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.