A Modest Proposal for a Containerized Weapon System

Leonardo DRS has been chosen to provide the mission equipment package (rendering pictured) atop a Stryker combat vehicle to serve as the Interim Maneuver-Short-Range Air Defense system for the U.S. Army. (Courtesy of Leonardo DRS)

     After the recent report of Russia containerizing anti-air missile systems I got to thinking about containerized systems the Coast Guard might use. There are many systems that might be containerized–sonars, torpedo countermeasures, cruise missiles, drones, 120mm mortars, medical facilities, but there is one combination I found particularly appealing.
     We could tie into the Army’s attempt to develop a new short range air defense system (SHORAD) by mounting a marinized version of the SHORAD turret on a container.  The systems are meant to fire on the move, so they should be able to deal with ship’s movement. The container might be armored to some extent to protect it from splinters and small arms. The container could be equipped to provide power (external connection, generator, and battery), air conditioning, air filtration, etc as the supporting vehicle would have in the Army system.  It looks like the planned interim SHORAD system will include Stinger, Hellfire, an M230 30mm gun and a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun. If we could mount some additional vertical launch Hellfire in the container, so much the better.
     For the Coast Guard these might be used on icebreakers and buoy tenders when they go into contested areas. They might be mounted on the stern of FRCs in lieu of the over the horizon boat using an adapter over the stern ramp, when additional firepower is required. 
     The Army and Marines might also use these containerized systems as prefab base defense systems. As fixed ground defenses, the containers might be buried leaving only the turret above ground level.
     They could also be used on Military Sealift Command and Merchant ships to provide a degree of self defense.

“Russian navy to receive container air defence system” –Navy Recognition

The Pantsir- M presented at Army 2017

NavyRecognition is reporting that the Russians are planning to package air defense systems in standard containers.

Specifically they refer to possible use on the project 20386 corvettes and project 22160 patrol ships. One of the two systems discussed is a missile and gun “Close In Weapon System” (CIWS) but the other system is a much longer ranged system.

This is a significant departure from the container packaged cruise missile systems we have heard about before.

The Pantsir-M CIWS (photo above) would also be effective against surface targets, at close range. In addition to the two 30mm gatling guns, the missiles may also have an anti-surface capability.

In time of war, we might see these, or something similar, on naval auxiliaries or even merchant ships as well as the naval vessels mentioned above. Encountering them on a terrorist controlled vessel is far less likely, but not impossible.

The other way to look at this is, could we do something similar, to make it easy for our icebreakers or perhaps other ships, to go from armed, to unarmed, and back again relatively easily?

China Developing Containerized Cruise Missile Launchers

Above: Marketing video for comparable Russian system

The Washington Free Beacon is reporting that China is developing containerized cruise missiles launch systems for a land attack version of its 290 mile range YJ-18 anti-ship cruise missile which is a reverse engineered version of the Russian Klub-K cruise missile.

“China is building a long-range cruise missile fired from a shipping container that could turn Beijing’s large fleet of freighters into potential warships and commercial ports into future missile bases.”


“China operates or is building deep water ports in several strategic locations, including Bahamas, Panama, and Jamaica that could be used covertly to deploy ships carrying the YJ-18C.”

The Washington Free Beason may not be the gold standard in reporting, but I would have been surprised if the Chinese were not developing such systems. The Russians have been marketing such systems for about a decade. The Israelis have launched semi-ballistic missiles from a merchant ship and are marketing such a system.

In China, every enterprise is ultimately an arm of the State, ready to do the States bidding. We have seen their fishing fleet serve as a naval militia, it is likely their merchant marine would also serve military purposes beyond simply carrying cargo. In fact they have announced that that is their intent.

 

Webber class Could be the Navy’s Light Duty Pickup Truck

Coast Guard Cutter John F. McCormick (WPC 1121) crew transits through the San Francisco Bay, Saturday, March 4, 2017, during their voyage to homeport in Ketchikan, Alaska.  Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Loumania Stewart

In 2012 the US Naval Institute published an important article by then CNO Admiral Johnathan Greenert, “Payloads over platforms: Charting a new course.” It starts off, 
“We need to move from ‘luxury-car’ platforms—with their built-in capabilities—toward dependable ‘trucks’ that can handle a changing payload selection. “
He suggested that the Navy needs F150 pickups rather than Ferraris. Metaphorically the Webber class could be the Navy’s small Toyota pickup–cheap, reliable, versatile, and economical to operate. 
A strong point for the Webber class is that it is probably the smallest and cheapest combatant, being currently manufactured, that can self deploy anywhere in the world (other than the polar regions) with minimal support en route as demonstrated by their self deployment to Hawaii and Alaska and USCGC Olivier F. Berry (WPC-1124)’s successful patrol to the Marshall Islands, 2200 miles from her homeport in Honolulu.
As currently equipped there is not a lot of free space apparent on the Webber class, but removing the eight meter “over the horizon boat” would free up a large area where mission modules could be placed. We can think of it as the bed of the pickup.


180201-N-TB177-0211
U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS (Feb. 1, 2018) Island-class patrol boats USCGC Wrangell (WPB 1332), left, USCGC Aquidneck (WPB 1309), middle, and coastal patrol ship USS Firebolt (PC 10) patrol the open seas. Wrangell, Aquidneck and Firebolt are forward deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin J. Steinberg/Released)

Potential Missions
 
Countering the Swarm: 
 
The Navy’s most likely first use of a Webber class could be as replacements for the Cyclone class in South West Asia. Countering the large number of Iranian fast inshore attack craft (FIAC) is a mission the Cyclone class is expected to do now, protecting both larger Navy vessels and the tanker traffic that must pass through the Straits of Hormuz. 

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)

An earlier post, “Modifying Webber Class Cutters for Duty in SW Asia,” was aimed at this threat as applied to the Coast Guard Webber class that will be going to Southwest Asia. As a minimum the Navy will likely want some form of guided weapon, Perhaps the APKWS would suffice, if provided in sufficient numbers.

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

The 25mm Mk38 Mod2/3 that are currently mounted on the Webber class might be up-gunned (30, 35, and 40mm guns are all possible) and the mount might also be modified to also launch APKWS. Alternately the Mk38 might be replaced by BAE’s 40mm/70 MK4 and the Toplite gun director c(urrently mounted on the Mk38) could be mounted on the mast to control the 40mm, as the Israelis have done with some of their installations of the system, assuming the 40mm Mk 4 does not weigh too much.  

BAE Bofors 40mm/70 mk4

Optimally, the outfit should include Longbow Hellfire. It could probably be mounted as single tube launchers affixed along the sides of the superstructure. I have seen a mockup of such a launcher. The missile itself is only about seven inches in diameter. If willing to replace the boat with missiles, its likely Lockheed could produce a 12 round launcher based on half the launcher being installed on the LCS. 

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)

Anti-Ship: 
In other theaters there is likely a desire to have a larger anti-ship missile. 
The Navy has been talking a great deal about “Distributed Lethality.” The concept has its origin in a January 2015 US Naval Institute article by then-Director of Surface Warfare Requirements (OPNAV N96) Rear Admiral Tom Rowden, RAdm. Peter Gumataotao, and RAdm. Peter Fanta. 
 
Rowden’s co-author and successor at N96, Rear Admiral Pete Fanta, continued the drum beat with the memorable phrase, “if it floats, it fights,” suggesting that anti-ship missiles should be put on virtually all units. 
On the Webber class, this would most likely the Naval Strike Missile (NSM), recently chosen by the Navy to arm its LCSs and frigates. A four cell launcher could probably replace the boat. The missile is only 13 feet long. 

A Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) is launched from the U.S. Navy littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS-4) during missile testing operations off the coast of Southern California (USA). The missile scored a direct hit on a mobile ship target. 23 September 2014.
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zachary D. Bell

Missile Truck
The Army and Marines have tracked and truck mounted missile launchers. 
 
A new missile, “Deepstrike,” is being developed for these launchers. “The missile will be able to strike targets up to 309 miles away with precision, including moving targets both on land at sea.” (see also)
 
A Webber class equipped with these could function in the same way as the Army and Marine vehicles operating in the littorals and many river systems. Targeting would be provided by offboard sensors through networking. 
Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)
This is probably unlikely, but there might be a place for craft that could perform ASW patrols off ports and amphibious objective areas or around choke points. 
The Canadians have a small containerized towed array sensor that looks like it would fit.

TRAPS containerized active/passive towed array from GeoSpectrum Technologies.

 I have looked at how we might add torpedo tubes to the Webber class that could launch ASW torpedoes, but it is more likely aircraft, most likely helicopters, would be called in to make the actual attack. The ship would be primarily a sensor node, minimizing the requirement to keep ASW Helicopters airborne.
120mm Mortar for Naval Surface Fire Support:
Another truck like use would be to add this containerized large mortar as a way to provide naval fire support. This weapon is not currently in the US inventory but it does look promising. Guided projectiles are being developed for the 120 mm mortar.
Security for MSC’s PrePositioned Afloat Fleet

I am not sure what precautions the Navy has made to protect the ships of the MSC’s PrePositioned Afloat Fleet, but if I were an enemy there are might be strong incentive to destroy these ships that transport the most ready reinforcements of heavy equipment.

Webber class PCs might have a role in protecting these.

 Large Unmanned Surface Vessel. 

The Navy is seeking to procure a medium unmanned surface vessel (MUSV), 12 to 50 meters in length. The Webber class might be the basis for such a vessel. The modular systems described above might also be used on the MUSV. 

Visit, Search, Board, and Seizure: 

This is the mission these little ships are built for and, consequently, no change may be necessary. The mission might be stopping and boarding hundreds of small craft as was done off Vietnam as part of Operation Market Time, or it might be enforcing a blockade against Chinese shipping at the Straits providing access to the South China Sea. If resistance is expected there are a number of ways the vessels’ armament could be augmented, including missiles or torpedoes, but in most cases its likely air or backup could be called in. The real advantage is that the Navy would not need to tie down DDGs doing this work, and potentially risk it being damaged by improvised weapons on a vessel being boarded. For more challenging assignments two or three could be teamed with one or two providing boats and boarding teams and the other as a weapons carrier.

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.

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)