Ballistic Protection for .50 Caliber Gun Crews

The video above is titled as a Mk38 Mod3 Live Fire, but I would like to point out the ballistic protection that is provided the .50 cal. gun crew. The .50 gun shoot starts at time 1:10 and you get a good view of the ballistic protection beginning at time 1:37.

Yes, this is a pet peeve of mine. I have posted about ballistic protection before, here, here, here. and here.

As yet I have seen no ballistic protection for Coast Guard gun crews other than small shields attached to the mounts that provide no protection for the lower body and only very limited coverage for the gun crew (as in the photo below). Clearly suitable protection is available.

Having a gun crew standing out on deck using deadly force without providing easily available protection is not just dangerous to the gun crew, in some cases it may endanger the mission, if the gun crew is disabled.

Air-cooled 0.50″ (12.7 mm) Browning Machine Gun. Picture taken aboard USS Fife DD-991 on 4 July 2002. US Navy Photograph No. 020704-N-0156B-002.

RE: 25mm Mk38 Mod3, I see there was a contract issued recently for more of these systems, for the USN and the Philippines, so DOD certainly has not moved on to a 30mm Mk38 Mod4 yet. (Late addition, see my comment below.)

Below is the written material that accompanied the video.

CARAT Indonesia 2018: GUNEX (B-Roll)

B-Roll of a live-fire exercise conducted with the Indonesian Navy during Cooperation And Readiness Afloat Training (CARAT) 2018. CARAT Indonesia, in its 24th iteration, is designed to enhance information sharing and coordination, build mutual warfighting capability and support long-term regional cooperation enabling both partner armed forces to operate effectively together as a unified maritime force.

INDONESIA, 08.13.2018, Video by Senior Airman Dhruv Gopinath ••♦♦

The Mk 38 MGS is a low cost, stabilized self-defense weapon system that dramatically improves ships’ self-defense capabilities in all weather conditions, day or night. Installed aboard 14 different classes of U.S. Navy ships and U.S. Coast Guard cutters, it is used extensively by the U.S. military as well as by NATO forces.

A major upgrade to the Mod 3 is the system’s advanced electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor which provides 330-degree surveillance capability and three fields of view. The superior optics allow sailors to monitor the seas and respond to threats even in extremely low light conditions with the benefits of a low contrast, low light level color day camera and an eye-safe laser range finder.

While the EO/IR sensor system is integrated with the Mod 3’s state-of-the-art fire control system, the Mk 38 Mod 3 is unique from other naval weapons because its surveillance system moves separately from the gun system, preventing adversaries from easily knowing they have been detected.

The Mk 38 Mod 3 also provides a range of 2.5 kilometers and selectable rates of fire from single to 180 rounds per minute, and fires all U.S. Navy-approved 25mm ammunition. It can be remotely operated from the combat information center or other protected ship structures, allowing operators to remain safe and out of harm’s way.

“Republic Of Singapore Navy Stands Up New Maritime Security And Response Flotilla” –Naval News

Note the graphic may be distorted here, click on it for a better view. 

Naval News reports that the Singapore Navy has formed a new “Maritime Security and Response Flotilla.”

“As part of the restructured Maritime Security Command, the new MRSF is set up to better trackle evolving maritime threats that have grown in scale and complexity, particularly in the Singapore strait area. According to a recent French Navy report on worldwide maritime piracy and robbery, robbery is on the rise in South East Asia, particularly in the Straits of Singapore and Malacca.”

Aside from a pair of tugs, the primary assets of the new flotilla are four renovated and renamed Fearless Class patrol craft that will fill the function until a new class is completed (expected in 2026).

Perhaps most interesting, are the changes made to the vessels for their new role. These include enhanced communications equipment, a long range acoustic device and laser dazzler system, installation of a fender system, and modular ballistics protection–and a red racing stripe.

The Fearless Class patrol craft: Twelve vessels commissioned 1996-98. All out of service by the end of 2020, replaced by eight Littoral Missions Ships.

  • Displacement: 500 tons fl
  • Length: 55 m (180 ft)
  • Beam: 8.6 m (28.2 ft)
  • Draft: 2.2 m (7.2 ft)
  • Speed: 36 knots
  • Propulsion: 16,860 HP, two KaMeWa waterjets
  • Range 1,800@15 knots

Singapore also has a Police Coast Guard as part of its Police Force with patrol craft of up to 35 meters in length.

Protecting the Gunner, Protects the Ship, Protects the Mission

COLONIA, Yap (July 3, 2019) Mark VI patrol boats, assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron (CRS) 2, Coastal Riverine Group 1, Det. Guam, arrive to Colonia, Yap. CRG 1, Det. Guam’s visit to Yap, and engagement with the People of Federated States of Micronesia underscores the U.S. Navy’s commitment to partners in the region. The Mark VI patrol boat is an integral part of the expeditionary forces support to 7th Fleet, capability of supporting myriad of missions throughout the Indo-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jasen Moreno-Garcia/Released)

OK, This is a pet peeve of mine, but to me, not providing ballistic protection to the crews of deck mounted .50 calibers, that we make a target by putting them on exposed crew served mounts, is irresponsible and frankly, lazy and unconscionable. It is just not that hard.

We have talked about this before, here, and here.

If you look at the photo above, you will see simple flat plates outboard of the .50 caliber mounts. Now look at the photo below (you might need to click on the photo to enlarge it). There is no comparable protection. This does not have to be heavy if you think that might be a problem. Kevlar reinforced plastic can provide protection against machinegun fire.

The Coast Guard Cutter Lawrence Lawson crew mans the rail during sea trials off the coast of Miami, Florida, on Dec. 12, 2016.  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Eric D. Woodall)

There is talk of escorting merchant ships through the Straits of Hormuz. I don’t know if our WPBs there have any form of ballistic protection, but the pictures I have seen in the past showed no such protection.

This is about more than simply protecting the gunner. The gunner protects the ship; the ship is needed for the mission. Take out the gunner, the ship is vulnerable. If the ship is vulnerable, it may not be able to complete the mission.


New Light Weight Armor–Army Times

The spheres inside the composite metal foam absorb the energy of a bullet. (North Carolina State University)

Army Times has a story about a new form of armor that might be use to provided repeated protection against small arms and fragments.

A 7.62mm rifle round will go through 3 inches of steel, so a catcher material is put behind the steel, he said. (This is probably incorrect. Probably should have been 0.3 inches–Chuck)

“When the bullet hits the ceramic, it stops and absorbs the energy,” Portanova said. “The problem is you can only shoot it once because then it’s cracked.”

Composite metal foam, however, has a bunch of hollow spheres inside. When struck with a bullet, the spheres are crushed, similar to bubble wrap.

Because of its resilience, you can hit it numerous times,  Portanova said.

Researchers at the directorate have helped make the material lighter and also stop bigger threats.

“It would only be slightly more expensive and will weight half or one-third of what they’re hanging on the side of a Humvee.”