“Elbit Systems To Supply ASW Capabilities To An Asian-Pacific Navy” –Naval News

Naval News Reports, Israeli defense contractor, Elbit Systems has been awarded contracts totaling about $56M to provide ASW capabilities to an unnamed Asia-Pacific country (my guess, the Philippines).

Elbit Systems will provide the Seagull™ USVs (Unmanned Surface Vessels) configured to perform ASW missions and the Towed Reelable Active Passive Sonar (TRAPS) systems. The Seagull USVs will integrate Helicopter/Ship Long-Range Active Sonars (HELRAS) and will be equipped with the Company’s autonomous suite, Combat Management System and Satellite Communication capability. The TRAPS systems, which will be installed onboard the customer’s corvettes, are low frequency variable-depth-sonars intended for detection, tracking and classification of submarines, midget submarines, surface vessels and torpedoes.

I love to see this stuff because it means there are ASW systems out there that are appropriate for cutters from the largest down to relatively small.

Using helicopter style dipping sonars on surface vessels is not new. The Soviets built a number of corvettes that used this approach (Petya, Mirka, and Koni classes), but the dipping sonars have gotten much better since then.

We have talked about TRAPS before:

HELRES, Helicopter Long Range Active Sonar, is a product of L3Harris, headquartered in Melbourne, FL.

Elbit Systems’ Seagull unmanned surface vessel. I do love this photo because it shows that even a very small vessel can launch light weight torpedoes.

 

“Coast Guard delivers ninth Minotaur-missionized HC-144 to fleet” –CG-9

CGNR 2310 departs for its second test flight after completing Minotaur missionization. It is the Coast Guard’s ninth HC-144B Ocean Sentry outfitted with both Ocean Sentry Refresh modifications and the Minotaur mission system. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Aviation Engineering Warrant Officer 3 Randy Jopp.

The Acquisitions Directorate, CG-9 reports,


The Coast Guard accepted delivery of its ninth HC-144B Ocean Sentry medium range surveillance aircraft outfitted with both the Ocean Sentry Refresh (OSR) modifications and the Minotaur mission system Dec. 16, 2020. Modifications to CGNR 2310 were completed at the Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The aircraft will be based at Coast Guard Air Station Miami.

The OSR project upgrades the aircraft with a new flight management system, which manages communication control, navigation and equipment monitoring. After the OSR upgrade is completed, each aircraft is redesignated as an HC-144B.

Minotaur integrates installed sensors and radar and provides dramatically improved data fusion as well as information processing and sharing capabilities.

Completion of missionization and upgrade of a 10th HC-144 is scheduled for June 2021. The service plans to upgrade each of the service’s 18 HC-144s by 2024.

For more information: HC-144 program page and Minotaur program page

New Minotaur operator workstations are being installed on all HC-144Bs. Minotaur provides dramatically improved data fusion and integrates installed sensors and radar. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Aviation Engineering Warrant Officer 3 Randy Jopp.

“Beyond the Tip of the Iceberg Tech: RDT&E’s Annual Arctic Technology Evaluation” –MarineLink

ENS Jordan Solseth runs a test for the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) 500. U.S. Coast Guard photo by SN Kate Kilroy

Marine Link reports on the Coast Guard’s evaluation of five technologies during USCGC Campbell’s Arctic cruise. Five different technologies were evaluated. All were deemed successful:

  • Insight Mini Thermal Monocular (MTM) and AN/PSQ-20 Monoculars (enhanced night vision devices) for improved law enforcement and ice detection.
  • Handheld Glare Helios laser for stand-off hailing capabilities.
  • FiFish Remotely Operated Vehicle for underwater inspections in cold weather.
  • Long Range Acoustic Device 500X-RE for enhanced communication with vessels at longer distances.
  • Iridium Certus Terminal, which helped provide internet access for the crew to maintain communications with Atlantic Area.

These systems were referred to in the earlier linked post, but there is much more information in the Marine Link article.

I think that we are going to start seeing the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) on all our cutters. We really should have them on our Webber class bound for PATFORSWA. In addition to its communications capabilities, it can be an effective less than lethal weapon for discouraging approach or breaking down resistance to a boarding. (Remember when we played rock music for Noriega down in Panama.)

The Iridium Certus Terminal helped communications that are always difficult in the Arctic, and probably provided in major morale boost for the crew.

While I see the utility of the night vision devices, for the larger ships I would really like to see us take a look at this. It appears it could do everything the night vision devices can do, plus allow transmission of bearing and elevation information, along with its nominal function of quickly bringing weapons to bear on a visually detected threat. Maybe another good addition for Webber class going to SW Asia.

Time to Revive Coast Guard’s ASW Capability?: “DOD MAP SHOWS RUSSIAN AND CHINESE SUBS ARE TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT” –Sandboxx

russian subs

Sandboxxx reports the release of a map illustrating the operations of the Russian and Chinese naval forces.

The Pentagon recently released a map showing the travel paths of Russian and Chinese naval vessels, alongside important undersea cables, as a part of its 2021 National Defense Authorization Act request, commonly referred to as the DoD’s budget. The map clearly shows the heavy traffic in both The Atlantic and Pacific oceans, with Russian subs encroaching on America’s eastern seaboard and Chinese submarines creeping up in the west.

The Russian Navy operations, including those just outside US territorial waters on the East Coast, are discussed in the post.

What I also see in the map, is a great deal of Chinese activity around Guam, significant activity around Hawaii, some activity extending to the Americas, and a surprising amount of Chinese activity in the Arctic, North of Siberia, that presumably passed through the Bering Strait. There is also Chinese activity near the Aleutians.

The Philippines, India, and Australia must also find this map interesting.

The map looks looks like more reason to consider providing cutters with an Anti-Submarine Warfare capability.

If we ever do have a “near peer” conflict with Russia and/or China, there is a good possibility, when we go to rescue the crews of torpedoed ships, cutters may find, they themselves have become targets. An ASW capability may be necessary just to allow the cutters to operate in a threat environment that could reach up to the US coast line.

If cutters were given an ASW capability, I would think their wartime role would be to escort logistics shipping from outload ports in the lower 48 to rear staging areas and return. Air and Surface threat levels would not be non-existent, but they would be low.

“Seeing Below The Surface: Ladar Trials Promise Enhanced Vessel Safety” –Maritime Executive

Ladar allows Color Line’s officers to perform safe deviation from the set course, maximizing fuel efficiency without increased risk of grounding.

Maritime Executive reports that,

Norwegian operator Color Line has been trialing Ladar, a light-based laser technology anti-collision system designed to identify floating objects on or under the surface of the water, including drifting fishing nets, logs, containers and ice, as well as plastic and other flotsam.

Wonder if this might be useful in finding people in the water, especially in rough weather and at night?

“The system we tested was better at detecting smaller items than we had anticipated, but not as good on metal objects in still water.”

The reason for this: waves caused by wind increase disturbance in the water around an object, making it easier to detect. “This includes up to storm level winds,” Dokken confirms. “The more activity in the water, the better.”

Frequently we need to go close to shore to execute a rescue. This could conceivably allow us to get closer without running aground, than we would using charts alone.

Might also be useful for the Waterways Commerce Cutters that operate in rivers with shifting bottom contours.

Really the Navy and Marines should be interested in this too.

Sounds like a good project for the R&D Center.

“British Army drone to fly over English Channel to monitor migrant boats” –Independent

Thales Watchkeeper WK450

Like the US Coast Guard, the UK Border Force conducts Alien Migrant Interdiction Operations. They are reportedly getting some assistance from the British Army in the form of Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV) being used to patrol the English Channel.

The UAVs are Thales Watchkeeper WK 450s (manufacturer’s brochure here) an improved version of the Israeli Elbit Hermes 450 with the addition of a dual-mode synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indication system, providing all weather target acquisition.

The Watchkeeper program has not been cheap, about 1.2 billion pounds to provide and support 54 drones, and it has had its problems. They were supposed to have been operational in 2010, but apparently only reached Initial Operational Capability in 2014. Five have crashed. Regarding the current fleet,

“45 Watchkeeper airframes were in service as at 23 July 2020. 13 have flown in the past 12 months and 23 have been in storage for longer than 12 months. Of those flying, 10 have been operated by the Army from Akrotiri in Cyprus and Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, three have been used for test and evaluation. The airframes in storage are held at specific, graduated, levels of readiness. This is commensurate with practices used on other Defence capabilities and assets.”

The airframes are:

  • Length: 19.69 ft (6 m)
  • Span: 34.45 ft (10.5 m)
  • Engine: Winkel rotary, 52 hp
  • Max Speed: 95 knots
  • Operational Radius: 200 km; 108 nm (Line of Sight)
  • Endurance: 16+ hours
  • Service ceiling 18,045 feet (5,500 m)

This means, it is about half the size of the familiar MQ-1 Predator, also a bit slower and their service ceiling is lower.

The British Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has selected Israel’s Elbit to demonstrate the capabilities of their larger Eblit Hermes 900 UAVs. which has capabilities similar to those of the MQ-1. Meanwhile the RAF is also flying surveillance over the English Channel. 

Containerized Sonar

Naval News reports that the French Navy is testing a containerized Thales CAPTAS-1 active/passive variable depth sonar (VDS).

This not the only such sonar available. The Canadians offer a similar system.

Should it be necessary, such systems could conceivably allow sonar systems to be added to all Coast Guard cutters the size of the Webber class Fast Response Cutters and larger.

The Navy’s New Frigate

Italian FREMM Bergamini. photo by Fabius1975–no its not going to look like this

The US Naval Institute has a one page description of the new Navy frigate in the July 2020 issue of Proceedings, including a nicely annotated side view of the ship (you can see it here). Other than the diagram and the intro, the article is behind the paywall. It not only illustrates how the ship is equipped, it also explains the differences between the US version and the Italian version. I will summarize and include some observations.

The already large FREMM frigate grows to 7,400 tons and 496 feet in length, an increase of “more than 500 tons” (700 tons according to Wikipedia) and 22 feet in length. Draft is reduced from 24 to 23 feet, but only because there is no bow mounted sonar, so the draft over the rest of the hull is likely greater.

This large size appears to open the possibility of a smaller combatant class of 2,000-4,000 tons which might be dual service (Navy/Coast Guard) ships, or perhaps simply an upgraded Bertholf class.

It appears the power plant is much the same as the Italian version, combined diesel electric and gas turbine. In the Italian ships, that consists of four diesel generators totaling roughly 15,000 HP, two electric propulsion motors totaling 5 MW or about 6700 HP, plus an LM2500 gas turbine rated at 32 MW or about 42,895 HP. The combination is reportedly good for more than 30 knots in the Italian frigates and the US version should not be much different despite the increase in displacement. The USNI report claims only a sustained speed in excess of 26 knots. I would note that this is slightly less total horsepower than the National Security cutters.

The one characteristic of the design that gives me pause is the cruise speed. For the Italian frigate the reported max is 17 knots, limited by the power of the electric motors. The USNI article reports a cruising range of 6,000 nmi at a speed of 16 knots in electric mode. These ships are likely to, at some point, perform escort duty for convoys or amphibious ready groups. Many modern merchant ships and all amphibious ready group ships can maintain 20+ knots. It is entirely possible that they may need to escort convoys with a base speed of 18 knots or more, which would require them to operate almost continuously on their one turbine engine which would seriously degrade their range. It is possible they have included higher power electric motors which might allow a 20 knot cruise, but there has been no indication of this. When escorting an aircarrier, they would be expected to operate on turbine virtually al the time, but in that case at least a tanker can be expected to be near by.

The systems reported on the new frigate include:

  • .50 cal. machine guns, looks like ten positions: four bow, two stern, four in the superstructure.
  • 57mm Mk110, ALaMO ammunition is mentioned as a capability.
  • 32 cell Mk41 VLS for SM-2 and quad-packed ESSM (no mention of vertical launch ASROC but that should be a possibility)
  • SPY-6(V)3 EASR multi-function radar, a smaller version of the radar being used on the latest Burke class DDGs
  • Mk20 Electro-optic gun fire control system
  • Cooperative Engagement Capability Datalink
  • UPX-29 IFF
  • SLQ-32(V)6 SEWIP EW system
  • Mk 53 Nulka decoy launchers
  • 16 (four quad) RGM-184 Naval Strike missile launchers
  • 7 meter RHIB hangar
  • 21 tube Mk49 RIM116 RAM launcher (on the hangar aft)
  • Hangar space for up to two MH-60R or one MH-60R and one MQ-8C Fire Scout
  • SQS-62 variable depth sonar
  • TB-37 multi-function towed array sonar
  • SLQ-61 lightweight tow or SLQ-25 Nixie towed torpedo decoy

Construction is expected to begin in 2022, first of class delivery 2026, and Initial Operational Capability (IOC) 2030. Apparently this is a contract with options for out years rather than a “Block Buy.”

Late Addition: Contrary to what I think I remember about the supposed equipment, there was no mention of vertical launch Hellfire. Notably there are none of the weapons normally associated with dealing with swarming high speed inshore attack craft e.g. no 25mm Mk38 and no 30mm Mk46, which seems surprising. Also don’t see a position that seems likely for a laser weapon, unless it is the small area elevated one deck forward of the RAM launcher and aft of the stack.

 

“Australia improving rescue efforts with artificial intelligence” –Indo-Pacific Defense Forum

RAAF C-27J conducts machine learning.

The Indo-Pacific Defense Forum is reporting that Australia is attempting to apply Artificial Intelligence (AI) to the visual search part of the SAR problem.

“Our vision was to give any aircraft and other defense platforms, including unmanned aerial systems, a low-cost, improvised SAR capability,” Wing Commander Michael Gan, who leads AI development for RAAF’s Plan Jericho, said in a news release from Australia’s Department of Defence. Plan Jericho, which was launched in 2015, is an RAAF 10-year blueprint to become one of the world’s most technologically advanced air forces.

It is a collaborative effort of the RAAF Air Mobility Group’s No. 35 Squadron, the Royal Australian Navy’s Warfare Innovation Branch and the University of Tasmania’s Australian Maritime College.

“There is a lot of discussion about AI in [the Department of] Defence, but the sheer processing power of machine learning applied to SAR has the potential to save lives and transform SAR,” Lt. Harry Hubbert of the Navy’s Warfare Innovation Branch, who developed algorithms for AI-Search, said in the news release.

I have to wonder if this is related to VIDAR, which has been included in the Coast Guard Scan Eagle UAVs, and can this be applied to Minotaur?

Swedish Patrol Boat ASW System

Photo: Tapper-class Fast Patrol Boat, displacement of 62 tons, 22 meters (72′) in length (Credits: Swedish Armed Forces)

Naval News reports that the first of six Trapper class fast patrol boats has completed an upgrade that will allow these small vessels to hunt submarines. At 62 tons full load, these vessels are about 2/3s the size of the Coast Guard’s 87 foot Marine Protector class WPBs (91 tons). 

Sweden has a history of suspected or known intrusions by submarines, midget submarines, and/or swimmer delivery vehicles, presumably from the Soviet Union/Russia.

What they seem to have done here is to use technology similar to the Sono-buoys used by airborne ASW units. While surface units do not have the speed of aircraft in getting to the scene, they are potentially more persistent, and because the buoys themselves do not have to fit within ejection tubes, they can be made larger with batteries that provide longer life. 

Photo: Tapper-class enhanced ASW capabilities mainly rely on new sonobuoy integration (Credits: Swedish Armed Forces)

The post makes no mention of weapons or hull mounted sonars. When built in the 1990s, this class, originally of twelve vessels, based on a Swedish Coast Guard vessel design, had a searchlight sonar and small Anti-Submarine mortars that went by the designation RBS-12 or ASW600. The mortar projectiles were relatively small, only 100mm (3.95″) in diameter, weighing 4.2 kilograms (9 pounds 4 oz.), far smaller than the 65 pound (29.5 kilo) Hedgehog or Mousetrap weapons of WWII, but, unlike those systems, they did have a shaped charge. Apparently the weapon was removed at some point, but reportedly the weapon was reintroduced in 2018 on the Koster-class mine countermeasures vessels so it is possible it has been reintroduced here as well. 

Anti-submarine mortar system Elma LLS-920 (SAAB RBS12 ASW600) on the Swedish patrol boat HMS Hugin. Rearview with some mortars unattached. Photo by Dagjoh

While the post seems to emphasize passive detection, the last paragraph suggest there is an active component.

“The Kongsberg Maritime sonar selected for this upgrade is being used for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Mine and Obstacle detection and Navigation (emphasis applied–Chuck), and is designed for use in shallow water.”