LRASM for Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security

Lockheed Martin supplied Navy Recognition with the first image showing a deck-mounted quadruple Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) launcher. According to our source, this "top side" launcher graphic is a notional concept that could be used on an appropriately sized surface vessel, such as the Arleigh Burke class (DDG 51) or Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) classes.

Discussion on an earlier post suggesting the Coast Guard might want to fit our new major cutters “for but not with” Long Range Anti-ship Missiles (LRASM) has prompted me to rethink the suggestion and advocate for equipping them with the missile in peacetime.

One of the Coast Guard’s peacetime missions is of course Ports, Waterways and Coastal Security (PWCS).

“The PWCS mission entails the protection of the U.S. Maritime Domain and the U.S. Marine Transportation System (MTS) …prevention and disruption of terrorist attacks… Conducting PWCS deters terrorists from using or exploiting the MTS as a means for attacks on U.S. territory, population centers, vessels, critical infrastructure, and key resources.”

I have been concerned that the Coast Guard has not had adequate weapons to deal with a terrorist attack using a medium to large sized merchant ship, and currently I don’t believe there is any other organization capable of answering this threat in the 30 or more port complexes terrorists might find worthwhile targets, in a timely manner. Navy surface forces are too geographically concentrated. The over 200 nautical mile range and the ability to strike selected locations on a target ship suggest LRASM could possibly provide an answer.

If we had LRASM on all National Security Cutters (NSC) and Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC), in perhaps a dozen ports on the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts, Honolulu and Kodiak, its over 200 mile range fired from cutters, including possibly those in port, could cover all of these ports (except Guam), and have a weapon on target within about 20 minutes of launch.

To effectively counter the threat, I think we need to get a weapon on target within an hour of positive identification of the threat. This would require improved coordination between units. In addition to providing a datum, course, and speed, presumably an intercepting unit, boat or aircraft, would need to transmit a photograph of the target to be incorporated in the missiles memory and aim points would be chosen some time during mission planning. We would need to coordinate with air traffic control. A command decision to authorize use of the weapon and updates on the target position course and speed would also be needed. Because we might have 40 minutes or less from threat identification to launch, these steps would likely have to proceed in parallel with mission planning progressing prior to authorization.

New units appear to be on the way to developing the kind of common tactical picture we need to facilitate both decision making and targeting. We could start developing the capability with the National Security Cutters based at Alameda (San Francisco Bay) and Charleston, SC, even if the system could not be completed until the last OPCs are delivered in about 2034.

23 thoughts on “LRASM for Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security

  1. Chuck, thoughts on the CG serving as a sort of forward controller directing Air Force/USN air assets use of force (missiles) to disable/sink medium/large vessels for PWCS?

    • Presumably we would use Navy, Joint, and/or Allied procedures to call for a strike, and we could use the same procedures to coordinate with Navy and Air Force assets if they are available. We should exercise for that as well. It is the way you might think things should be done, but It is the availability I question.

      Navy ships tend to be either in homeport, working up in specific geographic areas, deployed, or in transit to deploy. There are no Navy surface warships with weapons equal or better than cutters homeported in the Gulf of Mexico, on the East Coast north of the New Port News/Norfolk complex, in Alaska, or on the West coast between San Diego and Puget Sound so for lots of ports the nearest Navy Surface vessel is hundreds of miles away.

      Air Force, Navy, Marine, and Army Air are not on standby around the US with anti-ship weapons. Of the Air Force, only some of the strategic aircraft are training for anti-shipping mission. Fighters and attack aircraft do not. I suspect we would not get a timely response from the Air Force to a no notice requirement to stop a maritime target. Units that are not trained for an anti-shipping role cannot be easily pressed into that role.

      • Fighters or MPAs carrying LGBs would work fine. They wouldn’t have to carry ASuW-specific weapons. Should be an easy shot to hit a relatively large vessel with an LGB. Even a dumb, Mk80-series strike would be relatively straight forward for most modern fighter pilots against a large vessel.

        Perhaps upgrade the HC-130s with a Harvest Hawk-like weapons kit that included LGBs.

        The biggest problem would be timeliness. Unless there were well established, practiced procedures for calling for airstrikes, with air crews ready, and munitions and targeting pods nearby, it would likely take too long.

      • Yes it is not that they would have a hard time hitting an identified target, but locating and identifying the target from among all the other traffic and making sure they don’t hit the wrong ship.

        If a patrol boat provided the laser designation, that would provide assurance the right vessel is being targeted, but there remains the problem of a longer and more complicated decision chain and the fact that no aircraft are waiting armed with a crew on standby ready to do anti-ship missions.

        Adding the capability to CG aircraft would get really complicated–additional training, weapons handling, storage, and security, and there would still be a substantial delay in arming and preparing the mission, plus the aircraft are not as fast as missiles, and airstations are not always close enough.

  2. Frankly, this can be done by dropping dumb delay-fused bombs from CG helicopters. That’s much safer, for even if LRASM ends up having a man-in-the-loop capability, it would still need to be autonomous if that datalink gets disrupted. And autonomous missiles hit all kinds of stuff, occasionally involving the actual target.

    The real killer to the idea to equip CG ships with a total missile inventory costing a billion or more is another one, though: An actual terrorist (or covert military) attack with a cargo ship would not be detected in time, period.

    Any capability to intercept such a ship would merely provoke the attacker to change the timing to avoid this intercept. Or they plot some other, almost equally bad, attack.
    In the end it’s self-defeating trying to defend everything.

    • Yes, you could drop bombs from CG helicopters, but it is unlikely they would be as accurate or effective, particularly if the terrorist are shooting back. They are much more likely to mount an effective defense against a helicopter with dumb bombs than against a Mach 0.85 cruise missile. There is also the question of getting CG air stations to store bombs. Ships already provide a degree of weapons security, while air stations are currently limited to providing security for small arms.

      The increased intelligence of the LRASM missile includes options regarding what to do if it does not find its intended target. It should be much more discriminating in selecting its target than Harpoon.

      It is likely cutters could be equipped to carry eight missiles, but for our purposes, two per ship would almost certainly meet our needs. Since some ships will always be in maintance with ammunition removed, The Coast Guard is unlikely to ever need more than 50 missiles to meet its peacetime needs. I would think the LRASM will cost something on the order of $2M to $5M each. That means the total cost of the missiles is likely between $100M and $250M. These costs would be spread over several years.

      Since the missiles, their launchers, and control systems are Navy type/Navy Owned equipment the Navy would be responsible for paying for them.

      Unfortunately we do not get to pick and choose which ports will be defended. All the 30 I mentioned are valid potential targets of high impact, and we have an obligation to defend them all.

      • Target discrimination?
        Do you suppose the CG would also have a database with 3D models of all civilian ships that could possibly ever be in the vicinity of U.S. harbours? Hardly. Target discrimination is fine if it’s about targeting one of few hundred ships among the thousands or ten thousands of ships world-wide. It’s pointless to try if the choice fo targets cannot be narrowed down like that. Particularly if the entire affair has to happen within minutes, including a permission from someone in Washington, DC.

        The integration fo LRASM on multiple ship types will be an opportunity to milk the CG for cash, such a program is unliekly to cost less than a billion or two. Nowadays the mere integration of self-evident equipment into the software and hardware including testing is a nine figure bill.
        And the navy will almos tcertianly not pay the bills. Insted, it would prefer to build “homeland defence frigates”, with first prototypes delivered in 15 years and first ship fully orperational in 25 years, with production run of 30 ships complete in 40 years – and you know this.

        Besides, if you want to defendd harbors – why mount the missiles on ships at all? Mount them on containers on some CG and USN bases instead. Again, you’re trying to add gadgets and missions to your favourite platforms, exactly as do navies love to do.

      • Sven, you seem to be becoming jaded and pessimistic. True I don’t know how long it would take to get the target ID into the missile but it might be simpler than you presume, it is similar to facial recognition and that technology has come a long way. I think photos might be enough.

        Adding another four missiles per year for the Coast Guard, to the Navy’s buy for these is pocket change for the Navy.

        Putting the systems ashore means adding, crew, communications, and security, all of which the ships already have. Plus the ships have the flexibility of being deployable. Shore facilities aren’t.

      • I suppose you greatly underestimate friction, “shit happens” factor, inter-service rivalry/jealousy and the decisionmaking lag caused by RoE.

        It’s very reasonable and realistic to assume that no beyond the horizon attack capability would even be considered for the role you think of. The army cannot launch a 4 kg drone into the air or shoot a single artillery rocket without clearing it for airspace deconfliction and you’re seriously thinking that the CG would be allowed to shoot a missile with a 1,000 lbs warhead over the horizon to engage a civilian ship among dozens of other civilian ships and likely in the vicinity of a large U.S. city – and get this cleared within a few minutes. No way.

      • Never said we could do this without prior coordination and training. Still compared to the Anti-Ballistic Missile program, this is relatively easy and cheap but the consequences of not doing anything could be as bad.

      • You understand the sole CG cutter nearby could easily be distracted with a feint, such as a faked SOS call from a yacht pretending that somebody went overboard (=helicopter busy)?

        Your only relevant scenario (terrorists trying to do something ugly with a civilian ship at a port town) is of adversarial nature. Adversaries strive to counter your preparations. It’s extremely easy to distract a CG cutter, and it’s not much more difficult to coordinate the strike such that the terrorists’ ship would stay close to a cruise ship and thus de facto immune to a missile attack over the horizon.
        The terrorists might also mislead about the nature of the action in many ways.

        Besides, compare the expenses with simply loading four Mk82 bombs with delay fuze on those CG cutter that have a helicopter, and to modify/certify the helicopters for simple drops from 2,000 ft (near misses open the hull for water and may be even more effective than direct hits). Training can be done with cheap subsized training bombs of approx. 10 kg.

        And then there’s economics.
        I say your plan costs a Billion. I also say the probability of a major terror attack from the sea with a ship is maybe 5% in a decade. That’s already 20 billion per strike. Let’s say the CG knows in advance of the strike in 50% of cases. 40 billion. A CG cutter is “nearby” in 50% of cases. 80 billion. Ist helicopter is ready or in the air with enough fuel in 80% of cases100 billion. The missiles are able to intervene effectively in 80% of cases. 125 billion. Political permission to attack will be given in time (within minutes or up to an hour) in 50% of cases. 250 Billion.

        There’s a long chain of “ifs” with associated probabilities that add up to a very low probability that the Missiles plan will ever be helpful. Meanwhile, the cost is fixed, it has 100% probability.
        And now assume the terrorists agree with you and respect your plan. They choose another target, another method of attack.
        You cannot defend everywhere, always, effectively, reliably. Too expensive. Self-defeating.

        Those who are scared by terrorists lose even if the terrorists don’t “win” (they hardly ever do).

      • I am all in favor of having redundant solutions to the problem of stopping this potential threat. I still think putting light weight torpedoes capable of targeting ships propellers on our patrol craft is the simplest, cheapest, and probably most effective, because it would require the least multi-unit coordination.

        The LRASM solution is less appealing to me because it will require more coordination, but I still think it is workable.

        Let me explain the difficulties I see in the Helicopter bomber solution:

        Most of our Helicopters are HH-65s, including all those that normally operate off of cutters have no hardpoints for mounting weapons.

        The H-60s do have hardpoints that normally mount external fuel tanks. I don’t know if they could be used for mounting bombs, but assuming they could, we have only eight H-60 airstations:

        ATC Mobile, Alabama
        CGAS Kodiak, Alaska
        CGAS Sitka, Alaska
        CGAS San Diego, California
        CGAS Clearwater, Florida
        CGAS Cape Cod, Massachusetts
        CGAS Elizabeth City, NC
        CGAS Astoria, OR

        So that is two in Alaska, two on the Eastern half of the Gulf of Mexico, two on the West Coast, and two on the East Coast. None in Hawaii. Consequently many ports are not within range, and many of those that are require hours in transit.

        Assuming they are capable of making an attack, it is not enough to damage the ship, it has to be rendered totally unmanageable. That requires accuracy that is difficult in the best of conditions and highly unlikely if the helicopter is being shot.

        If the terrorist should have shoulder launched anti-air weapons such as a Stinger it becomes a suicide mission.

        So we have a number of strikes against this as a solution: No storage for weapons currently available at air stations, time required to arm helicopters, time required for transit, many ports out of range, questionable effectiveness, and hazards to the helo and its crew.

      • @SO, Whether a weapons capability is used or not, it cost what it cost. If a capability is not used it does not mean it was not an effective deterrent. We have paid for ballistic missile submarines and ICBMs that have never been used. You cannot multiply their considerable cost 250 times, they cost what they cost.

        How much would it have been worth to us to prevent 9/11, not just the direct destruction, but all the tragedy that followed.

        Because a task is hard does not mean we should not make the attempt. This is our mission. Terrorists may see our preparation and choose a different form of attack, which may be successful, but at least we will have done our job.

    • Actually, the HH-65 wouldn’t even need ANY hardware modification to deploy bombs. It could employ its 600 lbs winch as the delivery system and could create a simple release mechanism based on a lanyard pull or winch cable cutting charge.

      A port out of range of CG helicopters = a port that cannot be defended with LRASM by the CG. You cannot launch such a missile without visual confirmation of the target. Technical feasibility is irrelevant in face of legal and political lack of feasibility. And even a simple modification with metallized sails would render any 3D library-based target discrimination by LRASM impossible.

      Seriously Chuck, in a single hour I can devise so many schemes to protect a terrorist strike by ship on a port against your LRASM idea – there’s no hope that the CG would possibly counter them. Give me an entire day and it’s getting ridiculous. You’d need to spend dozens of billions to at least pretend to have countered all those countermeasures and feints.

      In the end, it’s simply not worthwhile. Actual terrorists rarely do anything big, actual terrorists are unlike Hollywood terrorists. The current crop is two generations distant from the 9/11 crop. They’re simply not in the league to even only hijack a yacht.
      Just look at how stupid terrorists are: If they wanted to do maximum damage at near zero probability of detection, they could simply sabotage railway lines such that passenger trains derail at suitable locations. I thought of dozens of different schemes so far that would be lower risk and greater effect than what those idiots do.
      The current crop or errorists won’t attack a port with a ship, and a more thinking kind of terrorists who would do such a thing would easily render any CG effort irrelevant.

  3. Umm, No I don’t think we will have H-65s taking off from rolling ships, and flying any distance with a 500 pound bomb hanging from the hoist. Not to mention the doubtful accuracy and effectiveness.

    • From a naval perspective. You would be better off upgrading the dauphins to panther configurations. Allowing external pylons to be added if need be. I have been saying it, and will keep on saying it. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. That is why i support the SC-130J idea for USCG. And fitting the cutters for weapons even if they are not equipped at the moment with them. But if your close enough for a shore based helicopter interception than you could deploy MSST/MSRT/SEAL. I am more worried it we come across a situation like the Japanese Coast Guard has experienced with the North Koreans, and we find ourselves outside the range of shore based assets.

  4. Let me explain how I think this can work.

    The Coast Guard is developing a Maritime Domain Awareness system. It may be independent, but more likely it will tap into the Navy’s system, over the horizon radars, or JLENS.

    When the maritime domain awareness system detects the approach of a suspicious vessel, a patrol vessel (WPB/WPC) will be assigned to intercept it and conduct a boarding to determine the vessel’s nature and intent.

    When the patrol vessel is assigned the intercept a larger cutter which may be at some distance but within range will be directed to provide support if necessary, and will be included in all subsequent communications.

    The WPB/WPC will transmit video, position, course, speed during its approach that will allow the start of mission planning for an LRASM launch should it be necessary.

    The results of the result of the WPB/WPC’s attempt to board will allow determination of hostile intent.

    Once a determination of hostile intent has been made, the WPB/WPC will attempt to stop the vessel (including use of a torpedo if available). The WPB/WPC is continually update the supporting cutter before and during the flight of the LRASM.

    There are really only two decision points, is the ship suspicious? and is the ship hostile?

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