Capacity Building in North Africa

Photo: Maritime Enforcement Specialist 2nd Class Joe Kelly, a U.S. Coast Guardsman, demonstrates tactical combat casualty care during a training session at Phoenix Express on March 26, 2019.
ARIF PATANI/U.S. NAVY

Stars and Stripes reports on Exercise Phoenix Express 2019 and apparently the Coast Guard was there. It makes sense because this, like Exercise Obangame Express, was a law enforcement capacity building exercise sponsored by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). I have reproduced a Navy news release below.

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CASABLANCA, Morocco (NNS) — Exercise Phoenix Express 2019, sponsored by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet (CNE-CNA/C6F), concluded with a closing ceremony held at the Royal Moroccan Naval Simulation and Training Center, April 6.

Phoenix Express is designed to improve regional cooperation, increase maritime domain awareness, information-sharing practices, and operational capabilities in order to enhance efforts to promote safety and security in the Mediterranean Sea.

The complexity of today’s security environment and the interconnectedness of a global economy demand that we operate together to deter maritime threats,” said Rear Adm. Matthew Zirkle, Chief of Staff, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet. “An effective global security strategy therefore must be collaborative in order to disrupt the flow of illicit trafficking and prevent the spread of violent extremism.”

This year’s exercise control group was hosted at the Royal Moroccan Naval Simulation and Training Center located in Casablanca, Morocco with training taking place throughout the Mediterranean Sea, to include territorial waters off the coast of northern African nations.

The at-sea portion of the exercise tested North African, European, and U.S. maritime forces abilities to respond to irregular migration and combat illicit trafficking. Additionally, forces participated in a port exercise (PORTEX), which incorporated Moroccan law enforcement into the scenario.

“Exercises like Phoenix Express are about working together to combat threats at-sea that impact safety and security ashore,” said Capt. Matthew Hawkins, U.S. exercise lead for Phoenix Express. “Our modern challenges are far too complex for any one nation to resolve and it is my hope that the scenarios practiced here and the addition of new training like the PORTEX are value added for all participants.”

“Many years after it started Phoenix Express has proven that regional cooperation is the best way to face maritime threats and issues,” said Royal Moroccan Navy Inspector General, Rear Admiral Mostapha El Alami. “AFRICOM and Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF) have spent a lot of time, effort, and energy to bring together most of the maritime states in the Mediterranean basin in order to enhance military cooperation between them and allow them to work as one team.”

“Exercise Phoenix Express is the most enduring event of all the Express-series exercises. It incorporates complex scenarios, which evolve year over year just as the maritime threats we all face continue to evolve,” said Zirkle. “It is my sincere hope that your navies were enriched by this immensely valuable opportunity to operate together.”

Nations who participated in Phoenix Express 2019 included Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Netherlands, Spain, Tunisia, United Kingdom and the United States.

Phoenix Express, sponsored by AFRICOM and facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet, is designed to improve regional cooperation, increase maritime domain awareness information-sharing practices, and operational capabilities to enhance efforts to achieve safety and security in the Mediterranean Sea.

 

 

The 87 foot WPB Replacement, an Addendum

The discussion on earlier posts, “The 87 Foot WPB Replacement –Response Boat, Large –Interceptor” and “57mm ALaMO Round” has prompted some additional thoughts that seem to require more than a comment, mostly regarding the 57mm Mk110 and its new ALaMO guided projectile.

I also had intended to mention the fact that, if the WPB replacement included provision for stern launch of an 8 meter over-the-horizon boat, as was done with the Webber class FRC, then any mission modules that might developed for the Webber class to take the place of the boat, as discussed in the post, “Webber class Could be the Navy’s Light Duty Pickup Truck,” would probably also be apply to the WPB replacement. These might include anti-ship cruise missiles, Unmanned systems, or small towed array sonar systems

While the Iran swarming boat attacks are the normal justification for developing the ALaMO round, the emerging threat, unmanned surface vessels (USV) used to make “suicide” attacks may have also been a consideration. As can be seen above, small fast unmanned surface vessels can be hard to kill, and they have proven an effective weapon as can be seen below. One method of attempting to deal with the swarming boat threat has been to have the projectile burst above the boat, showering it with shrapnel. These airbursts could work pretty well against manned boats by killing the exposed boat operators, but the technique is less effective against unmanned craft. It may even be possible to shield critical components of unmanned craft against the effects of shrapnel. This is also a threat the Coast Guard may want to consider since unmanned explosive motor boats are relatively easy to construct.

Video: Houthi attack on Saudi Al Madinah-class frigate using unmanned explosive motor boat. 

The new ALaMO projectile may have been developed with this Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) threat in mind. This suggest to me that the projectile would be designed to home on the heat generated by the craft’s engine. This would work equally well against manned craft. If the ALaMO round is IR homing, then perhaps it would also home on the heat of a larger vessel’s engines as well, making it more useful for countering larger vessels. 

If the 57mm Mk110 gun’s projectiles have made it a reliable counter to small, fast, highly maneuverable threats and perhaps some midsized threats, and if it can discriminate between its intended target and other traffic that may be in the area, it may be worthwhile to consider its inclusion in the WPB replacement. I still do not see it capable of countering large or even many medium sized threats. I still think we need to know more about how the round works before we can assume this is correct, but assuming it is correct, can we put this weapon on a vessel this small? I think we can.

This brought to mind how some earlier craft that had had relatively large guns. I will discuss some of the them and point out what I believe were notable features.

Spica Class (Sweden):

Swedish Torpedo Boat T121 “Spica” Photo by Pressbild. “Tidskrift i Sjöväsendet”. 1966. November. Sid 595. Swedish and US public domain

If you look at the Spica class above, it is a bigger than the likely WPB replacement (139 ft loa and 235 tons full load, 40 knots, 12,750 HP). It is 2/3 the size of the FRC, and about 29% more than my assumed maximum (182 tons) for the WPB replacement. It was a steel ship. It was equipped with an earlier version of the same 57mm gun found on the National Security Cutter (NSC) as well as the 9LV combat system which was the basis for the Mk92 Firecontrol system used on the 378 FRAM, and six heavy weight torpedo Tubes. The Torpedoes each weighed approximately 1800 kilos or about two tons, while the gun weighted about seven tons, so the vessel had over 19 tons of weapons. The fire control,  ammunition, launchers, and Electronic Warfare equipment would have added to the payload weight. By comparison, if our WPB included the current model 57mm (16,535 lbs/7,500 kg), two Mk54 torpedoes (608 lbs/276 kg each), and eight Longbow Hellfire (108 lbs/49 kg) the total weight of weapons would only be a little over nine tons (18,615 lb/ about 8,461 kg) plus ammunition, launchers, Electronic Warfare equipment, and firecontrol systems. The Over-the-Horizon boat, a primary “weapon,” may add as much as four tons, so the full “weapons load” would be about 13 tons. (I could not find a weight for the Over-the-Horizon boat, but the larger Response Boat, Small weighs a bit over 8 tons.) That is about 68.4% of the weight of systems on the Spica. It is not a complete accounting, but I think it is indicative and I will continue to use this format below.

One thing I liked about this, and the next two designs, is that the bridge and operations rooms are located at or near the center of pitch (which seems to have been done with the FRC as well). This makes it more comfortable for the watch. It also results in a long foc’sle. This allows the gun to be well back from the bow while still being far enough forward of the superstructure to allow a wide arc of fire. That is, it is capable of firing well abaft the beam.

The Norrkoping Class (Sweden):

Swedish Norrköping class fast attack craft (missile and torpedo) HMS Ystad R142, 3 September 2010 Photo by Reedhawk

The Norrkoping class was derived from the Spica class and sometimes referred to as the Spica II class. It gained a little weight, being 143 ft loa and 255 tons (41 knots, 12,750 HP). Initially it was armed like the Spica class, but subsequently the four of the torpedo tubes aft of the superstructure were replaced by four RBS-15 missiles. These weigh in at about 800 kg or 1760 lb. Consequently the weapons load is almost a ton lighter than that of the Spica, but still over 18 tons plus ammunition, launchers, Electronic Warfare equipment, and firecontrol systems. At the same time the missiles were installed, the 9LV system’s radar was replaced by the Sea Giraffe which is the radar installed on the Independence class LCS and planned for the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC), US designation AN/SPS 77 V(1). This radar is also used on the Swedish Visby class corvettes completed 2002 to 2015. 

Willemoes Class (Denmark):

A danish navy Willemoes-class fast attack craft (missile + torpedoes) HDMS Sehested (P547) as a museum ship at the Holmen naval base. Photo by Flemming Sørensen

The Willemoes class were similar, slightly larger vessels (46 m/150 ft 11 in loa and 260 tons full load, 40 knots, 12,750 HP). Originally they were equipped with four torpedo tubes in addition to the Oto Melara 76mm gun. The after pair of torpedo tubes was replaced by launchers for eight Harpoon Anti-Ship missiles (1,523 lb / 691 kg with booster). Its weight of weapons after installation of the Harpoons was just over 15 tons, plus ammunition, launchers, Electronic Warfare equipment, and firecontrol system (also a 9LV).

The unique feature of this class was that they had small diesel engines for cruising at up to 12 knots.

The Storm Class (Norway:

The Storm Class, (120 ft loa, 138 tons, 30 knots, 7200 HP) is illustrated above, fully armed and launching a Penguin missile, and below in a later configuration after removal of missiles and transfer from the Norwegian Navy to Lithuania. It is considerably smaller than the vessels above, at the lower end of what I expect the WPB replacement to displace, but still capable of mounting considerable weaponry, in this case six Penguin anti-ship missiles, and 76 and 40 mm guns. The missiles weighed 385 kg (849 lb). The 40 mm weighed about 3.5 tons. I was unable to find the weight of this 76mm gun. It would not have weighed as much as the Oto Melara, but it has to be at least 6 tons, so a total weapons weight was at least 12 tons.

Lithuanian Naval Force, Norwegian built, Storm class patrol boat P33 “Skalvis”. Missiles removed. Photo by Ministry of National Defence Republic of Lithuania

Conclusion:

If we chose to do so, it appears we could build something like a slightly scaled down version of the Spica that could mount a 57mm Mk110 forward and still provide an 8 meter Over-the-Horizon boat aft. The firecontrol could be as simple as the electro-optic unit from the Mk38 Mod2 or as capable as the SeaGiraffe which would give us a true all weather capability. In addition, it could probably mount tubes for two light weight torpedoes and eight Longbow Hellfire in vertical launchers. (I would think the Hellfires offset to one side, at the back of the superstructure. Foot print for a 2×4 cluster of missiles would likely be only about 4 x 3 feet.) I know the torpedoes are an unconventional approach, but it seems the surest way to stop a large ship and supposedly the Mk46 Mod5 and later torpedoes have an anti-surface capablity.

Replacing the Marine Protector class WPBs with vessels equipped like this would give the Coast Guard a robust and truly capable Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security capability.

 

 

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.

 

“Guard the Coast from High-End Threats” –USNI

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

The February issue of US Naval Institute Proceedings has an article by Cdr. Brian Smicklas, USCG, that warns the Coast Guard may not be ready to respond to attacks on the Maritime Transportation System (MTS).

Fortunately, this article is outside the paywall so it should be accessible to all. Some selected paragraphs to give a flavor of the argument:

“… it would be foolish to assume the MTS is safe from attack. Considering its economic and military importance and its limited protection, an assault on it should be considered among an adversary’s most likely courses of action. The risk of an unprepared Coast Guard overseeing the protection of the MTS in the era of renewed interstate conflict can no longer be overlooked.”


“The Coast Guard must recommence “guarding the coast,” including the active deterrence and detection of threats from peer adversaries. Doing so would augment Navy high-demand/low-density (HDLD) warship capabilities allocated to combatant commanders while providing the Coast Guard a true course toward maritime homeland-defense competencies and renewed relevance against the threat of interstate conflict. Such a course not only would enhance national defense but also would provide the Coast Guard a fiscal lifeline to budgetary stability in the face of government shutdowns through alignment with fully funded DoD imperatives. ”


“To be clear, this should not include placing the Coast Guard in DoD. Were the service required to move to that side of the Potomac, it quickly would find failure in the zero-sum competition for DoD dollars. Remaining relevant through the dual roles of homeland security and homeland defense in an era of interstate conflict is a strategically smart position for both the Coast Guard and its executive agency. However, the keys to remaining relevant to both DHS and DoD will be increased capability and lethality in the face of peer adversaries. ”


“Enhancing the Coast Guard to address the most pressing threats facing the MTS welds the Coast Guard to national defense priorities and has the potential to demonstrate the highest level of defense and budgetary relevance for the nation’s smallest armed service. The nation must up-arm the Coast Guard to enable the Navy to fight and win. “

We have addressed many of the possibilities he discusses, including the need to protect US ports including Military Load Out ports, “Ruminating on Homeports While Playing the Red Cell.” He suggests reintroducing the Coast Guard’s ASW mission advocated here numerous times. He even talks about the possibility of using the hyper-velocity projectile and 5″ gun.

In terms of priorities the Coast Guard should first prepare to deal with covert attacks launched from merchant ships that might be the opening gambit in a larger conflict. Adding an ASW capability is certainly doable and will be needed if there is a prolonged conflict, but hopefully the Navy is already tracking potentially hostile submarines and Navy maritime patrol aircraft like the P-8 do operate from the continental US so that threat is addressed at least to some extent. I have my doubts about the effectiveness of NORAD against cruise missiles from unexpected directions, but that is probably not something that even AAW missile equipped Coast Guard cutters would be in a position to do something about without significant warning.

On the other hand, covert minelaying by merchant ships, commando raids launched from merchant ships, or perhaps even merchant ships with containerized missile launchers might be interdicted by Coast Guard units. To deal with these types of threats, every cutter from Webber class on up, and perhaps some of our aircraft, need an ability to quickly and reliably, forcibly stop even a very large vessel. 25 mm and even 57 mm guns are not going to cut it. We need to tell the Navy we need such a weapon.

Because we are the “Coast Guard,” for some crazy reason, people will expect us to guard the coast.

A Conversation with Admiral Karl Schultz, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard–CSIS

CSIS and the United States Naval Institute (USNI) conduct an interview with Admiral Karl L. Schultz, the 26th Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, conducted 1 August, 2018.

Below I will attempt to outline the conversation, noting the topics and in some cases providing a comment.

The first question is about immigration. Coast Guard is the “away game.” minimizing the factors that push immigration to the US.

The Commandant does not expect a substantial increase in help from the Navy, because they are already heavily tasked, but would welcome any additional help.

06:30 Talk about Inland fleet. Congressional support is evident. $25M provided so far.

9:20 House Appropriations Committee decision to divert $750M from the icebreaker program to fund “the Wall” in their markup of the FY2019 budget bill. The Commandant is “guardedly optimistic”

11:30 Human capital readiness? Operating account has been flat and effectively we have lost 10% in purchasing power. Want to increase leadership training.

16:30 Support for combatant commanders.

18:00 Capacity building and partnering. Detachments working on host nation platforms.

21:00 Defense Force planning–Not going back to the MARDEZ model.

22:30 Situation in Venezuela/Preparation for dealing with mass migration.

24:30 Arctic forums–Need to project our sovereignty

29:00 UNCLOS

30:00 Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)

32:30 Tracking cargo as an element of MDA

34:00 Cyber

36:15 High Latitude engagement/partnerships.

39:30 Perhaps the icebreaker should be the “Polar Security Cutter?”

40:00 International ice patrol, still an important mission.

41:00 CG role in response to Chinese aggressiveness in the South China Sea. In discussion with Indo-Pacific Command. Will see more CG presence there.

44:00 Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC)–on track

46:30 Border issue — passed on that

48:00 Small satellites–we are looking at them

49:00 African Capacity building/cooperation. May send an MEC.

51:30 Tech modernization. Looking at it more holistically.

Other Coverage:

This interview prompted a couple of notable posts.

SeaPower’s coverage of the discussion is here. They focused on the growth of demands on the Coast Guard.

Military.com reported on the possibility of a greater Coast Guard role in South East Asia and capacity building in Africa. It probably should be noted that the title, “Coast Guard Could Send Ship to Pacific to ‘Temper Chinese Influence’,”is a bit deceptive in that the Commandant’s remark about tempering Chinese Influence was in regard to Oceania, the islands of the Central and Western Pacific. The Commandant was quoted in the Seapower post, “In the Oceania region, there are places where helping them protect their interests, tempering that Chinese influence, is absolutely essential.”

Switchblade “Loitering Munition”/Puma–Switchblade Sensor to Shooter Capability

Puma-Switchblade Sensor to Shooter Capability

AeroVironment recently conducted a demonstration for the Navy, of how its systems might counter swarming Fast Inshore Attack Craft (FIAC). If the combination of systems works as advertised, it may be exactly what the Coast Guard needs to counter the small, fast, highly maneuverable end of the terrorists surface vessel attack threat spectrum. It is also small enough that it might fit on something as small as a Response Boat-Medium (RB-M). It would certainly fit on a WPB.

It appears to be precise and have minimal chance of collateral damage. It also has a man in the loop, allowing an attack to be aborted or redirected. It is also supposed to have a capability against other drones, presumably smaller, slower ones at low altitude. The combination consists of a Puma UAS to provide target detection, classification, and targeting, and the Switchblade “Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile System” (LMAMS). Switchblade is a missile but a very different one. It is an electric-powered, propeller driven, suicide drone. 

The Coast Guard has already tested the Puma on USCGC Healey, and USCGC Chock. The Canadians have chosen it for their Coastal Defense Ships. It has an endurance of up to three hours.

The Puma and Switchblade both use the same control system. 

The Switchblade, seen being launched in the photo below, is very small. It is less than two feet long and weighs less than six pounds. The manufacturer’s data sheet is here.

Switchblade loitering munition

They have introduced a six-pack launch system. It weighs only 160 pounds fully loaded and is only 28″ wide, 34″ deep, and 28″ tall.

AeroVironment six cell Switchblade Launcher

Where might we use these? While these systems might become ubiquitous, if they work as advertised, there are a couple of units that stand out as having the most immediate need.

Since the system is portable, it might be assigned to deployable teams.

I would be very curious about the Navy’s view of the demonstration.

 

Fletcher/APKWS, a Pocket Missile System, Made in America

Fletcher Launcher for Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS)–Arnold Defense showcased its new rocket launcher for non-air applications at SOFEX 2018 on an Oshkosh S-ATV. (Jen Judson/Staff)

Defense News brings us another report of the new four round surface launch system for the BAE Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) made by Arnold Defense of St. Louis, MO.

I did a post on this system earlier, Guided Weapons Made Easy, but I had almost forgotten about it, and that would be a shame, because this may be exactly what we need give our small units both precision and a much heavier punch.

APKWS is an upgrade to the long serving (and very numerous) 70 mm Hydra rocket, that adds passive laser homing. Reportedly BAE is working up to providing 20,000 APKWS kits a year.

Current range for this system is about eight kilometer, probably enough for us, but there is also mention of an improved motor to extend the range. Reportedly the seeker is good for up to 14 km, so a motor upgrade might push the range out that far.

The launcher seems to have similar footprint to a .50 caliber machine gun. The empty launcher weighs only 30 pounds and the individual missiles 32 pounds. If it can fit on a light land vehicle, its likely it will fit on many of the Coast Guard’s smaller patrol assets.