Logistical Complications: Seamines and Rail Gauges

Last night, while looking for interesting articles worthy of mention here, I came across a website called The Drive and a segment called “The Warzone.” Whereas The Drive is geared toward the automotive industry, “The Warzone” focuses on the historical and contemporary technological developments in Military Science, particularly those designed and implemented for the US armed forces. The authors, from what I can tell, got much of their information through a combination of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and reports covered by other major news publications. There are plenty of great serial articles where the authors cover technical breakthroughs whilst leaving some room for convincing argumentation on the capabilities and implications of those technologies on the battlefield. I will definitely discuss some of them in future posts.

For now, I want to bring the reader’s attention to two relevant articles about reports of seamines being reconsidered in naval warfare. The first article from June 6 deals with Taiwan commissioning US-issue seamines whose design dates back to the World Wars. Apparently, Taiwan’s Kuomintang now has two new minelayers, naval warships designed to drop seamines in surrounding waters to deter or sink hostile warships. The article came with a Chinese language YouTube video discussing about it. Since I do not know the language, I am sharing it here for anyone who happens to be interested:

The other article, which was published two days later, reported about the Russians deploying seamines in the Black Sea to prevent Ukraine from shipping agricultural products. I am certain that these aforementioned seamines are Russian in origin because of their suspected locations (which were shown in the article) along the coastal waters of the Black Sea. More importantly, it should be noted that seamines do function in a similar capacity as their landmine counterparts. If the Kuomintang version was to delay possibilities of a naval invasion, then the Russian version was to deny movement across the waters of the Black Sea, which was the same conclusion made by the other article.

And just like conventional landmines, the removal of seamines are also designed to be time-consuming for whoever is tasked with looking for them. As the second article stated, it will take upwards of six months before all of them can be defused. That is, assuming some agreement can be made between the Ukrainians and Russians regarding the ones deployed in Ukrainian waters. The ones which were found elsewhere in the Black Sea, such as those in Romanian waters, were already defused by that country.

The goal of the deployed seamines is to deny Ukraine the ability to export agricultural products across the Black Sea and into the adjacent Mediterranean. That would explain the article mentioning the presence of seamines being found in Turkish waters. Naturally, it would make sense for somebody to think that the Ukrainian could just as well consider exporting the agricultural products on land by train. But like something reminiscent of a problem the Germans encountered during Operation Barbarossa in World War II, the Ukraine’s track gauges do not align with those found in most European railroads. The article does not explore the implication of what that implies, which I found to be odd. What this means is that the Ukrainian rail infrastructure has not changed much after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and whatever infrastructure exists is probably a leftover from Soviet times. As I had pointed out in the aforementioned website link, the Soviets relied on different track gauges which made their trains incompatible with those found among conventional European rail gauges. Thus, since it is taking weeks for agricultural shipments to travel westward by rail and because it is more expensive to get the shipments onto another train designed for European rail lines, the Ukrainians are counting on the removal of seamines.

Categories: Politics

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