Modifying Webber Class Cutters for Duty in SW Asia

USCG Monomoy (WPB-1326) and Adak (WPB-1333), elements of PATFORSWA

The first two of the probably six Webber class WPCs that will replace the 110s in PATFORSWA have been funded. Before they go, there will likely be some changes in how they are equipped.

When the 110 were deployed they had some relatively minor changes:

During the delay in Hampton Roads, each of the WPBs received upgrades for overseas service. First, maintenance crews addressed all of the cutters’ mechanical problems. These crews also added two .50 caliber machine gun mounts aft of the pilothouse to supplement the firepower of the forward-mounted MK38 25mm gun. Most of the modifications fell within the area of communications, including new high-frequency transceivers, installation of satellite telephones and a number of improvements designed to reduce electromagnetic interference. Work crews installed new highstrength Kevlar lifelines around the decks and Forward-Looking Infrared Receivers (FLIR) on the cutters’ masts for nighttime operations. Each WPB also received night vision goggles; a translating bullhorn; and chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) gear.

Coast Guard planners also increased the patrol boats’ boarding capability. Each cutter received four Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) personnel to bring crew size up to full combat readiness. Coast Guard planners expected this crew augmentation to improve the WPBs maritime interception operations (MIO) capability, which would help the cutters to fulfill their primary mission in the Arabian Gulf. Work crews also added extra bunks in the aft berthing area of each WPB to provide for the war-time crew complement. Even so, certain crewmembers still had to practice “hot bunking,” with different watches sharing the same bunks

Now there is more time to plan and make upgrades. These ships also might serve as prototypes for equipment changes to the rest of the Coast Guard’s Webber class fleet either in response to the terrorist threat or in the future, in anticipation of an armed conflict.

In addition, the Navy’s Cyclone class patrol craft are coming to the end of their service life, and suitably modified Webber class might serve as a replacement.

Missions:

Originally eight Island class cutters were deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, four in the Mediterranean and four in the Persian Gulf. They were to provide force protection. In addition they participated in the capture of an Iraqi vessel attempting to clandestinely mine the Gulf. Later they escorted humanitarian relief supplies up the rivers. They protected Iraq’s off shore oil terminals. Now there are six stationed in Bahrain. In addition to continuing force protection duties, they provide training to Navy ships as they enter the area. They promote capacity building in the navies and coast guards of SW Asia and East Africa. They have conducted counter piracy operations off the Horne of Africa.

Threats: 

Most of the duties these ships encounter are similar to those of continental US vessels, but there are some significant threats in the are we might want to consider.

Revolutionary elements in Yemen have been using unmanned explosive remotely controlled motor boats to attack ship in the Bab-el-Mandeb Straits

The Navy of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp has a force of about 1500 fast inshore attack craft ranging from simple rocket equipped speed boats to torpedo and missile boats. If there is a conflict, they are expected to be used in swarming attacks. My take is that the majority of these boats serve primarily as a distraction and screen to facilitate the attacks of the torpedo and missile armed craft, but some may be used as suicide improvised explosive devices.

Weapons: 

None of these projected threats require large warhead weapons to deal with them, but they do require a short time critical, high probability of kill. The Iranian threat also means there is a need to deal with multiple threats, from multiple directions simultaneously. Attacks could be prolonged, so running out of ammunition could be problem.

The easiest change is to convert the four single .50 caliber mounts to twins. This doubles the ammunition on each mount and provides redundancy if a weapon jams. I think I may have seen that this was already done on the 110 in PATFORSWA.

We might want to give those .50 cal. machine guns the best possible sights. 

Twin or single we need to provide ballistic protection for any exposed gun crews, although putting shield around the forward mount positions might hamper forward vision from the bridge.

We might want to replace some or all of the crew served .50 caliber machine guns with the more accurate, stabilized Mini-Typhoon Mk49 Mod1 ROSAM remote weapon station which is already on four Coast 87 foot cutters used for Force Protection of Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines. This mount is also expected to be installed on the Offshore Patrol Cutters. Their electro-optic devices could also improve situational awareness, particularly at night. 

They will need a laser target designator even if there are no laser guided weapons on the cutter, to allow it to designate targets for other US and allied platforms, perhaps provision for one mast mounted and one hand held.

I would like to see the 25mm gun in the Mk38s replaced by the 30mm which is longer ranged, more accurate, and harder hitting, but that is unlikely to be an option.

To dispatch threats, quickly and effectively, these vessels really need small guided weapons in addition to guns. 

The only small missile installations the Navy has made are Sea Griffin on the Cyclone Class patrol craft and a relatively large 24 round installation on the Littoral Combat Ships.

Sea Griffin lost out to the Hellfire Longbow for installation on the LCS. Hellfire and APKWS have been declared among six “preferred munitions” being procured at maximum production rates, literally thousands of rounds per year. With Sea Griffin falling in size between APKWS and Hellfire, this probably means Sea Griffin does not have a great future. 

As a minimum I think our cutters need a number of APKWS, Hellfire may also be desirable for its longer range, greater hitting power, and fire and forget capability. It would be best if we could use either and trade them off. Unfortunately right now there is no system in the Navy inventory, other than perhaps Sea Griffin, that could readily be installed on our cutters.

The Israeli’s have attached missile launch tubes to their versions of both the Mk38 gun mount that we have on the Webber class and on their mini-Typhoon which is in USN and Coast Guard service as the Mk49 mod1. (Both systems are also expected to be on the OPC.)

Spike LR Missile launched from a Typhoon weapon station on an Israel Navy Super Dvora Mk 2. A similar configuration was recently tested by the US Navy, from an unmanned surface vessel (USV-PEM). Photo: RAFAEL

Rafael Mini Typhoon 12.7mm RWS (MK49 mod1 in USN) and Spike-ER missile launcher recently tested by the USN on an unmanned surface vessel. (photo : Rafael)

This looks doable:

I would suggest these little ships should be armed with a Mk 49 remote weapon station taking the place of, at least the two crew served .50 cal. mounts on the aft corners of the superstructure, perhaps the two forward as well. In addition, the Mk38 mod3 and the Mk49s should be modified to also support a pair of four tube APKWS launchers, similar to the one pictured below. (Perhaps seven or even 19 round launchers in the case of the Mk38.) Assuming we replace only after Mk49 mounts, and have two four round launchers on each mount, this would provide at least 24 guided rockets ready to launch.

Unfortunately, while the Navy has done a test with the Mk49 and has been talked about adding missiles to the Mk38, they have never followed through.  We need to convince the Navy to rapidly push development of this additional capability. They should also have an interest in doing this, since Mk38s are mounted on their destroyers, Cyclone patrol craft, Mk VI patrol boats, and a number of other vessels.  BAE should be all in, they make both the MK38 gun mount and the APKWS. Plus these modified Webber class may be the next Navy PC as well.

The Fletcher laser guided rocket launcher fires BAE’s 2.75 inch laser guided rockets known as the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System. (Shawn Snow/Defense News Staff)

Other Options:

I have seen a mockup of small Hellfire Vertical Launch Systems that might it might be possible to mount on the outer superstructure bulkheads in the form of multiple single launch tubes. There are other launch systems like the one below that fit on vessels much smaller than the Webber class.

At the Improv–Marines on Cutters

If we don’t provide guided weapons for these cutters, and the situations deteriorates, adding a fire team or even a squad of Marines to augment the crew with their weapons might be a short term option. In additions to rifles, they might bring with them machine guns, Javelin Anti-Tank Guided Missiles, Carl Gustaf recoilless rifles that the Marines are now pushing down to the squad level (and which may soon get guided projectiles), or  even Stinger Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MADPAD).

Other Things to Think About:

The Cyclone class have light weight EW systems including decoys, some of them have small unmanned air systems, and they have provision for employing Stinger man portable air defense systems.

A Link16 capability would be nice, even if read only.

Other Reading:

“Switchblade Loitering Munition Puma-Switchblade Sensor to Shooter Capability” July 8, 2018

“Guided Weapons Made Easy,” Oct. 21 2017, which discussed the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS)

“Guided Weapons–Getting Closer,” July 18, 2014, which discussed dual mode Hellfire, Brimstone, and Sea Griffin

“Weapons Effectiveness Testing–25mm vs 30mm,” Aug. 25, 2017 Which seemed to show that the 30mm equipped Mk38 mod2, would be much more effective than the 25 mm version.

“Fletcher/APKWS, a Pocket Missile System Made in America,” May 12, 2018 Looks at a simple launcher for Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS)

“At Last, a New Sight for the .50 cal.” Oct. 10,2017

“Navy Chooses Longbow Hellfire,” Oct. 5, 2015

“ASuW Hellfire Test Success–Operational Late 2017,” Aug. 1, 2015

“New Weapon for Patrol Craft,” Jan.24, 2013, specifically about Sea Griffin

 

6 thoughts on “Modifying Webber Class Cutters for Duty in SW Asia

  1. “The easiest change is to convert the four single .50 caliber mounts to twins. This doubles the ammunition on each mount and provides redundancy if a weapon jams. I think I may have seen that this was already done on the 110 in PATFORSWA.”

    Doubling the number of guns to a mount would not double the ammunition, just add more maintenance. If more ammunition is wanted, the increase the size of the ammunition box. Some PCFs and other craft in Vietnam used a 400-round box. This is more than enough to burn out the barrel. Especially by an inexperienced and under-trained operator. A perpetual problem of two guns is setting them to fire together. This adjustment is more art than science. and a problem the Navy ran into aboard PCF and PBR craft.

    As for better sights, the old leaf sight is just fine. However, operators are not taught how to use it. This lead to its replacement with the area fire aircraft sight that no one is trained to use either. It is just spray and pray something a new sight will not fix. A moving boat firing at another moving boat is problematic. The current gun cradles are an improvement over the Mk16 cradle used for decades. The object isn’t more ammunition or better sights it is stability of the gun. .

    • We didn’t have problems with the twin .50s on our PBRs. Except when the enemy was shooting AT US! Our forward gunners were pretty good at spacing their firing strings and yes we did change barrels.
      Even the small PBR had plenty of ammo in cans.
      I would still go with the more lead downstream the better~
      The Mk 38 mounts can be heavy but Chuck is talking about a much bigger vessel.
      I would also say that the 30mm seems to be the new “sweet spot” when it comes to main guns for smaller combatants?

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