Navy’s dolphins from its Marine Mammal System to locate and mark sea mines from shallow water to deep zones.
During the 13-day tactical phase, units were employed on tasks comprising diving and sub-surface rapid environmental assessments, where underwater navigation and sonar equipment was used to search for, and identify, sea mines. These tasks required divers and autonomous underwater vehicle operators to stage operations from sea and were predominantly conducted at night. 
Members of Team 16 were also able to work with the dolphins, but said the highlight for them was the opportunity to work with German and Japanese autonomous underwater vehicle teams. This involved assisting in mission planning, conducting exploratory mine-hunting, utilising the latest side scan sonar technology, and post-mission analysis.
The divers said it was a rewarding experience.
Able Seaman Combat Systems Operator - Mine Warfare Madeline Jackson joined Team 16 only three days before the start of RIMPAC. 
“I was very lucky to post in ahead of RIMPAC and head straight over to San Diego,” Able Seaman Jackson said.
She also got to spend three nights on a cross deck with HMCS Yellowknife (a mine hunter) to experience life in the Canadian Navy and see how they conduct mine-hunting operations. 
“RIMPAC provided exposure and opportunity to learn in the operational environment, particularly with regard to the employment of autonomous underwater vehicles,” she said.
The divers encountered challenging conditions during seabed clearance in-shore. Concentrated thick kelp beds and other submerged obstacles presented significant difficulties for the divers and autonomous underwater vehicle operators, who gained valuable experience in the interpretation of sonar images and conduct of missions.