In 2015, EGUERMIN celebrated 50 years of bi-national cooperation. The Belgian Netherlands Naval Mine Warfare school EGUERMIN has become synonymous amongst the maritime community for education, training and knowledge in mine countermeasures.
After the Second World War Belgium and The Netherlands faced a tremendous task: all minefields in the nations’ territorial waters had to be cleared. With support from the United States, the mine counter measures services in both countries were rebuilt, and the Herculean task of clearing the minefields began.
Ships however need personnel and that personnel had to be educated and trained to take on this dangerous job. At first both countries embarked on this path individually with the limited resources available. From the late fifties there was already an exchange of students between the two countries: Dutch sailors and NCO’s were trained in Ostend, and Belgian Officers were trained in Amsterdam, and later Den Helder to become MCM Staff Officers.
It was therefore a natural next step, after the new Belgian Mine Counter Measures School was built in Ostend, for the two nations to conclude that this would be the new hub for their educational training efforts.
At that time Belgium and the Netherlands had some 90 minesweepers in service, so EGUERMIN was buzzing with activity and soon became a leading center of knowledge in the field of mine counter measures. This was also recognized by NATO’s Commander in Chief Channel in 1965 when he appointed EGUERMIN as his main advisor in the field of mine counter measures.
EGUERMIN is more than a school; it has become a home to many MCM experts and a venue for NATO working groups and conferences. For decades, EGUERMIN has provided a space for professionals from around Europe and North-America to meet and to exchange information and knowledge; and often in the process become lifelong friends. EGUERMIN-trained Mine Warfare Staff Officers from all NATO countries often deal with each other over the course of their entire careers, thus creating an important network of subject matter specialists.
The main reason why EGUERMIN is still as active and prominent as it was at the time of its fouding, is that Naval Mine Warfare is still relevant. In a world of unexpected conflicts, a pervasive threat of terrorism and a fragile world economy, our sea lines of communication are the Achilles heel of Defence. A small number of sea mine threatening a major port, or a narrow strait, could cripple the global economy. Capable Mine Counter Measures forces enable safe passage against sea mines for commercial activities and navies. As long as sea mines exist, there will be a need for EGUERMIN.
Naval Mine Warfare is at a pivotal time in history. Modern sea mines are becoming more and more complex. The world’s current stock of sea mines is substantial. There are approximately 750.000 sea mines in stock ready to be used at any time. That means that there is 1 sea mine for every 37 inhabitants in Belgium or the Netherlands. These figures do not include underwater improvised explosive devices, which can be fashioned from fuel bladders, 50-gallon drums, and even discarded refrigerators – the kind of material any group of rebels or terrorists could use.
The present generation of NATO mine counters measure vessels will be replaced in the coming 10-15 years by a new generation of technologically enhanced capabilities. These new capabilities could be organic or non-organic, stand-off or not, autonomous, remotely controlled or work in concert with divers. These new capabilities will require new doctrines and tactics, planning and evaluation tools and – most important – education and training of personnel.
In 2019, the Belgian and Netherlands Navy received governmental approval for the replacement of the fleet of mine countermeasure vessels. The order will be placed jointly and both navies will acquire an identical number of ships. The project includes a range of unmanned systems, such as unmanned surface, aerial and underwater vehicles alongside towed sonars and mine identification and neutralization ROVs. With this mine countermeasure program and the implementation of a large-scale robotic mine countermeasure system, Belgium and the Netherlands will not only be the operational references in the field. They will also become a technological reference in the field of robotics, artificial intelligence and cyber-security.
In short, this is no time to rest on our laurels. There will be more than enough work and challenges for us all for the coming years. EGUERMIN will continue evolving with the times and expand its level of expertise and knowledge.
CDR Christophe Muylaert, Director EGUERMIN