Mexico Naval Upgrades–Eight MH-60R

Navy photo. MH-60R “Knighthawk” helicopters conducts an airborne low frequency sonar (ALFS) operation during testing and evaluation

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency has released the following notice of approval for the sale of eight MH-60R ASW helicopters with associated equipment and weapons for the Mexican Navy valued at $1.2B.

Media/Public Contact:
pm-cpa@state.gov
Transmittal No:
18-06

­­­WASHINGTON, Apr. 19, 2018 – The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to Mexico of MH-60R Multi-Mission Helicopters for an estimated cost of $1.20 billion.  The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on April 18, 2018.

The Government of Mexico has requested to buy eight (8) MH-60R Multi-Mission Helicopters, equipped with:  twenty (20) T-700 GE 401 C engines (16 installed and 4 spares); sixteen (16) APS-153(V) Multi-Mode radars (8 installed, 8 spares); ten (10) Airborne Low Frequency Systems (ALFS) (8 installed and 2 spares); fourteen (14) AN/APX-123 Identification Friend or Foe transponders (8 installed and 6 spares); twelve (12) AN/AAS-44C Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems Forward Looking Infrared Systems (8 installed, 4 spares); twenty (20) Embedded Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation Systems (EGI) with Selective Availability/Anti-Spoofing Module (16 installed and 4 spares); thirty (30) AN/AVS-9 Night Vision Devices; one thousand (1,000) AN/SSQ-36/53/62 Sonobuoys; ten (10) AGM-114 Hellfire missiles; five (5) AGM-114 M36-E9 Captive Air Training missiles; four (4) AGM-114Q Hellfire training missiles; thirty eight (38) Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System (APKWS) II rockets; thirty (30) Mk -54 Lightweight Hybrid Torpedoes (LHTs); twelve (12) M-240D machine guns; twelve (12) GAU-21 Machine Guns (an improved .50 cal. evolved from the M2–Chuck).  Also included are twelve (12) AN/ARC-220 High Frequency radios; spare engine containers; facilities study, design, and construction; spare and repair parts; support and test equipment; communication equipment; ferry support; publications and technical documentation; personnel training and training equipment; U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics support services; and other related elements of logistical and program support.  The total estimated value is $1.20 billion.

This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a strategic regional partner.  Mexico has been a strong partner in combating organized crime and drug trafficking organizations.  The sale of these aircraft 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.

The proposed sale will improve Mexico’s ability to meet current and future threats from enemy weapon systems.  The MH-60R Multi-Mission Helicopter will enable Mexico to perform anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare missions and secondary missions including vertical replenishment, search and rescue, and communications relay.  Mexico will use the enhanced capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defense.  Mexico will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces.

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

The principal contractor will be Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems in Owego, New York.  There are no known offset agreements in connection with this potential sale.

Implementation of this proposed sale will require the assignment of additional U.S. Government and/or contractor representatives to Mexico.

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.

“Rewrite the Playbook on Maritime Homeland Defense”–USNI Proceedings

Navy photo. MH-60R “Knighthawk” helicopters conducts an airborne low frequency sonar (ALFS) operation during testing and evaluation

The March, 2018 issue of the US Naval Institute Proceedings has an article by Commanders Timothy Kerze and Dana Brooke Reid, USCG, that advocates reinstating the Coast Guard’s ASW mission.

Specifically they suggest that the ten National Security Cutters (NSC) and 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) be equipped and configured to operate the MH-60R in the ASW role. They contend that all 35 ships in the program of record could be so equipped for $122.5M, far less than the cost of a single Navy frigate.

They also refer briefly to the possibility of adding a sonar. I feel adding a long range detection capability would be a necessity. The ASW helicopters would be much more useful if the cutters could provide an around the clock cueing. Even adding this capability, perhaps in the form of LCS ASW module components to be manned by Navy Reservists when the need arises, would still likely keep the total cost of the program less than that of a single FFG, now expected to cost $800M.

As for employment, surface ships patrolling for submarines has never been very effective. Escorting other ships has always been the most effective tactic for countering submarines, because it draws the submarines to the escorts and because the subs must frequently abandon their most stealthy mode of operation to make an attack. ASW equipped cutters could be assigned to escort duties in areas away from the enemy’s air and surface threats.

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.

Narcosubmarines: Nexus of Terrorism and Drug Trafficking?–CIMSEC


There is decent post on CIMSEC looking at the possibility of terrorists using the vehicles developed by drug smugglers to carry out an attack. The author also does a pretty good job of explaining why smugglers might be unlikely to cooperate. There is also a worthwhile bibliography associated with the post that appears to have been an academic treatise.

Acoustic Systems from Our Canadian Friends

TRAPS containerized active/passive towed array from GeoSpectrum Technologies.

We talked about the possibility of using TRAPS earlier. I had an email discussion with a GeoSpectrum Technologies representative, Geoff Lebans. He tells me the Canadian Navy will test TRAPS from a Kingston class ship in March. 

The Kingston class are a little smaller and slower than the 210 foot WMECs, but they have regularly assisted the Coast Guard in drug interdiction.

Would love to see how effective this system might be in detecting semi-submersibles.

The Coast Guard has expressed an interest in having unmanned systems providing networked sensors and GeoSpectrum makes a much smaller towed acoustic directional sensor that they believe would work with the Liquid Robotics™ Wave Glider™ and other small autonomous vehicles. Frankly, I could see the drug cartels putting a bounty on recovery of unmanned surface vessels and their sensors. Still the Navy might also be interested in this sort of network for ASW and they could probably fund the program out of loose change they might find in the sofa. Forth Fleet would probably more than happy to test it in the Eastern Pacific and cutters could probably deploy them.

Hopefully the Canadians will send their TARPS equipped ship down to the Eastern Pacific transit zones. If they do not, it might make a good Coast Guard R&D project to mount one on the back of a WMEC and use it to help define competitive contract requirements.

An acoustic system like this should be good for detection of something like a semi-submersible out to at least the first convergence zone, well beyond the visual and radar horizon. Mounted in a container they could be placed on WMECs bound for the Eastern Pacific and then transferred to the OPCs as they replace the MECs.

 

HMCS Nanaimo, a Royal Canadian Navy maritime coastal defense vessel operating in support of Operation Martillo