We have talked about the need for a small missile to deal with small, fast, highly maneuverable threats, with less chance of collateral damage than is inherent in using guns. We have talked about Hellfire, Brimstone, Griffin, and guided 70mm rockets. Now it appears there is now an even smaller and much cheaper weapon that seems almost ideal for this end of the target spectrum. It has been in development for quite a while, but appears ready for production. Its range and precision appear to be much better than the machine guns we are currently using.
The Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division at China Lake has developed a very small missile called “Spike,” and the price is right–a marginal coast for each additional missile of only about $5000. This should not be confused with the Israeli missile family also called Spike. The following from the Wikipedia entry on the system:
Spike was designed by the U.S. Navy, with assistance from DRS Technologies, and is proclaimed to be “the world’s smallest guided missile.” Initially made to be carried by U.S. Marines, with three missiles and the launcher able to fit in a standard backpack, it weighs 5.4 lb (2.4 kg), is 25 in (640 mm) long, and 2.25 in (57 mm) in diameter. The warhead weighs about 1 lb (450 gr) and employs the Explosively Formed Projectile (EFP) effect, made to penetrate before detonating. It is powered by a small rocket motor that gives it a range exceeding 2 mi (3.2 km), making it safer and more accurate than rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). The missile is directed to its target by either an electro-optical (EO) or semi-active laser (SAL) seeker; the EO camera is similar to a basic cellphone camera, containing a 1-megapixel video camera that allows the shooter to select the area to engage in a fire-and-forget mode. The EO seeker cannot operate at night, so the SAL would have to be used. A third targeting mode is inertial, meaning the user can “snap and shoot” at a target without needing to lock on out to 200 meters. Both the Spike missile and reusable launcher each cost $5,000 and weigh 10 lb (4.5 kg) loaded, compared to 49 lb (22 kg) for a Javelin missile and fire control unit.
It has an unusual development history, being developed in house, quickly, at low cost, in response to a “rapid development capabilities” (RDC) program. Consequently the government now owns the design and can be assembled by contractors with no prior missile manufacturing experience and uses Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) components.
It is included in the FY2017 Navy budget along with Griffin and Javalin as program element 3342: “Griffin Missile” intended to develop and deliver Counter-Swarm Small Boat defense capabilities for the Surface Fleet. (It is also interesting to see that this program still anticipates the use of the Griffin missile system (GMS) by the LCS even though the Long Bow Hellfire has already been selected to arm these ships.)
The missile is reportedly also effective against UAVs, helicopters, and some general aviation aircraft, so it should offer a degree of defense against attacks using these types of platforms.
Where should we have them? The six WPBs stationed in Bahrain and the two force protection units at King’s Bay and Bangor that escort SSBNs as they transit from homeport to deepwater come to mind as perhaps the highest priority, but we have at least 30 ports that need protection. Total distribution of the systems might be slightly more than 200 including ultimately one for each of the 37sectors, 58 Webber class WPCs, 73 Marine Protector class 87 foot WPBs, plus 34 larger ships.
If the reported costs are correct a unit might be outfitted with a shoulder launcher and three missiles for as little as $20,000. If so, 200 weapon sets would cost only $4M and they would presumably be paid for by the Navy over several years.
Of course, if we are going to use their semi-active laser homing capability at night, we will need to get past current restrictions on the use of lasers.
More info here (pdf).
U.S. Navy photo. Spike Missile Visual Demonstration by Lead Technician Jonathon Pooley
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Where does this interest in more firepower for the USCG come from?
Is there ANY historical evidence that firepower is important for a CG?
Historically, the USCG was mobilized alongside the U.S. Navy, and currently operates in such “secure” areas as the Persian Gulf.
The USCG also has to deal with transnational narcotics traffickers who are, or employ, insurgents that were surprisingly well armed by the Soviet Union (e.g. the FARC) and have essentially unlimited funds to purchase weapons (a kg of cocaine that sells for $25,000 in Miami starts off as $5.00kg of pasta basica in the upper Huallaga Valley). RPGs, KPVs, etc. are quite common throughout the Americas.
Dealing with these groups is not remotely like operating in Northern Europe (yet).
Aside from the question why the f**k the USCG is in very distant waters such as the Persian Gulf or Black Sea; how often were USCG ships in need of firepower after patrolling there for decades?
Surely there were incidents during which the available firepower proved unsatisfactory, after decades of patrolling? If not, how would anyone conclude that the level of firepower is unsatisfactory?
The same goes for the Carribbean: How many of the semi-submersibles were armed? None? Oh.
How many attacks on USCG or USN warships were executed by drug smugglers or human traffickers? None? Huh.
In how many of those no incidents would some additional firepower not only have been used, but also proved decisive?
Frankly Chuck, your interest in USCG upgunning looks very, very much like an irrational fascination with arms rather than like a rational, needs-driven demand for solving actual problems.
In this case we are looking for something that is not only effective, but also will minimize the possibility of collateral damage, unlike the heavy machine guns we currently use.
But generally, firepower is an insurance policy that hopefully we will never use, much like most of our expenditures on defense, most of which are also never used. We haven’t used our ballistic missiles. We haven’t used our submarines’s torpedoes since WWII. We haven’t used beyond visual range AAW missiles from surface ships since the Vietnam war. But we have spent an awful lot of money on these systems.
Like all those weapons, lack of use may be an indication of success rather than money misspent.
We never want to give the opponent an opportunity for a fair fight. We want it to be obvious that if he fights, he will loose. It is a deterrent.
The Coast Guard has these encounters very frequently. and it virtually every case, the opponent chooses not to fight. We want to keep it that way.
The difference is that the USCG proved for decades that its current level of firepower is enough deterrence.
There’s an “enough” in defence spending. You’re arguing for more firepower even though the available level of firepower proved satisfactory if not plenty for decades.
Nobody’s arguing that more subs, more ICBMs or more area defence SAM batteries need be purchased because the military has firepower shortfalls. Quite the contrary; there are voices pointing out that the nuclear arsenal is bigger than needed for MAD even in 2nd strike, and a multitude of what would be necessary for a minimal deterrence of the kind that safeguards the PRC.
I would agree that the Coast Guard is armed adequately for its peacetime duties as they were seen in the late 20th century.
My concern is focused on threats that have been recognized since 9/11. Specifically what suicidal terrorists who is not deterred by their own death might attempt. And I have suggested systems that can address these threats at minimum cost and with minimum impact.
But I will add that you are dead wrong about this, “Nobody’s arguing that more subs, more ICBMs or more area defence SAM batteries need be purchased because the military has firepower shortfalls.”
Despite the talk about cutting nuclear weapons, Russia is modernizing their missiles. China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea are expanding their stockpiles, Saudia Arabia has apparently obtained nuclear weapons. We don’t know what Israel is doing, but I doubt they are disarming.
The US is putting Aegis ashore in Europe and anti-ballistic missile systems in Asia.
Conventional firepower is also growing as missiles increase their range, speed and intelligence. hyper-sonic systems are coming.
The Russian Navy is resurgent. They seem to be putting over 200 mile range and attack and/or anti-ship cruise missiles even very small combatants.
The Chinese Navy is building warships faster than the US Navy.
SAMs now engage ballistic missiles, not just aircraft and at much greater ranges.
World wide the number of submarines is going up, not down.
In short the world is not a safer place than it was 20 years ago.
“Specifically what suicidal terrorists who is not deterred by their own death might attempt.”
We knew that even an Arleigh Burke wasn’t well-armed enough to deter or defend. That’s because the terrorists (it’s a bit strange to call them that in the event of attacks on the military) chose an attack that circumvented the firepower. Next time, they’ll do the same. They may lure a boarding party onto a boat and blow said boat up, for example. Spike wouldn’t help. They might ram a CG cutter with a brander. Spike won’t help. They might use actual diving equipment and limpets. Spike won’t help. Most importantly, any defence that’s publicly known won’t help – and secret defences would probably fail for reasons of readiness, just as CIWS usually aren’t activated when a missile actually approaches.
“But I will add that you are dead wrong about this, “Nobody’s arguing that more subs, more ICBMs or more area defence SAM batteries need be purchased because the military has firepower shortfalls.””
No, I’m not wrong about it. I replied to what you wrote, and you wrote four times “we” or “We”. The context wasn’t what NK, Pakistan, India and PRC do. They all face a more powerful adversary and some expansion of capabilities is only typical in such a situation. Meanwhile, your demand for upgunning of the USCG is not about facing a superior adversary.
That one system cannot answer all threats should not be a surprise.
If you contend that addressing terrorist threats is impossible because the terrorists will always win, I cannot accept that. The Coast Guard has to attempt to counter terrorist attacks, its one of our missions.
If terrorists ram a cutter or blow themselves up with a boarding party on board, it will because we stopped them from reaching their real objective and doing more damage.
We (the US) are fielding greatly improved SAMs including Aegis ashore and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), cruise missiles of greater range and intelligence in greater numbers, on more platforms, including subs with Virginia payload modules that will allow them to carry many more cruise missiles.. We may not be building more ICBMs, but when we saw a need, we did build them into a an intimidating force. We have continuously upgraded our submarine launched ballistic missiles.We have gone from single to multiple independently targeted warheads.
Sometimes in Defense, any thing worth doing, is worth doing to excess, because you are never really sure what is enough.
“If you contend that addressing terrorist threats is impossible because the terrorists will always win, I cannot accept that. The Coast Guard has to attempt to counter terrorist attacks, its one of our missions.”
“He who defends everything defends nothing.” Frederick the Great
Your stance is an epitome of the entire GWOT defence drama and insanity. It makes sense to protect a few select points where terror strikes would have the greatest effect. Congress, White House, nuclear powerplants, airliners, sports stadiums and the like.
Now you’re going past beyond that and care about hardening already very, very difficult targets. Obviously, that’s incredibly inefficient. It’s playing into their strategy of motivating (not forcing) the West to go crazy and spend crazily on wasteful security efforts.
The USCG has never been struck by terrorists, nor does it offer a particularly fine target. There’s no reason to add CT security to it. Nor is it reasonable to expect that smugglers will become aggressive in a way that cannot be handled with a deck gun and small arms.
Again; your fascination with USCG upgunning smells of a fascination with arms, not so much of a wise strategy.
“Sometimes in Defense, any thing worth doing, is worth doing to excess, because you are never really sure what is enough.”
Now that’s exactly wrong. It’s a recipe for insane overspending, and it’s fitting that an American wrote it.
You did summarise your own position there, though; excess.
And seriously, don’t pretend to ME that naval cruise missiles are in any way about “defense”. They’re purely offensive weapons and have never been used on any country capable of even only striking at the U.S..
Sven, I think you have misinterpreted my concern. “The USCG has never been struck by terrorists, nor does it offer a particularly fine target. There’s no reason to add CT security to it.”
I have never been concerned that terrorist would attack the Coast Guard.
I think it will be splendid if it works to spec.
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Spike tests successfully against small UAVs