“Distribute Lethality to the Cutters”–USNI Proceedings

The US Naval Institute Proceedings’ September 2018 issue has an article recommending installation of Naval Strike Missiles (NSM) on the Bertholf class National Security Cutters (NSC) and the Argus class Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC), “Distribute Lethality to the Cutters,” by LCdr. Daniel M. Wilshire, USCG. Its outside the paywall; you can just click on the link.

He makes some good points.

  • The Navy does not have enough ships.
  • The Coast Guard is building 36 likely candidates.
  • Using deck mounted canister launchers it should not be too difficult to mount NSM on cutters.
  • The systems would be Navy owned and we could use Navy training.
  • Arming cutters for combat, including missiles is not new.
  • If there is a major conflict, cutters may find themselves in combat, whether they are prepared for it or not.
  • These are not a replacement for Navy construction.
  • We should not wait for the outbreak of war before arming cutters

In conclusion he says.

“The prospect of great power conflict once again looms. Though the time and nature of that conflict is not clear, one thing is certain: when the next war breaks out, Coast Guard cutters will go into harm’s way as they have done in nearly every major conflict since 1790, not only because every ship will be needed, but because doing so is part of the Coast Guard’s history and culture. Procurement and training decisions made today will dictate whether the Coast Guard enters that conflict with the weapons needed to best help deter or defeat a peer competitor. Failing to put antiship cruise missiles on the 36 cutters of the NSC and OPC classes, cutters that will serve for the next 50-plus years, is an omission that the Navy, the Coast Guard, and the nation can ill-afford.”

My only comment would be:

  • First, I would prefer to see the longer ranged, heavier Long Range Anti-Ship Missile used instead of NSM, as I believe it is better suited for our peacetime anti-terrorism mission as well as being a more effective weapon in wartime.
  • Second, while it is probably a more complex change, reviving the Coast Guard’s Wartime Anti-Submarine Warfare Mission would probably be an even more important addition to the “National Fleet” than an expanded anti-surface capability. While it probably would contribute nothing to our peacetime anti-terrorism mission, long range acoustic sensors might help our counter-drug effort.

 

RIMPAC 2018

Twenty-five nations, 46 surface ships, five submarines, 17 land forces,  more than 200 aircraft, and 25,000 personnel participated in the latest RIMPAC exercise. Nations represented included Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Republic of Korea, Republic of the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam.

180710-G-ZV557-1313 PACIFIC OCEAN (July 10, 2018) Crewmembers aboard the USCGC Bertholf (WMSL 750) check the flight deck July 10, 2018, alongside the flight crew of the a U.S. Navy HSC-4 Black Knight MH-60 helicopter 15 miles south of Oahu, Hawaii, while in support of RIMPAC 2018. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class David Weydert

And the Coast Guard was there. USCGC Bertholf even headed one of the Task Groups. But I have yet to see any stories from the Coast Guard about Coast Guard participation.
Consequently there is not a lot I can say about what the Coast Guard did. Can’t help but think this was a missed opportunity.

All we seem to have are Navy photographs with their captions.

RIMPAC 2018 will also be the first time that US Coast Guard Maritime Security Response Team West (MSRT-W) participates in RIMPAC SOCAL. US Navy Photo

180710-N-CW570-1068
JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii (July 10, 2018) U.S. Coast Guardsmen assigned to Regional Dive Locker Pacific conduct diving operations during a decontaminated water diving symposium at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise, July 10, 2018.  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Arthurgwain L. Marquez/Released)

The Sinking Exercises

One of the highlights of RIMPAC is always the ability to test ordnance against an actual ship in a Sink-EX. This time there were two target ships, the former USS Racine (LST-1191) and a frigate, the former USS McClusky (FFG 41).

The Racine Sink-EX

This RIMPAC was a bit unusual, in that US Army and Japanese ground units participated in the Racine Sink-EX.

Using targeting from a US Army Gray Eagle drone and AH-64E team, the former Racine was hit by four Japan Ground Self Defense Force surface to surface missiles, a Naval Strike Missile fired from a US Army vehicle with a Palletized Load System (PLS), five HIMAR artillery rockets were fired (no indication how many hits), a Harpoon missile fired by an Australian P-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, and another Harpoon and a torpedo from a US submarine.

Photo By Master Chief Petty Officer Brian Brannon | 180712-N-HO130-2002 PACIFIC MISSILE RANGE FACILITY BARKING SANDS, Hawaii (July 12, 2018) Members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) fire a Japanese Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missile (SSM-12) at the ex-USS Racine (LST-1191), positioned at sea, during a sinking exercise, July 12, at Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, during the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise. This marks the first time the U.S. Army and JGSDF have participated in a sinking exercise during RIMPAC.  (U.S. Navy photo by Master Chief Mass Communication Specialist Brian Brannon/Released)

 

The McClusky Sink-EX

We don’t have a video of the McClusky Sink-EX. An early report indicated that she was sunk by fire from “from a ship and an aircraft.

Subsequently we learned that the Singapore Navy, presumably RSS Tenacious (71) which has space for up to 24 Harpoons, fired two Harpoons at the decommissioned FFG and that unlike most Harpoon strikes, these hit at the waterline, causing the ship to sink earlier than expected. (Really I think all anti-ship cruise missiles should be programmed to strike the waterline–perhaps a terminal dive. Usually their detonations let in air rather than water, damaging the target rather than sinking it.)

“In all, six Harpoons were successfully shot between the two SINKEX events, according to manufacturer Boeing.”

I presume this means two surface launched by the Singapore Navy and two air launched against the FFG and one sub launched and one air launched by the Australian P-8 against the LST.

An Air Force launched LRASM was originally planned to be used against Racine, but I have seen no indication one was launched during the exercise.

Innovation Fair

The Naval Institute reported on a new RIMPAC program, the “Innovation Fair.” While apparently it included a lot of high-tech presentations; it was a simple low-tech “why didn’t I think of that” good idea that won the prize, and it looks like something the Coast Guard could use, a floating and reflective damage control (DC) bag.

Royal Malaysian Navy Sub-Lieutenant Chan Jun Kwan, assigned to frigate KD Lekiu (FFG 30), displays a damage control floating bag concept developed by his crew during the inaugural Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise innovation fair. US Navy photo.

 

 

From the LCS Mission Modules, What We Might Want, What We Might Need

The US Naval Institute News Service has provided access to the second “Annual Report to Congress for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Mission Module Program.” Some of these systems should be of interest to the Coast Guard, either as regular equipment for peacetime law enforcement and counterterrorism missions, for temporary use, as in the case of a naval mining incident, or as wartime add-ons if the Coast Guard is mobilized for a major conflict.

Keep in mind, the procurement cost of these systems would presumably come out the Navy budget.

Mine Countermeasures Mission Package

The Mine Countermeasures (MCM) Mission Packages (MP) has already been addressed. 24 are planned including nine to be built for “Vessels of Opportunity.” These nine extra packages probably meet any peacetime augmentation requirement and provide a reserve for mobilization. Testing is expected to continue through FY 2022. Production is expected to continue well into the future as less than half the packages will have been delivered by FY2023.

ASW Mission Packages for NSCs and OPCs

An earlier post discussed the possibility of using mission modules and Navy reservist to augment large cutters. In a protracted conflict against a near peer naval power like Russia or China, our large patrol ships are most probably going to be needed to perform open ocean ASW escort duties.

Only ten ASW Mission Packages are planned. Initial Operational Capability (IOC) is expected in FY 2019, but testing will continue through 2020. The Multi-Function Array is already a fielded system. Deliveries are expected to begin in FY2021 at a rate of two systems per year. If that rate is continued, the ten planned systems will be complete in 2025.

At an estimated cost of less than $20M the ASW Mission Package is the least expensive of the three types of Mission Packages. Adding this system as a mobilization capability or perhaps even as a peacetime capability to 35 or more large cutters would provide a higher return on investment than just about any other Naval program.

It might even help us locate semi-submersibles.

Vertical launch Hellfire

As I have noted before, the Coast Guard has a potential need to be capable of countering terrorist efforts to use a wide spectrum of vessels to make an attack. These craft range between small, fast, highly maneuverable boats on one extreme, to large ocean going vessels at the other. Our ability to counter these threats must be widely available, quickly effective, and have both a probability of success approaching 100% and do so with minimal danger to innocents who may be in the vicinity. Guns do not meet these criteria.

Hellfire missile have the potential to meet these criteria, at least against the lower half of the threat spectrum, and, using more than one round, might have a degree of success even against the largest vessels.

Apparently the SSMM Longbow Hellfire testing is going well, with 20 out of 24 successful engagements, and there’s a software fix for the root cause of the 4 failures.

ATLANTIC OCEAN—A Longbow Hellfire Missile is fired from Littoral Combat Ship USS Detroit (LCS 7) on Feb. 28, 2017 as part of a structural test firing of the Surface to Surface Missile Module (SSMM). The test marked the first vertical missile launched from an LCS and the first launch of a missile from the SSMM from an LCS. (Photo by U.S. Navy)

A recent US Naval Institute News Service report quoted LCS Mission Modules Program Manager Capt. Ted Zobel “all of our mission packages…are finishing up development, proceeding into test, and then from test into production and ultimately deployment.”

“…surface-to-surface missile module (SSMM) will add a Longbow Hellfire missile to increase the lethality of the LCS. Testing begins this month on USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) and will move to USS Detroit (LCS-7) over the summer. Testing should wrap up by December, Zobel said, with Detroit planning to bring the SSMM with it on its maiden deployment about a year from now. Written testimony from the Navy at a March 6 House Armed Services Committee hearing states that IOC is planned for Fiscal Year 2019.”

The Surface to Surface Mission Module (SSMM) planned for the Littoral Combat Ship, seen above, can store and launch up to 24 missiles. 24 missiles would weigh about 2,500 pounds. As a very rough estimate, Its foot print appears to be about 9×12 feet (late note–a little photo analysis suggest the three mission module positions on each LCS are about 15-16′ square), probably not too large for an NSC, OPC, or icebreaker, but probably too large for the Webber class WPCs where I really think we really need the capability. They are after all, much more likely to be in the right place, at the right time. For them we probably need a smaller system.

In the video above, beginning at time 2m58s there is a model of a 12 meter unmanned surface vessel mounting a four tube Hellfire vertical launch system. Knowing that the Hellfire is only 7 inches in diameter and 64 inches long, it appears this installation would have a footprint of no more than 6×8 feet and probably would be no more than seven feet high. It seems likely we could find a place for one or two of these on each Webber class and at least one when we build the replacements for the 87 footers.

I have often seen missiles compared unfavorably to guns, based on the cost of the projectiles, but cost of providing a system like Hellfire pales in comparison to the cost of a medium caliber gun, its ammunition allowance, and the maintenance, training, and technicians required to keep it operational. Compared to the guns we have used in the past:

  • Maximum range of almost 9,000 yards is less than the maximum range of the 5″/38, 76mm, or 57mm, but it is very near the effective range of these medium caliber weapons. This range is likely more than enough to remain outside the effective range of improvised weapons installations that might be used in a terrorist attack.
  • Effective range is more than three times greater than that of the 25mm Mk38 mod2/3
  • Warhead appears to be more effective than even the 5″ rounds.
  • Every round will likely be a hit.
  • Those hits will come very quickly.
  • It may be possible to accurately target specific vulnerable areas on the target.
  • They require only minimal training and maintenance compared to medium caliber guns.
  • If the target is within range, its only real disadvantage is the limited number of rounds.

While I have never seen it claimed official, I have seen reports that Hellfire can be used against slower aircraft such as helicopters and UAVs.

 These small missiles could allow our patrol vessels to hit like much bigger vessels.

30 mm Mk46 Gun Mission Module (GMM)

Gun Mission Module by Northrop Grumman

The “Gun Mission Module” (GMM) could be one way to arm the icebreakers relatively quickly when needed, while allowing the option of removing the weapons before going to Antarctica if desired.

Production of these units is quickly running its course, and if we want to use these on the icebreakers, it may be desirable to have our needs added to the production schedule before the production is shut down. The last two are expected to be delivered in FY2020.

How important this is will depend on the Coast Guard’s intentions and the alternatives.

Setting up the installations in the same format as found on the LCSs means improvements or alternative systems developed to LCS systems could be easily incorporated in the icebreakers as well.

On the other hand, the included 30mm Mk46 gun weapon system is not limited to the LCSs. It is or will be mounted on the three Zumwalt DDG-1000 class destroyers, 13 San Antonio (LPD-17) class, and probably 13 LX(R)/LPD-17 Flight II class still to be built, about 58 mounts in addition to the 20 planned for the LCSs.

It doesn’t look like it would be too difficult to remove or re-install just the gun mount (seen below) if that would meet our needs. It would of course require a dedicated space, permanent installation of supporting equipment, and a way to seal the opening for the mount long term when the mount is removed.

Although it is not as effective as the Mk46 mount, because of the smaller 25 mm gun currently used, the Mk38 Mod2/3 is also an alternative, and has the advantage of already being in the use with the Coast Guard. It is even more widely used, “As of 2016, 307 MK 38 MOD 2 systems have been delivered. There are 50 MK 38 MOD 3s on contract. The total POR (program of record–Chuck) is for 517 systems.”

Still the 25mm gun is markedly inferior to the 30mm in that its effective range is considerably less and the individual projectiles are far less potent. The Mk46 mount also has many more rounds on the mount compared to the Mk38 mod2/3. Upgrading the Mk38s to mount 30mm guns would address much of the current inferiority.

The inferiority of the Mk38 would also be much less of a concern if the Icebreaker had an additional, more powerful anti-surface weapon system, like the Hellfire Surface to Surface Missile Module or Anti-Surface Cruise Missiles. These might be useful if it is ever necessary to provide Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) in the Arctic or Antarctic.

Navy Awards FFG Conceptual Design Contracts for FFG(X)–Speculation on a NSC Derivative

The US Naval Institute has the best report I have seen on the recent award of five contracts to five different vendors for development of conceptual designs for the projected FFG (X).

I’ll look at the parent craft and offer some speculation about what Huntington Ingalls might be doing to make their NSC based offering more attractive.

There are five venders but actually only four shipyards involved since Fincantieri Marinette Marine in Marinette, Wisc. is both the primary for an offer based on the Fincantieri Italian FREMM, and the build yard for Lockheed’s offer of a Freedom class LCS design.

Parent Designs:

Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship:

USS Independence (LCS-2)

The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) derived designs are the light weights in the competition. They both come with large open spaces that might be converted, but as built, they have limited crew accommodations. They will likely take substantial redesign to serve as FFGs. This class has exceptional aviation facilities, and functionally I find it preferable to the monohull Freedom class. Still it seems to have a fatal flaw, in that many do not like the aluminum hull and superstructure, but the Navy has not ruled out the design.

Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship:

USS Freedom (LCS-1)

My primary problem with this class is its short range. Their engineering spaces are crowded and their seakeeping has been criticized. There is a good chance that their FFG(X) variant may have a lengthened hull. What that will mean for the ships’ range is unclear. This class, with its semi-planning hull, may not take kindly to the additional weight envisioned for the FFG.

Fincantieri Italian FREMM:

Italian FREMM Bergamini. photo by Fabius1975

These and the Navantia F-100 are the high end candidates. At about 6,700 tons full load the FREMM is about twice as large as the LCS derived designs. The FREMM comes in several versions, ASW, General Purpose, and AAW. Some of them have capabilities for land attack and Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense (ABMD). The Italian versions have an active electronically scanned array radar, but this would likely be replaced by an American system. They have a double helicopter hangar. While the Italian version has at most 16 VLS, the French version of the same ship, which do not have the 5″64 gun have up to 32 VLS cells. The latest versions have a 20 knot cruise on diesels. In addition they have two 3,000 HP electric motors which can provide very quiet slow cruise (my guess, about 15 knots). It also means they have substantial reserves of electrical power for future weapons like lasers and rail guns. Neither the French or Italian versions have more than eight anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) but the Italian ASCMs are bulkier than likely American counterparts. The speed has been variously reported as 27 and 30 knots, but given that they only have LM2500 gas turbine, 27 knots is probably a realistic expectation. Because these ships’ systems are European, they may require substantial redesign. If these ships have a weakness it is likely that their cost will likely be near the but still under the Navy’s declared upper limit of $950M.

Navantia Álvaro de Bazán-class F100 Frigate:

HMAS Hobart, photo by Nick-D

There are actually three versions of this ship, Spanish, Norwegian, and Australian. The Australian ships are the latest version, so I would assume the offering is based most closely on these. These ships already use primarily American equipment including the Aegis system and a 48 cell Mk41 VLS. At 6,250 tons full load, they approach the size of many countries’ destroyers, and, in fact, that is the way the Australians and Spanish classify them. This already looks like an American design. The propulsion is CODOG with two 7,580 HP diesels and two LM2500 gas turbines for a max speed of 28+ knots. As currently configured all three versions of the design have hangars for only one H-60. All three versions are also equipped with no more than eight ASCMs. The likely stumbling block for this class is cost. When the Hobart class was constructed in Australia the three ships cost total was $9.1 B Australian, so they cost more than Burke class DDGs. The cost of the last of five F100s built by the more experienced Spanish shipyard was probably more representative, but even there the cost was $1B US. The US shipyard offering this is Bath Iron Works, a yard known more for quality than for low cost. There is perhaps the option of building a version of the smaller 5,290 ton Norwegian version of this design which mounts only a 16 cell Mk41 VLS.

The Bertholf class National Security Cutter:

Interestingly the USNI post reports, “Out of the competitors involved in the competition, HII was the only company that did not present a model or a rendering of its FFG(X) at the Surface Navy Association symposium in January.”

HII has already shown several models of NSC based frigates so perhaps they are doing something a bit different.

I suppose it is possible HII could build a stripped down version of the Burke class DDG or perhaps some other frigate design, but I will presume they will base their frigate on the Bertholf class cutter, but why the mystery?

I will speculate that they plan to make some significant changes relative to their previous presentation and they did not want to tip their hand. I’ll get to the likely changes in a moment.

The post has a short summary of the systems expected to be included in the FFG(X), I have noted the systems already included on the Bertholf class by having them in bold face.

“Many of the required weapons systems are pulled from the previous FF requirements: the COMBATSS-21 Combat Management System, which pulls software from the same common source library as the Aegis Combat System on large surface combatants; the SeaRAM anti-ship missile defense system (currently a Phalanx, but the SeaRAM is a drop in replacement–Chuck); a canister-launched over-the-horizon missile; the surface-to-surface Longbow Hellfire missile; the Mk53 Nulka decoy launching system; the Surface Electron Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP) Block 2 program with SLQ-32(V)6; and a slew of undersea warfare tools such as the AN/SLQ-61 light weight tow, AN/SQS-62 variable depth sonar and AN/SQQ-89F undersea warfare/anti-submarine warfare combat system. It also requires use of the MK 110 57mm gun with the Advanced Low Cost Munition Ordnance (ALaMO) projectile being developed for the LCS and frigate,”

An NSC derived frigate may occupy the sweet spot between the too small LCS derived designs and the too expensive FREMM and F100 designs that are about the largest combatants (other than flat tops and amphibs) in their respective navies. .

In order to make it more competitive with the high end frigates, I suspect HII is making some changes. Here is a list of things that might be done.

  • Increase the length to make room for additional features, but keeping it under 5,000 tons full load.
  • Using the additional length provide for more VLS, perhaps 48, or even 64.
  • Provide for 16 canister launched anti-ship cruise missiles.
  • Increase the generator power to allow future use of systems such as rail guns and lasers.
  • Provide electric motors for quiet and economical cruise and loiter (which would also use the additional generator capacity. (HII put two 5,000HP/3,700kW auxiliary propulsion motors on USS America and some other big amphibs.)
  • Use an active electronically scanned radar array.
  • Use the extra length to put another davit amidships and free the fantail and stern for ASW systems.

How the Coast Guard and Navy Could Plan to Mobilize the Cutter Force in a Major Conflict

The Coast Guard has a rich military history, but we should recognize that, while we may be an “armed service,” we are not prepared for war.

We took the opportunity presented by the apparent end of the Cold War in the early ’90s to cut cost and overhead by removing recently installed  anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and Harpoon launching equipment from the 378s and eliminating entire Sonar Tech (ST) rating.

Unfortunately, the holiday from worrying about a possible major conflict is over. China is challenging us, and Russia is resurgent. While it appears the Coast Guard has planned to provide some resources to address contingencies, it also appear we have no real direction as to what the Coast Guard will do if we have a major conflict. Certainly the new major cutters, the NSCs and OPCs, could be turned into credible escort vessels, but it would take months and their crews would need to be trained.

The development of modular systems for the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) may provide a mechanism for rapidly upgrading our ships while Navy Reserves might provide the personnel and expertise to cut mobilization time from months to weeks.

The Navy currently has over 100,000 reservists, either Selected Reservists or Individual Ready Reservist, subject to recall. A number of them have expertise not resident in the Coast Guard, but useful upon mobilization. At one time these reservists might have gone to man Navy reserve frigates, but there are currently no navy combatants in reserve. As the number of LCSs increase the number of reservists with experience operating and maintaining the mission modules will increase. In addition all LCSs have two complete crews, so in wartime when they will presumably stop rotating crews, they will have an excess of active duty crews training in the mission module systems.

The primary mission modules planned for the LCSs are Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Anti-Surface Warfare (SuW), and Mine Counter-Measures (MCM). It would not take much to make cutters capable of accepting all or parts of these mission modules, perhaps an OPC “B” class and during overhauls.

There is a very real possibility of inter-service synergy here.

A mission package of equipment, aircraft, sensors, and personnel could be loaded aboard for exercises, providing training for both the Navy and Coast Guard personnel.

The acoustic sensors from the ASW module might be deployed on a cutter bound for a drug interdiction mission in the Eastern Pacific, to help locate drug running semi-submersibles or if they are out there, submarines.

There are very few Navy mine counter measures assets in the US and those we have are not spread out geographically. If there were to be a peacetime mining incident in US waters, it might be possible to airlift an MCM module to the nearest cutter to allow the problem to be dealt with more quickly.

How much would it cost to weaponize a cutter?

Photo: Sigma 10514 in Mexican Navy configuration, fitted with a BAE Systems Bofors 57Mk3 57mm main guna 12.7mm remote weapon system right behind it. The Mexican Navy opted for the Smart Mk2 radar by Thales. The Mexican “Long Range Patrol Vessel” will not be fitted with VLS cells but a Raytheon RAM launcher will be fitted on top of the helicopter hangar.

How much would it cost to turn one of our new construction cutters into a minimally capable frigate with at least some capability for anti-submarine, anti-surface, and self defense anti-air warfare?

I don’t have a definitive answer but we did get a good indication along with more information about Mexico’s new long range patrol vessel, a Damen 10514 design, that is close enough to our own Offshore Patrol Cutter requirements, that I thought it might have been an OPC contender.

Earlier we had an indication regarding the addition of VLS and  Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSM) when Chile ordered $140.1M worth of equipment to arm three ships. Plus we had an earlier post based on a 2009 Congressional Budget Office study (apparently no longer available on line) that suggested costs to replace the Phalanx on NSCs with SeaRAM and to add 12 Mk56 VLS and associated equipment, which could have provided up to 24 ESSM.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency has issued a news release concerning the sale of weapons for the new Mexican patrol vessel, and the shopping list is a pretty extensive, including anti-surface, anti-air, and anti-submarine weapons.

Mexico –Harpoon Block II Missiles, RAM Missiles and MK 54 Torpedoes

Media/Public Contact: pm-cpa@state.gov
Transmittal No: 17-63

­­­WASHINGTON, Jan. 5, 2018 – The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to Mexico of RGM-84L Harpoon Block II surface launched missiles, Block II Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) tactical missiles and MK 54 Mod 0 lightweight torpedoes for an estimated cost of $98.4 million.  The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale today.

The Government of Mexico has requested to buy six (6) RGM-84L Harpoon Block II surface launched missiles, twenty-three (23) Block II Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) tactical missiles and six (6) MK 54 Mod 0 lightweight torpedoes.  Also included are eight (8) MK 825 Mod 0 RAM Guided Missile Round Packs (GMRP) tri-pack shipping and storage containers; RAM Block 2 MK 44 Mod 4 Guided Missile Round Pack (GMRP); two (2) MK 32 Surface Vessel Torpedo Tubes (SVTT) triple tube launchers; two hundred and fifty (250) rounds of AA98 25 mm high explosive and semi-armor piercing ammunition; seven hundred and fifty (750) rounds A976 25mm target practice and tracer ammunition; four hundred and eighty (480) rounds of BA22 57mm high explosive programmable fuze ammunition; nine hundred and sixty (960) rounds of BA23 57mm practice ammunition; containers; spare and repair parts; support and test equipment; publications and technical documentation; personnel training and training equipment; U.S. Government and contractor representatives’ technical assistance; engineering and logistics support services; installation services; associated electronics and hardware to control the launch of torpedoes; and other related elements of logistics and program support.  The estimated cost is $98.4 million.

This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a strategic partner.  Mexico has been a strong partner in combating organized crime and drug trafficking organizations.  The sale of these ship-based systems to Mexico will significantly increase and strengthen its maritime capabilities.  Mexico intends to use these defense articles and services to modernize its armed forces and expand its existing naval and maritime support of national security requirements and in its efforts to combat criminal organizations.

Mexico intends to use the weapon systems on its Mexican Navy Sigma 10514 Class ship.  The systems will provide enhanced capabilities in effective defense of critical sea lanes.  The proposed sale of these systems and support will increase the Mexican Navy’s maritime partnership potential and align its capabilities with existing regional navies.  Mexico has not purchased these systems previously.  Mexico will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces.

The proposed sale of this equipment will not alter the basic military balance in the region.

The equipment will be provided from U.S. stocks.  There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale.

Implementation of this proposed sale will require annual trips to Mexico involving U.S. Government personnel and contractor representatives for technical reviews, support, and oversight for approximately two years.

There will be no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale.

This notice of a potential sale is required by law and does not mean the sale has been concluded.

All questions regarding this proposed Foreign Military Sale should be directed to the State Department’s Bureau of Political Military Affairs, Office of Congressional and Public Affairs, pm-cpa@state.gov.

The big ticket items certainly made the head lines, but the ammunition for the 57mm is not cheap.

Fortunately for the Coast Guard, the Navy generally pays for our ammunition and weapon systems. The cost to the Coast Guard is installation and integration, plus primarily long term personnel and training costs.

The Rockets’ Red Glare–the Improv Guided Missile Cruiser

Israel Aerospace Industries IAI successfully test ship launch of LORA artillery missile

TheDrive reports that IAI (Israel Aerospace Industries) has successfully tested a long ranged (400 km/216 nautical miles) ballistic artillery missile launched from a container ship.

The missile is called LORA. LORA is a quasi-ballistic missile, meaning, it “has a low trajectory and/or is largely ballistic but can perform maneuvers in flight or make unexpected changes in direction and range.” It is advertised to both Armies and Navies and now has a man in the loop capability against moving targets (like ships). It is comparable to the US Army and Marine Corps’ ATACMS which has been upgraded to use against naval targets and is expected to be replaced by DeepStrike. Deepstrike will have greater range than 160km/86 nmile ATACMS (nearer the treaty limit for such weapons, or about 269 nautical miles) and will require only half the space of ATACMS, permitting four ready missiles on the M270 MLRS and two on the HIMARS launch vehicles.

There is already an indication that the next RIMPAC exercise will include an ATACMS launched from a ship against a ship.

Missiles with similar capabilities, at least against fixed targets, are available to, and in some cases for sale by, Russia, China, Iran, Syria, N. Korea, India, Pakistan, and Hezbollah. Rebels in Yemen have been using ballistic missiles against Saudi Arabia.

Like most military developments these tactical ballistic missiles may be a blessing or a curse.

  1. They might be used in a terrorist attack against the US, a potential new threat.
  2. If we could call on Marine or Army units equipped with these missiles, they might be used to thwart a terrorist attack.
  3. Coast Guard cutters might take them aboard as temporary, improvised. weapons or they might even be permanently installed in wartime.
  4. It could give the Coast Guard the capability to deal with peacetime terrorist threats in the form of medium to large ships that I had hoped we could provide by using LRASM.

They might be used in a terrorist attack against the US: 

Cruise missiles have already fallen into the hands of terrorist. We have seen them used against ships off Lebanon and Yemen. Use of ballistic artillery missiles from ships to land targets would not be much of a stretch. These small ballistic missile are not that different from cruise missiles in their support requirements. The LORA is claimed to require no maintenance for at least five years. Both cruise and ballistic missiles are now commonly truck mounted.

The US has basically no defense against cruise missile attack, and what little defense there is against ballistic missiles is targeted against ICBMs, not these shorter range missiles with their depressed trajectories and short time of flight.

If we could call on Marine or Army units equipped with these missiles, they might be used to thwart a terrorist attack:

Earlier we talked about the difficulties the Coast Guard would have dealing with any terrorist attack that might use a medium to large vessel as the attacking vehicle (here, here, here, and here) .

These weapons might provide a partial solution. At least some of the Army and Marine units armed with these missiles will spend time State-side.

With proper planning, equipment, training, and exercises we might be able to exploit the proximity of some of these units to provide a credible anti-ship capability.

A significant contributor to making this or other forms of cooperation with other military services possible would be to equip Coast Guard surface and air units with laser designators so we can make sure they pick out the right target.

Coast Guard cutters might take them aboard as temporary, extemporised weapons or they might even be permanently installed in wartime:

The option of loading Army or Marine Artillery rocket launchers on ships, including perhaps cutters and icebreakers may provide a quick upgrade.

During war-time, loading these rocket launchers on cutters, perhaps placing them on the flight deck, might be a way to provide more Naval Surface Fire Support or an anti-ship capability.

These tactical ballistic missiles might be particularly effective against the Russian or Chinese Navies that have had decades of effort developing countermeasures against sub-sonic, low altitude anti-ship missiles like the Harpoon, but have never had to deal with ballistic missiles.

If we find ourselves at war, adding several launchers to the flight-deck, might allow cutters to become dedicated Naval Surface Fire Support vessels (with an equally effective anti-ship capability).

Photo: LSM(R)-197 firing rockets at Okinawa, 1945.

It could give the Coast Guard the capability to deal with peacetime terrorist threats in the form of medium to large ships that I had hoped we could provide by using LRASM:

Photo: LORA missile launcher, 14 Sept. 2008, Hebrew Wikipedia, by Tal Inbar (טל ענבר)

Earlier I suggested that equipping our larger cutters with the LRASM missile might provide a means to deal with a medium to large vessel being used by terrorist. While the range and claimed precision of LRASM make it a good choice, the Deepstrike missile may be an alternative, assuming it also receives the ability to hit moving targets. While it isn’t clear that it is going to be accurate enough to target a ship’s propulsion, a penetrating warhead that comes in almost vertically, penetrates the ship from top, goes through the bottom and explodes below hull could be effective. The shorter time of flight of the ballistic missile would also be an advantage.

Another bit of extemporaneous weaponry was seen recently on an Egyptian LPD. These ships had been ordered by Russia from a French shipbuilder. Ultimately the French were convinced that building ships for Russia was not a good idea. Instead the two ships were sold to Egypt, but they never received the self-defense systems that would have come from Russia. NavyRecognition reports the vessel was seen with four Boeing AN/TWQ-1 Avenger short-range air-defense vehicles secured on deck as a stop-gap AAW system.

Boeing AN/TWQ-1 Avenger (fitted with Raytheon FIM-92 Stinger missiles) on the flight deck of the Mistral-class LHD Anwar El-Sadat (L 1020) during the joint French-Egyptian naval exercise “Cleopatra 2017”. Picture: Ministry of Defense of Egypt

India’s OPV mounted ballistic missiles. Really a test rather than an expediency but below you can see that the Indians have launched fairly large ballistic missiles from an Offshore Patrol Vessel.

Dhanush missile launching from INS Subhadra offshore patrol vessel
(Picture: DRDO)