Alternate Weapons for New Large Cutters?

Had an interesting discussion about why the National Security Cutter retained the Phalanx Close In Weapon System (CIWS) while the very similar weapons suite on the Freedom class Littoral Combat Ship used the Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) system instead.

Mk 49 Rolling Airframe Missile Launching System Photo credit: Darkone 13 Aug, 2006, via Wikipedia

My friend contended that, while the Phalanx is very maintenance intensive, the launcher for the RAM is virtually maintenance free, which would benefit the relatively small crew. He also noted that the current models have an excellent anti-surface capability and longer range than the Phalanx.

This got me to thinking. I won’t make a recommendation, but will discuss alternatives that might be considered. I’ll talk about who is using the RAM and how, and discuss how the Coast Guard might use it, and its advantages and disadvantages as a possible replacement for the Phalanx and possibly even the 57 mm. But before we get to that, as we are always told, you have to start with the mission.


Why do we have weapons on these ships? Certainly there are the traditional law enforcement missions. Cutters need to be able to fire shots across the bow as a signal. They may need to use disabling fire stop a fleeing felon. Since 9/11, the need to be able to sink or at least stop a vessel being used by terrorists has been recognized. The current choice of weapons also indicates a desire for self defense against cruise missiles.

Other missions that these systems might also be used for include, enforcing a blockade, or escorting ships subject to attack by small craft, including a possible swarm attack typified by the apparent tactics of Iran’s Islamic Guard Corp. Combat with other warships is apparently not planned since there are no cruise missiles. Naval Surface Fire Support is also not currently planned. (There is a discussion of possible Coast Guard cutter war time roles here, part 1 and here, part 2.)

Any replacements should be able to do the following at least as well as existing and planned systems:

  • Warning Shots across the bow
  • Disabling fire against small craft
  • Defend against cruise missiles
  • Sink or at least disable a medium to large merchant ship

Of these, the first two are relatively easy and don’t require sophisticated systems. A .50 cal sniper rifle and crew served .50 cal machine guns could probably fill the requirement.  Certainly the Mk38 mod2 which is equipping the Webber Class Fast Response Cutters is adequate for the roles. It is the last two that are difficult. Of these I would prioritize stopping a ship based terrorist attack ahead of the ability to defend against cruise missiles, not only because it seems more probable, but also because if a terrorist attack of this type occurs, the Coast Guard will be uniquely positioned to counter it. If we fail to do so, the Coast Guard will receive the majority of the blame.

Testing Needed:

I have expressed my reservations before, about our ability to sink or disable medium to large ships (here and here). If it has not already been done (which I doubt), then the service needs to do some testing of their available weapons to determine if they are up to the job.

It is because the Phalanx might have the ability to penetrate the side of a ship and continue on to damage the ships engines that caused me to have doubts about replacing the Phalanx system. High explosive rounds, even nominally armor piercing rounds like those available for the 57 mm, are unlikely to do this, because they will usually explode after penetrating the ship’s side and leave the heavy machinery largely unharmed. (During WWII it was common for heavy bombers to attack factories and apparently damage them heavily, but in fact while the roofs were blown off, the machinery was essentially untouched and was back in operation the next day.)

Candidate Systems:

The 25 mm Mk 38 mod2 mount:

Mk38 mod2 25 mm U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason Behnke

If the Phalanx has a ship stopping ability not available in the 57 mm and the RAM, that needs to be replaced, the Mk 38 mod2 is a likely candidate for the job. This mount is already in use in the Coast Guard. It is planned as the primary weapon for the Webber class and as a secondary weapon for the Offshore Patrol Cutter.  This weapon can fire an armor piercing discarding sabot round (APDS-T) that may have the ability to penetrate the side of a merchant ship and continue on to damage its engines or steering gear.  I don’t know if this round is in the Coast Guard, or even the Navy’s inventory. I believe it is used by the Marines.

M791 APDS-T 25mm round. Credit: Image is from U.S. Army Field Manual 3-22.1 p.32 via Wiki

If this weapon with the APDS-T round is adequate for stopping larger ships, it could go a long way to meeting the Coast Guard’s needs for the counter terrorism mission, but without testing, doctrine and training, it is difficult have that confidence.


Raytheon describes the missile as follows:

RAM is a supersonic, lightweight, quick reaction, fire-and-forget missile providing defense against anti-ship cruise missiles, helicopter and airborne threats, and hostile surface craft. The missile’s autonomous dual-mode, passive radio frequency and infrared guidance design provides a high-firepower capability for engaging multiple threats simultaneously.

Currently it is launched either from the Mk49 21 cell launcher or from the stand-alone SeaRAM which is basically a Phalanx with an eleven cell launcher mounted in place of the 20mm gun. The SeaRAM is new and is currently mounted only on the USS Independence class Littoral Combat Ships.

RAM began as a passive radar homing missile with infrared terminal homing for the the purpose of countering anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM). It has since been further developed to permit infrared homing from launch, to permit engaging non-radar-emitting targets. Further changes to software permitted the missile to engage slower targets, including helicopters, aircraft and surface vessels. The most recent changes (block 2) have improved its performance against highly maneuverable ASCMs and reportedly doubled its effective range.

There has been a development that may mitigate the high cost of the RAM rounds, and add versatility.  Raytheon just demonstrated they can fire the Griffin missile from the RAM launcher. Griffin is a smaller (45 pound), shorter ranged (5.6 km), surface to surface missile that can be laser guided. This and the evolution of the RAM suggest that there will be continued improvements and increased flexibility in RAM based systems.


The RAM was a joint US/German project. It is installed in about 165 ships including all 27 German frigates, corvettes, and fast attack craft. Among these are the Gepard Class Fast Attack Craft (FAC) that are only slightly larger (391 tons) than the Webber Class Fast Response Cutters (353 tons). (The Gepard also has a 76mm and four surface to surface cruise missiles.) None of these German combatants have any other CIWS. All but the ten Gepard class have two launchers, including the relatively small 1,840 ton corvettes of the Braunschweig class, about the size of the Bear Class 270 foot WMECs.

Photo: Schnellboot P6121 S71 Gepard / Typ 143A Gepard-Klass. Darkone, 9. August 2003

Every US Navy surface combatant built since 1990 except the 331 ton Cyclone Class coastal patrol craft and Destroyers and Cruisers equipped with longer ranged AAW missile system, is equipped with the RAM system, and it has been back fitted to many others. In addition to the Littoral Combat Ships, this includes Enterprise and Nimitz class aircraft carriers; Wasp, Tarawa, and America class amphibious assault ships (LHD/LHAs); San Antonio class amphibious transport dock ships (LPHs); and Whidbey Island and  Harpers Ferry class dock landing ships (LSDs). On all of the US Navy ships except the LCSs and the San Antonio Class, there is a mix of RAM and Phalanx CIWS, and most also have a Sea Sparrow system. The San Antonio Class is unique in having only Ram and an alternate gun system, a pair of 30 mm chain guns in Mk 46 mounts, which are also included in the LCSs’ anti-surface mission module. The RAM is the most sophisticated and longest ranged organic weapon on the LPDs and LSDs.

According to Wikipedia the RAM system is currently in service with South Korea, Greece, Turkey, and Egypt in addition to Germany and the US Navy. The UAE is also getting the system. South Korea is using RAM on all their newest classes of surface combatants but apparently favors using it in combination with the 30 mm Goalkeeper CIWS. Greece uses it, in addition to a 76 mm, on seven 580 ton Roussen Class FACs, as does Turkey on their new Milgem” Corvettes. Egypt is using them in combination with both a Phalanx and a 76 mm in their new Halter Marine built “Ambassador” class FACs. The United Arab Eremites (UAE) is using RAM on their 915 ton Baynunah class corvettes in combination with a 76 mm and vertical launch Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM).

Comparing the RAM with the Phalanx:

Phalanx has some advantages. It is a stand alone system that can continue to function after the ship’s air-search radar, fire control systems, and CIC are destroyed, and the ships power is off-line. Unlike RAM, it can also be manually controlled with some precision for functions like firing warning shots and disabling fire. Its non-explosive, high velocity, very dense projectile may even be more useful than the 57 mm for penetrating the engines of medium to large vessels.

But the primary reason to have a Phalanx is to shoot down incoming cruise missiles. (For warning shots or disabling fire the Mk38 mod2 is probably better.) It is in this mission, that the RAM appears to have its great advantage.

An operations research study done for Australia “Limitations of Guns as a Defence against Manoeuvring Air Weapons,” (pdf) by Christian Wachsberger, Michael Lucas and Alexander Krstic, Weapons Systems Division, Systems Sciences Laboratory, DSTO-TN-0565 concluded,

“In the near future, strategic and other critical assets will be subject to attack from a new range of air threats, including highly accurate aircraft-launched weapons that offer long stand-off ranges and which are capable of traveling at high speed as well as manoeuvrings at high g rates. This study uses simple probability theory to determine the relative utility of current generation airdefence guns against this type of highly maneuverable weapon. The rationale for this study is that whilst guns may have the advantages of offering a low cost-per-shot and reasonable magazine capacities, they are also severely limited in their abilities as they are only designed to fire at a predicted intercept point in space. As a result, should the target alter its direction during an engagement, the target will no longer pass through the projectile’s flight path.”

The Phalanx may still be effective a against subsonic cruise missiles with limited maneuverability that arrive consecutively, but looking at even the non-maneuvering examples in this study, it is apparent that high probabilities of hit only occur as the missile gets very close. That means that it probably cannot deal with multiple threats arriving simultaneously, as they would in a well planned attack. Because the RAM is a fire and forget weapon, with a greater range than the Phalanx, several can be launched to deal with several missiles before the first inbound cruise missile is destroyed, while the Phalanx would be fully occupied dealing with one missile.

Comparing the RAM with the Mk 110 57 mm gun: 

The 57 mm Mk 110 has a longer maximum range than RAM. At close range it can be targeted with precision.

RAM, unlike the 57 mm, uses IR to home on some targets. That means it might be seduced by IR decoys or be effected by obscuration such as rain, fog, or smoke.

Still, the RAM block 2 reportedly has an effective range similar to the 57 mm and enjoys the same “fire and forget” advantages against cruise missiles compared to the 57 mm that it does against the Phalanx.

It also looks like it has a better chance of dealing with swarming small craft.

The warhead is also about four time the size of the 57mm, so it can also have an impact on the attempt to stop or sink a merchant under terrorist control.

Alternative Weapons Fit: These are the alternative ship configurations that might be considered (I’ll leave off the crew served M2 .50 cal. and smaller). I’ll highlight what I believe are the pros and cons of each.

For the National Security Cutter:

  • NSC now: Mk 110 57mm gun forward, Phalanx aft
  • NSC mod 1: Replace the Phalanx w/SeaRAM 11 cell RAM launcher
  • NSC mod 2: Replace Phalanx with Mk49 21 cell RAM launcher, add two Mk 38 mod2 25 mm guns.
  • NSC mod 3: Replace Phalanx and Mk110 57 mm gun with two Mk49 21 cell RAM launchers, one forward and one aft and add two Mk38 mod2 25 mm guns.

NSC mod 1 (Replace the Phalanx w/SeaRAM 11 cell RAM launcher):

  • Pro–Probably better as a counter to multiple anti-ship cruise missiles. Additional ASuW and AAW capability. Retains stand-alone/automatic engagement feature of Phalanx.
  • Con: Limited number of rounds. May not offer the reduced maintenance requirements of the Mk 49 launcher. Looses the possible ship stopping ability of the Phalanx.

NSC mod 2 (Replace Phalanx with Mk49 21 cell RAM launcher, add two Mk 38 mod2 25 mm guns):

  • Pro: Mk 49 GMLS should offer reduced maintenance compared to the Phalanx, better capability against cruise missiles, aircraft, and surface targets. 25 mm restores and possibly exceeds ship stopping ability of Phalanx.
  • Con: Looses stand-alone/automatic engagement capability of Phalanx. Support requirements for additional Mk 38 mod2 mounts may offset reduction due to Phalanx replacement.

NSC mod 3 (Replace Phalanx and Mk110 57 mm gun with two Mk49 21 cell RAM launchers, one forward and one aft and add two Mk38 mod2 25 mm guns):

  • Pro: Fewer different types of systems simplify maintenance, training, support. Best 360 degree protection against cruise missile attack. Probably the best system agains “swarm attacks.” Will benefit most if there are continued improvement in systems compatible with Mk 49 GMLS.
  • Con: Loses the flexibility, extreme range, and possibly all weather capability of the 57 mm. Looses stand-alone/automatic engagement capability of Phalanx. Support requirements for additional Mk 38 mod2 mounts may offset reduction due to Phalanx replacement.

For the Offshore Patrol Cutter:

  • OPC planned: Mk 110 57mm gun, one Mk38 mod2 25mm gun, two ROSAM Mk49 .5o cal guns
  • OPC mod 1: Replace Mk 110 57mm gun w/Mk49 21 cell RAM launcher, Mk38 mod2 25mm gun, two ROSAM Mk49 .5o cal guns
  • OPC mod 2: Replace both the Mk 110 57mm gun and the Mk38 mod2 25mm gun with Mk49 21 cell RAM launchers, replace the two ROSAM Mk49 .5o cal guns with Mk38 mod2 25mm guns

OPC mod 1: (Replace Mk 110 57mm gun w/Mk49 21 cell RAM launcher, Mk38 mod2 25mm gun, two ROSAM Mk49 .5o cal guns):

  • Pro: Better against cruise missiles. Possibly reduced support requirements. Within range, probably will score hits faster than 57 mm and those hits will be heavier. Will benefit if there are continued improvement in systems compatible with Mk 49 GMLS.
  • Con: Loses the flexibility, extreme range, and possibly all weather capability of the 57 mm.

OPC mod 2: Replace both the Mk 110 57mm gun and the Mk38 mod2 25mm gun with Mk49 21 cell RAM launchers, replace the two ROSAM Mk49 .5o cal guns with Mk38 mod2 25mm guns

  • Pro: Fewer different types of systems simplify maintenance, training, support. Best 360 degree protection against cruise missile attack. Within range, probably will score hits faster than 57 mm and those hits will be heavier. Best system agains “swarm attacks.” Will benefit most if there are continued improvement in systems compatible with Mk 49 GMLS.
  • Con: Loses the flexibility, extreme range, and possibly all weather capability of the 57 mm.

We need more info:

To make good decisions the Coast Guard needs good information, some of which may be readily available, some of which may require experimentation.

  • How effective are each of these systems in stopping ships?
  • How much do atmospheric conditions effect the RAM?
  • Can the Coast Guard get the APDS-T round for the Mk 38 mod2?
  • What are the support requirements for the various systems?
  • Are additional capabilities coming for these systems?

The initial studies that chose systems for these ships were done very long ago, a lot has changed since then. Perhaps it is time to take another look.

Thanks to Bill, Bob, Lee, and Brent for their thoughts, all errors and opinions are of course my own.

65 thoughts on “Alternate Weapons for New Large Cutters?

  1. Here is a video of both systems in question. Your information is pretty helpful. Based on my limited knowledge I would say the CIWS has more options for the Coast Guard with the ability to use it against the swarm and in other functions. I think the RAM is better in a bigger ship that can carry more then one system.

    I realize also that we are under-arming our ships. Rather it would be interesting if we could have ability to add weapons to say NSC since they are the most likely to see action overseas.

      • Probably the 25 mm HE round is better than the solid 20 mm round individually, but the Phalanx puts out a lot more rounds.

        I think the RAM is probably a better anti-swarm weapon than the Phalanx. One round is probably sufficient (the warhead is about 24 pounds). You can fire a weapon, and shift immediately to the next target, being almost positive the first target will be destroyed even before the weapon hits. You can also start the process at much greater range than you can engage with the Phalanx.

        I felt the need to add the 25 mm in hopes that it could be an engine block destroyer vs large vessels if the APDS-T is used. Of course it could also help against boats. If it is capable of damaging large engine blocks it would be very good news, because it would mean all the Webber Class could do this (given the right ammunition). It wouldn’t be too difficult to add them to 87 footer if that were considered necessary.

        I still consider this a less satisfactory solution than small homing torpedoes, because:

        1 . If the ship has two engines one may shield the other, making it very difficult to take out both. The ship might have to be attacked from both sides.
        2. Even if you stop the engine(s), a terrorist controlled vessel might have enough inertial to complete its mission if it could still steer.
        3. There is also the possibility of collateral damage with the 25 mm projectiles either missing or passing through the target.

      • I don’t know, when doing CSSQT on BERTHOLF we disabled the inbound remote controlled target at 2NM’s. I’d say that’s pretty accurate from EOIR. The new CIWS 1B’s now use the 20MM Enhanced lethality round which is an elongated round with much more stopping power. Kinetics hurt!

        Look at the arcs of fire, CIWS on the NSC covers the gaps from the SPQ cut outs. You couldn’t fit RAM w/o a complete topside reconfiguration. $$$$$ The CIWS works and the Bofors works, why would the Navy pay for anything else.

  2. RAMS (Rolling Airframe Missiles Systems) would be a good choice for the NSC. I think they could put two of these units on the cutter. One to replace the CIWS, the other on a raise platform in forward part of the superstructure. You could add two of the 25-mm systems like the ones on the FRC amidship on the superstructure, to be used against swarm small boats attacks. Maybe replace the Mk110 57-mm with the Oto Melara 76/62 Super Rabid. And if you must have a 5″ gun, let me recommend the Oto Melara 127/64 Compact. Not the out of date Mk45 5″ the Navy uses. Why, 35 rounds per minute vs 20 rounds per minute. And fixed ammunitions vs semi fixed.

    • A good weapon by all accounts, but the Coast Guard gets its weapons and ammunition from the US Navy, so unless it is in their inventory, it is a non-starter.

  3. I know, I know, that is the problem. And the Navy is run by Airedales and Bubble Heads, and they see the surface fleet as only support. Hell the only reason they got the Aegis Cruisers & Destroyers because they protective the carries. And the rest of the surface fleet is a taxi service for the Marines.

  4. Very detailed NSC discussion ! Well thought out. I know that on Navy ships that have CIWS, the tech’s spend approx half their manhours troubleshooting, testing, and maintenance on the 20mm gun. And the other half of their monthly allottment of manhours working on the CIWS radar suite. Actually it more like one-third / two-thirds workload division, vice half and half. Suffice it to say, Navy FC rating works prolonged manhours every month keeping their CIWS mount serviced, tested, and fully ready for use.

    Contrast the PMS, etc maintenance monster of CIWS, the 21 cell RAM launcher is a piece of cake. Comparing the CIWS and RAM is not even apples vs oranges for sailor workload.

    Conclusion: If the minimally manned NSC does not include 2 or 3 dedicated FC tech’s (without 4 other collateral duties for each one), then RAM would be far wiser choice for Coast Guard National Security Cutters. Why have a CIWS mount that is either not fully ready, or else a full time maintenance task for 2 or 3 experienced FC petty officers ? Excellent post and discussion.

    • NSC has three qualified CIWS techs but they have a heavy load since we made the FT’s all ET’s and they are stuck working on many ET-like systems.

  5. As we know the CG still has six 110 foot WPBs near the straits of Hormuz and the Navy has four Cyclone class PC there and are adding four more. Both classes are near the end of their lives. Webber class may be called on to replace one or both of these classes some day. Wonder if you could mount a SeaRAM between the bridge and the 25 mm? It would make a great escort for ships transiting the straits. Tucked in close it could protect against cruise missiles and also protect against swarming small boats.

  6. 1. Some portion of CG’s recent problems have been caused by moving too close to the “bleeding edge” of technology. The VUAV is the glaring example, but there are plenty of others. The RAM system is hardly a mature technology. I agree that someday it may be a better value for CG due to improved capability over CIWS, reduced maintenance, etc. However, it’s not there yet. Let the Navy pay for the pain of developing and supporting it in great numbers first.

    2. If any CG asset (and particularly a Patrol Boat) ends up in an engagement against multiple cruise missiles, I suspect that somebody’s already committed a tragic error with respect to employment of assets. As a matter of doctrine, CG assets should be deployed in low-threat environments only, and multiple cruise missiles/surface swarms are simply outside of that scope. No CG asset has any defense against a submerged threat, and most have only the bare minimum of defenses against multiple hostile surface/airborne threats. This isn’t saying anything derogatory about CG or its personnel — it’s simply equipped for a different (but equally important) mission, and as a nation, we can’t afford a CG fleet that duplicates the capabilities of the Navy by being survivable in a high-threat environment.

    3. It seems that if one wanted to disable a non-compliant merchant (or really any non-warship), the bridge would be a better target than the propulsion plant. It’s readily identifiable, it’s completely unarmored, it will be responsive to warning shots, and it’s not located near a bunch of flammable/toxic liquids.

    4. Aviators and Submariners are certainly important communities within the Navy. However, I think it’s a mistake to call the SWO community as “support” only or a “taxi service”. Over half of the Navy’s line officer corps belongs to that community, and prior to the current CNO, I believe that the 3 prior CNOs were all SWOs. If they were so unimportant, they wouldn’t have access to as much of the personnel and equipment budgets.

    • RAM is quite mature. The system was developed in the 80s and the first US system was mounted in the early 90s. It is evolving, but the only system more mature than that is the 5″/38.

      Back when we were engaged in the “Tanker War” ( I was involved in a meeting about sending 110s to escort tankers to provide protection against the Iranian “Boghammers” that were harassing tankers. It took a while, but they are there now. The reference to mounting SeaRAM on PCs was specifically in reference to vessels that will replace the vessels that are operating near Iran even now. Whether they would be Coast Guard or Navy is a future decision, but it is likely some PCs will remain in the area indefinitely, and the cruise missile treat is getting progressively worse there. In this case the missiles would not be for self defense, but would provide temporary protection for tankers that are transiting within range of Iranian launchers, including those on shore that might provide little warning. The tankers would also be protecting the PCs as any cruise missile is much more likely to head for the tanker than the PC–sort of like having a permanent chaff cloud following you around.

      • Fair point, I should have said SeaRAM. My only hope is that CG will give it some time to mature if they decide to adopt it. Let the Navy crank out a few dozen LCS’s with the SeaRAM system installed and deal with the early adoption issues (and costs) before buying in.

        As to your second point, if PC’s are relying on their escortee as a sort of missile sponge, something’s completely amiss… (Sort of like using CVNs to shield the OHPs — it would probably work, but I’m not quite sure why you would do it.) As to the broader issue, I’m not sure naval escort can now solve the cruise missile escalation problem in the Arabian/Persian Gulf, irrespective of defensive advances. It’s a highly asymmetric threat, the target envelopes cover the entire waterspace available to transit, and there’s simply too much high-value traffic for allied fleets to defend economically.

      • War is seldom “economical.” You can’t simply say it is too hard.

        As for using the tanker as a missile sponge, hopefully no missiles would hit either, but while a missile hitting a tanker is unlikely to sink it, and unlikely to even cause significant casualties, it would likely sink a PC. During the tanker wars the escorts followed the tankers, because of the mine threat. A mine would annoy a tanker, but it might sink an FFG.

        The reason for providing a close escort is because the threats must be passed close at hand and can develop very quickly. Escorting tankers with PCs with SeaRAM is essentially the same as temporarily mounting the point defense system on the tankers themselves. The system can be used against surface craft as well as cruise missiles. There would probably be other more capable escorts and air cover as well. The PCs would handle the “leakers.”

    • As for firing at the bridge, that is fine if the crew is not suicidal and they have not done much planning.

      If they have they can pilot from after steering using GPS and video cameras distributed around the ship. With advances in navigation, it may even be possible to put the ship on autopilot, depending on their intentions.

      • If our adversary is that capable, they can also employ countermeasures against effective propulsion-disabling fire. If we follow that logic very far, we quickly escalate to arming ourselves with weapons that can sink a large merchant, and I think this would be a tragic path for CG.

      • We don’t need to go to missiles. We don’t need great range. My preferred solution for disabling a merchant ship is to use an obsolete lightweight torpedo modified to go after the ship’s propellers. It is light weight, simple, and unlikely to cause collateral damage. It could fit on even 87 footers with only minimal impact. Failing that we need to insure we have the capability with the systems we do have–it is our job.

        I don’t see “arming ourselves with weapons that can sink a large merchant” as tragic. It is a capability the Coast Guard had since its inception until two things happened: (1) the 5″ guns (and then the Harpoons) were removed and (2) the merchant ships got a lot bigger.

  7. As a former fire control technician on a 378, if I had to pick, it’d be the RAM. One problem with the CIWS is that even if you shoot down the antiship missile, the hot, burning fragments are still going to be a like a shotgun blast at the sides of the ship, causing heavy damage. With the RAM, it’s killing the ASM before it can get into a lethal radius with the fragments.

    The CIWS is a good piece of kit, when it works. The surface mode works well, but I’m convinced that for stopping vessels, the heavier projectile of the Bushmaster is a better bet. The amount of different ammo for the 25mm is pretty phenomenal.

    I’m not a big fan of the 57mm. It totally sacrifices any sort of NGFS performance for greater anti-aircraft and anti-missile capability. I liked the Mk. 75 and found it very reliable and quite accurate. Our cutter did NGFS off Vieques before it closed and we quite accurate, using spotting corrections, to put plenty of steel on steel. Not that I really see a scenario where the Coast Guard would do that again (like our 378 did in Vietnam), but it’s something good to have in the arsenal.

    • I really don’t understand where this thought has come that the 57MM can’t do NGFS, its specifically designed to do it. Its not meant to take out bunkers but its a good compromise. We were going to do NGFS testing with the system but the puzzle palace decided they didn’t want us to. It wasn’t a design requirement but the gun and the fire control system both support it.

      Really, all you have to do is specify the 10 round frag pattern for NGFS and you are ready to pound the beaches. Its not a 16″ shell from 20 miles aay but these days nothing is. I wish the CG would just give in and let an NSC do a testing event off San Clemente.

      Oh, and all of these comments on disabling a merchant ship full of bad intentions; loading heavy ordinance on planes or spinning up torpedoes from subs are going to be the only way. Everything else is only going to be harassing fire.

      This is a good thread but the truth is that the Navy and CG have bought off on the mix of weapons for the cutters. The OPC will get a Bushmaster, a 57, and a couple ROSAM’s. The only real questions left are the decoy system, fire control, and what version of the SLQ-32 they will get. Since missiles are most likely defeated with soft systems, the decoys, EW, and Fire control are much more important than the hard kill stuff. What I’m worried about is that they will try to make the TRS the air and fire control system like on the LCS. The first time I saw thay LCS-1 had the radar I asked them how they liked it and the XO admitted that the TRS couldn’t hit anything as a fire control radar. So let’s rant about making sure they put the SPQ-9B on the OPC. Let’s rant to make sure it gets NULKA since its proven as much more effective than both CIWS and RAM. Guns are sexy but EW and decoys save lives.

      • In a series of powerpoint slides that described the firecontrol system, the Navy pointed out that the ability to do NGFS was inherent in the system, but the Coast Guard was not interested. Not good for bunker busting, but the 57 mm could engage lightly armored vehicles, infantry, or artillery positions.

        “Oh, and all of these comments on disabling a merchant ship full of bad intentions; loading heavy ordinance on planes or spinning up torpedoes from subs are going to be the only way. Everything else is only going to be harassing fire.”

        I don’t see anyone on standby for that role. The only aircraft on alert I’m aware of are for intercepting 9/11 style aircraft. Navy ships don’t patrol the coast and they aren’t on standby. If something goes down, its likely the Coast Guard will be the only military in the area ready to respond.

      • At any given time there are only ~8 major cutters deployed for the entire Atlantic coast and Caribbean. Only about 2-3 of those will be within 3 days of any U.S port since they are more likely to be in the deep Caribbean. Its much more likely that a Navy ship or sub on a training exercise will be closer. Also, in the three days it would take to move a ship, I think the entirety of armed forces could find the resources, hang the right ordinance on the right airframes, and put together a sortie. Disabling a GFV = USCG, sinking a larger vessel = DoD. If not then maybe the MSRT should do what it was created to do. Sorry Chuck, but the Coast Guard is never going to have the forces to act as a rear guard.

        Hopefully the entire national intelligence system would be able to generate enough warning to allow for the proper inter-agency response.

      • You are not counting the expected 25 OPCs, and if the 25 mm works, there are the 110s now and the projected 58 Fast Response Cutters for the future, where this mission should really reside. (If the 25 mm is not sufficient there is another low weight, low impact alternative.

        Most ports are much more likely to have a cutter either underway nearby, or ready to be dispatched than a Navy ship.

  8. This looks like it might be a way to add kick to virtually all of our units down to at least the 87 foot WPBs without any significant changes to the units themselves.

    I’d put them on the 110 ft WPBs in SW Asia first.

  9. “I’d put them on the 110 ft WPBs in SW Asia first.”

    Why, they haven’t fired what they have. Apart from repeating the limited accolades of the system the only gun mounts aboard ship are those with electronically stabilization systems and they are not 100%.

    Every gun mount is stable when it bolted to Mother Earth.

      • The costs in ammunition per round would be prohibitive for the Coast Guard’s peace time role and not any more effective for current purposes. This does not take into account the space and weight differences. I carried a minimum of 50K rounds for the .50 calibers on the Vietnam WPBs and about 900 rounds of 81mm. All of it heavy.

        During Prohibition the Coast Guard looked at costs and possible, as well as real, civilian injuries from misplaced rounds. They invented the one-pounder/30-06 Lewis machine gun piggy back arrangement. The one-pounder, like the 81-mm mortar after it, provided as stable a platform.

      • The CG Patrol Forces SW Asia based in Bahrain are in an unusual situation in that there is the possibility of being engaged in combat with little notification or time for preparation or modifications. None of 110 WPBs’ weapons are stabilized. A likely threat is Iranian small boats operating in a “swarm.” This mount and weapon would improve their chances. With better optical sights and a degree of stabilization, it should be more accurate than the .50 cal. and the round both longer ranged and more effective when it hits. Still having watched the video it probably should be fired in single shots rather than bursts. With the explosive shell it should be much more effective in disabling the crew of small boats than the .50.

        The mount can also be used with smaller guns down to 7.62 mm.

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  11. NSC Mod 2 is a great idea, Chuck! I know you don’t care for the 57mm, but it is highly effective against small boats and has AAA & anti-ASM capabilty — basically, everything the RAM has, but the big difference not mentioned so far is magazine size and cost-per-engagement. The 57mm beats RAM on both of those. 57mm is a better anti-boat weapon, while RAM is better AA weapon, so a mix of the two would be my choice.

  12. This is from the Coast Guard’s daily “News Clips and Blogsum” I thought it provided some interesting background for this discussion:


    “1999- The CGC Bear arrived in Rota, Spain. She was deployed to the Adriatic Sea in support of “Operation Allied Force” and “Operation Noble Anvil”, NATO’s military campaign against the forces of the former Republic of Yugoslavia. Bear served in the USS Theodore Roosevelt Battle Group providing surface surveillance and SAR response for the Sea Combat Commander, and force protection for the Amphibious Ready Group operating near Albania. Bear provided combat escort for U.S. Army vessel’s transporting military cargo between Italy and Albania. This escort operation took Bear up to the Albanian coastline, well within enemy surface-to-surface missile range.”

    • While in the comments we talked about some additional weapons, in the post I considered only weapons supported by the US Navy. That’s because only Navy supported weapons are viable alternatives.

      I do like the Millenium Gun for its anti-surface ability and talked about it when we discussed the new Venezuelan Patrol Ship that approximated an OPC.

      As a CIWS it is only as good as it director and all guns have the same sort of problems. They are not fire and forget. Can’t move on to the next target, until the first is destroyed.

  13. When it comes to weapons on the OPC, NSC and FRC. I would make provisions that would allow them to install more heavy weapons such as MANPADS, Harpoons, Towed array sonar, VLS SSM and Torpedos. That way if we ever had to go back on a World war 2 style war footing, the USCG has vessels that can bolt on the heavy weapons in the event war breaks out.

  14. The Navy has identified an urgent requirement to put SeaRAM on their four Burke Class Anti-Ballistic Missile Capable DDGs that are stationed in Spain. These will provide self-defence capability and presumably replace the existing Phalanx installations.

  15. Looks like SeaRAM is going to replace Phalanx and will be on most of the LCS, the new frigate, and the Navy’s DDGs. Hopefully it will replace the Phalanx on the Bertholfs at some point in the future.

    Would also love to see these on the Offshore Patrol well. The change should be relatively straight forward, in that the cutters already use, or will use, much the same combat system as the Freedom class LCS.

    • i would only want SeaRam if it was the upgraded To H.A.S, capability. I would not want to loose the dual capability of the CIWS if I could help it. Of course having the capability to swap out the phalanx for the SeaRam, or vice versa depending on the situation would be an asset.

    • @Lyle, “I wonder why we never created a dual gun/stinger CIWS system like the soviets did.”
      Presume your are talking about the Kashtan system.
      As you start adding things, the inertial of the mount increases and it gets harder to track a highly maneuverable target. They don’t have the figures for Kashtan here, but compared to the other systems, you can see that Phalanx has the highest speed in elevation and in traverse.
      The combined systems weigh more so they will not fit on some platforms where a lighter single weapons system would.
      Using separate systems, separate gun and missile systems, means a single hit is less likely to take out both.
      On the other hand the combined system allows both systems to share a more optimum position in the layout of the ship, e.g. a single mount on the center line while separate systems might require three separate mounts to provide the same coverage (typically a missile on the centerline and a gun mount on either side of the superstructure.)
      The better systems that seem to be emerging are vertical launch missiles that don’t require training the launcher. There are several of them out there now, most based on air to air missiles.

  16. What about reintroducing the 76mm gun? This would provide numerous advantages as the modern Otto Melara super rapid gun would provide superior performance in the anti cruise missile role due to its greater stopping power this would be greatly enhanced with the use of guided munitions. Guided munitions would also be much better in the anti helicopter and small boat role. The extended range rounds would give the cutters greater stand off range. In addition I am pretty sure that there is an armour piercing version of the 76mm round as well.

    • @Andrew, I think it would be a god option, although I would still prefer the 5″. Plus I think the Navy may be bringing back the 76mm for the frigate version of the LCS.

      There are a huge number of different rounds available although most are not in the USN inventory.

      They have a sub-caliber round guided round for shooting at Cruise missiles and an extended range round for shore bombardment. Expensive and it has only a small charge but useful for some things.

      • You really have to talk about the launchers as well as the round. A 76mm gun is certainly more expensive than a missile or torpedo launcher.On the other hand it is useful against surface targets, air targets, and for shore bombardment. If you are going to buy the gun anyway, then talking about the round becomes relevant. On the smaller cutters the gun is highly unlikely.

        I don’t know the prices individually but a Griffin or Hellfire is probably the best way to deal with small fast targets and cheaper than the gun, and really the torpedo probably would not work against truly small targets.

        A light weight torpedo is the surest and probably the cheapest way to be able to stop a medium to large vessel. You would need a lot of the small missiles or gun rounds to have the same effect.

        Both light weight torpedoes a missile such as Griffin or Hellfire can fit on vessels as small as the 87 footers.

        The DART guided projectile is intended to be used against anti-ship cruise missiles. The Volcano extended range guided round is intended for shore bombardment, but with IR guidance it might be used against surface targets.

        Guns are heavy and expensive up front, but they are retained because of their versatility. A lot of the cost is ammunition, but it isn’t only the ammunition that is expended, it is the ammunition required to fill the magazine, whether it is used or not.

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  18. These test results do not auger well for the Bertholf Class and OPCs since their weapons systems are so closely related to those on the LCS, not because they could not deal with swarming speedboats, but because of the dozen reported faults.

    Perhaps there is some significance to the fact that this was an Independence Class LCS which has a different combat system from the one on the Freedom class which is more closely related to the system on the Bertholf class. The system on the Freedom class was chosen for the follow-on frigate class and the OPCs are likely to get a variation of the same system. Likely it will get continued development.

  19. I hope the poor performance of the electro optic fire control systems on the LCS as shown in recent tests will prompt the Coast Guard to stay with a radar fire control system on the Offshore Patrol Cutter. There is a good discussion of this in the report of tests that you can access through this post The entails of the test results are very revealing. Don’t overlook the comments.

  20. The US is buying new Super Rapid Fire Oto Melara 76mm guns for the Israeli Navy at an estimated cost of $100M. Reportedly they will reequip the SAAR 4.5 missile boats, the SAAR 5 corvettes, and the new light frigates being built in Germany. The Israelis have eight SAAR 4.5s and three SAAR 5s, so presumably that will be 16 guns, if you include the four new ships and one spare for training or as a rotational spare. That makes the cost $6.25M per gun.

    Notably the SAAR 5s’ only gun has been the 20mm Phalanx on the bow. Presumably the 76mm will replace the Phalanx. That shows confidence in the gun as an ASCM defense.

  21. Pingback: What Might a Wartime OPC Weapons Fit Look Like? | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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