New Zealand, US Navy divers hone mine countermeasure skills

A diver surfaces in Bland Bay. Photo: RNZN

Divers from the New Zealand and United States Navy honed their mine-clearing skills during a two-week multinational exercise that took place in Bland Bay, Whangaruru,in February.

Exercise Fulcrum, a training activity involving primarily the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) and the U.S. Navy, tested divers and operators of autonomous underwater vehicles in very shallow water mine countermeasures.

This year the exercise involved dive ship HMNZS Manawanui in Bland Bay, and about 50 divers and specialists from the RNZN Littoral Warfare Unit’s Clearance Dive Group, the United States Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Mobile Unit 5, divers from Britain, and autonomous underwater vehicle specialists from Australia and New Zealand, who were based at the Bland Bay Motor Camp.

Diver Lieutenant Teina Hullena said Bland Bay was chosen because it was an ideal training area.

“We look for a good gradient, a good training environment,” he said. “It’s the east coast, with good water – not as rough as the west coast.”

Before the exercise, HMNZS Manawanui set 16 training mines in the bay to a depth of up to 30 metres, and they were differently shaped to challenge the autonomous underwater vehicle teams. The vehicles travelled across the bay in a grid, sending back signals that displayed on a computer screen on shore. Vehicle operators identified mine-like objects and noted their position, allowing divers to investigate and neutralise them.

The exercise was a success, with all 16 mines located by the teams. Mine recovery involved floating the mines to the surface using balloons – no mean feat considering some weighed up to half a tonne.

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