Guns vs. “The Swarm”

When I first saw the video of the Bertholf’s trial of the Phalanx Close In Weapon System (CIWS) against a small fast surface target, I was a bit disappointed to see the wide dispersion of projectiles, knowing how small a cruise missile, seen end on, would be, but it didn’t think a lot about it. This blog post (post is not longer available, Chuck) has caused me to look at the trials in a different light, and I find it a bit disturbing.

Paired with the video of the Bertholf’s trial is one of a new Navy Guided Missile Destroyer engaging unmanned fast surface drone targets. His conclusion is that apparently we still have a problem with reliably stopping small boats.

I imagine both exercises were considered successful, and undoubtedly the targets in both videos were hit several times. Being on one of these boats would have been very dangerous, but the fact remained that the boats seemed to loose none of their speed or maneuverability.

I would like to be able to say that the failure to stop the boats was due to exercise artificialities, that there was an intentional offset in bearing or range so that we avoided hitting the target, but that does not seem to be the case. Or perhaps we were using practice ammunition that could not penetrate the target which service ammunition would have?

Several years ago the Navy had a landmark exercise in which a Carrier Battle Group was set upon by a swarm of small boats that got a mission kill on the Carrier. Ever since that exercise and the attack on the Cole, they have started paying attention to this type of attack. Countering swarms of small boats was a primary mission driving the creation of the of the new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). The Iranian Revolutionary Guards expect to use swarm tactics.

I pulled the videos out separately if you would like to get a better look at them. Here is the Bertholf’s trial, which, judging by the delay from the gun firing until the fall of shot, appeared to be at ranges beginning at about 3000 yards and ending at about 1,000 yards.

Here is the video of the USS Howard (DDG 83)’s layered defense exercise of 25 September 2005 using 5″, 25 mm, and .50 cal in addition to the CIWS, which began at a bit over 7,200 yards.

Realistic testing and training, along with a realistic assessment of your probabilities of success are essential to good tactical decision making. Why weren’t we able to stop these boats?

20 thoughts on “Guns vs. “The Swarm”

  1. The Bertholf video would not run. The Navy has the same old problem of CHS even with a magic eye.

    I’d like to see the drone boats run zig-zag patterns for the test. I do have to wonder if the Navy’s .50 caliber crews had been trained. I know the ‘new’ cradles provide a better feel. I also wonder why they were shooting so far away. Let the small boat close to about 1000 yards and then use all MGs, .50 caliber (maybe 2) and 25mm, in combination.

    These folks need to read up on the U. S. S. Philadelphia in the Barbary Wars. Our first war with Moslem and one the U. S. lost.

    A true story. In the mid-1960s a carrier battle group was sailing eastward across the Mediterranean. The carrier, the U. S. S. Roosevelt, was in the center of two squadrons of destroyers and cruisers all equipped for ASM, AAW and certainly surface threats. This was, after all ,the height of the Coast Guard.

    The night was one of those beautiful Med nights and all was normal until a small Italian freighter rammed Roosevelt in the starboard side. Yep, rammed. Somehow, the civilian, low tech, freighter got through the entire screen (that also included attack submarines) to smack Rosey pretty hard. Sixth Fleet on the station ship in Naples was not pleased. I know this because I was on one of the ships in the screen. Sure glad it didn’t happen on my watch.

    I’d still like to see the Bertholf video.

  2. Isn’t the Navy deploying the Mk38 mod 2 Bushmaster precisely because the CWIS and other existing on board systems aren’t effective against a fast moving small boat?

    • CIWS has never been designed as a SUW capable weapon.

      Essentially with the insertion of warships like CG and DDG into the littoral environment (where they were not designed to be used) is what has forced the upgrade to the MK 38 GWS (Mod 2) to include remote operated capability.

      R/
      Surface Force

    • I tried to find a video of the 57 mm engaged in a similar exercise, but I could not find one.

      The 25 mm on the Howard was the Mk38 mod 1, the non-stabilized mount.

      Comparing the CIWS in the anti-surface mod and the Mk38 mod 2, the CIWS has a much higher rate of fire, but it shoots a much smaller non-explosive sub-caliber round, while the 25 mm has a wide choice of types of rounds. Up-gunning it to 30 mm would offer even more choices.

      I would really like to see a video of the Mk 38 mod 2 in a similar exercise.

  3. Apparently the Howard’s exercise was conducted at various ranges with the 5″ fired at the longer ranges. They probably were not using HE in the 25mms.

    I have a story about exercise artificialities as well. I was Fleet Training Group liaison for three years in San Diego when the ships still had the 5″/38. Every 378 did AAW exercises against a towed target simulating an incoming cruise missile. As I recall, you had to get two air bursts out of ten rounds fired to pass. Repeatedly the ships failed the exercise. The conclusion was that we had virtually no AAW capability. It was bad for morale. It hurt our confidence. In a different circumstance it might have effected the way the ships were employed.

    Just before I left, one of the ships got permission to use service ammunition. We were destroying the target on the first or second round of every run.

    It turns out the batteries that powered the variable time fuses (a little radar) in the practice ammunition were all well passed their expiration dates. We might as well have been shooting blanks.

  4. Chuck,

    Thanks for the link. Just more spray and pray.

    Good story. I am surprised that VT rounds were allowed in the first place. I recall them not being allowed at GITMO. I don’t have an old copy of the exercise but I seem to recall only AAC with MTF were allowed.

    In 1965 while in the Navy and at GITMO, we moored one day and a 2250 Tin Can tied up along side. I saw a friend on the 2250 outside of Mount 52 (these were twin mounts) painting an airplane on the side of the mount’s shield. I asked him the usual WTF question and he said they shoot down and airplane. In an exercise? I ask. He said, yep, FTs locked on the tow cable and followed it right up during a firing run. The pilot was lost too.

    The AAC was a good round. It could be used for PD if the fuze time was set to maximum. I never tried it or had cause to use it. We did use VT fuzes on 81mm in Vietnam. At times we had to knock the tops of trees out to get the PD or Delayed rounds on target. However, changing fuzes was a bear. That is another story.

    The video only shows that more work needs to be done and that the Coast Guard’s one small gun policy may not be the best one.

  5. What about using a man-portable shoulder-launched missile against a go-fast? Send your Gunner’s Mate to the rail with something along the lines of a Javelin, an AT4, or a Stinger and let fly. Or mount a TOW unit somewhere with a good field of view. Or do both.

    Either that, or go old school and start adding more short-range guns. I don’t think any CO’s gonna be too keen to bet his cutter against a swarm of allah’s eager beavers when all he’s got is one twitchy R2D2 and a few Ma Deuces.

  6. A good, relatively cheap solution looks like the Mk38 mod 2 (American version of the Israeli Typhoon) with a small missile system attached like the Spike-ER. http://defense-update.com/newscast/1208/analysis/301208_israelnavyspiketyphoon.html

    For the US market we would probably want to use 70mm rockets with one of the precision guidance packages that appear to be ready for production from BAE, Raytheon, or Lockheed/Martin.
    http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/guided-hydra-rockets-program-halts-new-entries-03157/
    http://defense-update.com/newscast/1109/news/bae_apkws2_301109.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Precision_Kill_Weapon_System
    http://www.dodbuzz.com/2010/02/11/laser-guided-hydra-nears-production/

    • Makes sense to me, Chuck. The Coast Guard can hardly afford another “awww sh*t” moment, least of all an “awww sh*t” moment delivered by a swarm of the ayatollas’ finest.

  7. Presumably we would see this on the Navy’s Cyclone class PCs first.

    But when we had the tanker wars with Iran, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Earnest_Will, There was discussion of sending CG 110 ft WPBs to escort tankers as protection against Iran Revolutionary Guard boats that were commonly referred to as Boghammars. http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://static.flickr.com/54/140045736_b4ee174eee_o.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.harpoondatabases.com/Encyclopedia/Entry763.aspx&usg=__vzjzhAmc_4sgqTaDmXbGd2zdK6s=&h=304&w=346&sz=19&hl=en&start=7&um=1&itbs=1&tbnid=JMyJCBSpQ7770M:&tbnh=105&tbnw=120&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dboghammar%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX%26tbs%3Disch:1

      • Good question. They could be very dangerous. Boghammars are relatively small so I went back to my books to find out if torpedoes had ever been carried by anything that small, and yes they have. In WWI the British used a 45 ft 5 ton boat they called a Coastal Motor Boat (CMB) to launch 18″ (457 mm) torpedoes that would have been bigger that the adaptations of 12.75 inch (324 mm) torpedoes that we discussed previously as ship stoppers. Iranians have had access to both 324 mm European and American torpedoes and the slightly larger 400 mm Soviet torpedoes.

        The British WWI CMBs launched their torpedoes over the stern. They would line up the boat on the target, slide the torpedo down a shut tail first, and then side step to get out of the way of the torpedo.

        So far the favorite Boghammar weapon seems to be the 107 mm multiple rocket launcher which seems more flash than a real threat.

        A homing torpedo has potentially more range than most of the weapons we use to shoot at them. This is another reason why using helos rather than boats or ships against them is probably a good idea, provided the helicopters can engage from outside man portable SAM range.

  8. It appears likely that the Iranian Boghammars could be equipped to launch at least one Soviet era 400 mm ASW torpedo. These may have an anti-surface capability already; if not, it shouldn’t be too hard to modify them for that purpose. Even a few torpedo carriers mixed in among the swarm, indistinguishable from the others, would seriously complicate defense since it would probably mean the defender would have to destroy or turn them back before they got within 10,000 yards of their target.

    If hostilities are already in progress, assuming the defender is on the target, that would require destroying a lot of targets with gun(s) 57mm or larger or pretty sophisticated missiles. Even the Hellfire missile doesn’t reach that far.

    If it is in the pre-shooting phase it would be virtually impossible to determine hostile intent before they got a firing solution.

    Makes using an attack helo loaded with small guided missiles look like a really good idea.

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