ASuW Hellfire Test Success–Operational Late 2017

Navyrecognition reports that a successful test of modified Hellfire missiles for use in the Surface to Surface Missile Module (SSMM) planned for the Littoral Combat Ship has paved the way for operational deployment of the system in late 2017.

We have talked about these missiles before. They seem to be an ideal way to deal with the threat of small, fast, highly maneuverable boats that might be employed by terrorists, and absent more effective weapons, may provide some capability against even large vessels. Unlike gun systems, they promise high first round accuracy and lethality, with very little chance of a round going astray and hitting something unintended.

The projected SSMM would provide storage and launch facilities for up to 24 rounds. 24 rounds would weigh only about 2500 pounds. The launcher and support systems is unlikely to weigh more than that, suggesting and all up weight of about 5000 pounds, far less than either the 76mm Mk75 gun or the 57mm Mk110 (two and a half tons compared to eight or nine tons). Both of these guns are commonly used on missile and patrol boats smaller than the Webber class WPCs. Also unlike a gun system, the SSMM is unlikely to require any significant deck reinforcement.  It would almost certainly fit on all large cutters and perhaps the WPCs and WPBs as well. (It should be included on Offshore Patrol Cutters from day 1.) If the 24 round system is too large to be comfortably carried by smaller cutters, it is likely a smaller, say four round, system could be quickly and economically developed for Coast Guard use and perhaps for the Navy’s MkVI patrol boat as well.

If we take the Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security mission seriously we really should be looking seriously at acquiring these systems, not just for the new ships as they are built, but also for the existing fleet with the idea that the systems would be transferred to the newer ships as the older ones are replaced.

The Navy should be willing to pay for these systems under existing inter-service agreements.

As noted before, if we need to stop a terrorist attack, we are far more likely to have a WPC or WPB on scene than a larger cutter. For this reason, arming some the Webber class in each homeport should be the first priority. Unfortunately the Webber Class are not geographically wide-spread, so we should look at mounting systems on existing MECs and WPBs to insure all potential targets have some protection until the entire fleet is armed.

I would say there are places where they might be mounted on Coast Guard stations ashore, to act as gate keepers for the ports against clandestine attacks, but coast defense is still an Army mission. Perhaps this is something we should be talking about too. If not Coast Guard manned defenses (which is probably the proper solution), then perhaps placement of unused SSMMs with their associated Navy crews on Coast Guard facilities or small detachments of army troops with their weapons to perform this function.

14 thoughts on “ASuW Hellfire Test Success–Operational Late 2017

  1. I would think they would also fit well for the National security cutter as well. I think they maybe useful for Anti Piracy operations and operations in the littorals as well.

    • This was not to say the NSCs should not have them, but that I think other classes may be higher priority. Ultimately I would hope all our Patrol cutters and perhaps even some of the buoy tenders might have these systems.

  2. How much a round? The only advantage I can see over a gun is that the missile is heading down from above and not horizontally towards the target so there could be less potential collateral damage. But our forefathers coped with such considerations and restrictions. The system may not weigh much but the placement of VLS is not a trivial exercise. To me it is very American, wonderfully gold plated but high cost. A 40mm radar laid gun is the ideal if the idea is to keep the tangos pushed out beyond RPG range. Or perhaps there would be mileage in using a 76mm gun with smart rounds fired at a very high elevation like a mortar.

    • To compare the price of respective rounds is a not sufficient, You need to look at the total cost of providing the capability on every cutter that might need the capability.

      Gun systems cost should consider the gun itself, a fire control system, support personnel and their training, spares and maintenance, and ammunition outfit.

      I have seen prices for Hellfire from $50K to $110K and the VLS version is probably the most expensive. The SSMM includes provision for 24 rounds. 24 at $110K would amount to $2.64M. I doubt the launch systems would cost that much, so a full set capability is probably less than $5M. The Coast Guard would probably not need a full load of 24 missiles for its peacetime missions. A system sized for the Webber class including four missiles could probably be procured for less than $1M.

      On the other hand the 57mm gun alone cost $9.7M plus fire control system, plus about six additional expensive and well trained personnel to support the gun and fire control, plus very expensive ammunition–even the practice rounds cost $1200 each. The smart fused ammunition is much more.

      • To be honest I think the swarm scenario is a hobby horse too many pro and armchair naval strategists like to ride. And this Hellfire system does put a kibosh on it altogether.

        The silly thing is once I read your reply I realised if we had been talking about fast air I would have probably been banging on about cruise missiles and reconnaissance satellites……..

        I am now going to pray to Saint Barbara to forgive you. 🙂

      • I also think the “swarm” idea is oversold. The Iranians have already moved on to torpedo and cruise missile boats and small submarines, that are the real danger. The swarm just provides a screen for these more realistic threats.

        Still I would be happy to see the CG benefit from the anti-swarm hysteria. Don’t think we need to worry too much about multiple small boats. Our problem is, we have to be careful to pick out the right small high speed maneuvering target not just any small high speed maneuvering target.

        The Hellfire would also give us a weapon that might also be effective against larger ships, although I would feel much better if we had torpedoes for this purpose.

        If we put a Hellfire into the engineroom, the steering gear room, and the wheelhouse, there is a fair chance we can cripple even a relatively large ship. To do those things we would probably want to use passive LASER homing and consequently would want a LASER designator.

        Those three targets suggest we would want at least three missiles, and perhaps six if we wanted to double tap each.

  3. Surely you not suggesting to put a 5000 lbs weapons system on a Mk VI PB? I doubt they could mount even a much smaller Griffin box. They will be lucky to get a single pintal to mount a single tube launcher to fire one Hellfire.
    What is a much better plan would be to mount a Spike or Spike ER on the MK 38 mount. Perhaps it could take a Hellfire?

    • I was not suggesting putting a 24 round launcher, which I assumed would weigh about 5,000 pounds, on the MkVI. I was suggesting that the CG and perhaps the Navy could use a smaller launch set up providing a smaller number of missiles, eg, three to six for smaller patrol vessels. I would think weight would be on the order of 1,000 pounds, perhaps even less.

      The PT boats of WWII which were only 78 and 80 feet long, very comparable to the MkVI and USCG PBs, carried about 10,000 pounds of weapons so I would not assume it is impossible to carry the full SSMM at 5,000 pounds, but there is probably no need for this number of weapons.

      I would agree that adding missile launchers to the Mk38 mod2 is probably an easier solution and I would like to see it done, but if we want more than perhaps two missiles, stand alone launchers are probably required.

      Other than the 2×2 cluster I originally envisioned, another configuration that might be easier to integrate might be two 1×3 groups that could be attached to the superstructure or along the ships sides in a smaller version of what the Canadians did with their ESSM launch tube.

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