Austal–OPC, EMS, and Saildrone

Above is a video of interviews with representatives of Austal Shipbuilding in regard to the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) and the Expeditionary Medical Ship (EMS).

There isn’t much new here about the OPC, but there is an opportunity to get a good look at a model of the ship. Looking at the Mk38, mount atop the hangar, it appears the field of fire and, perhaps more importantly, field of view for its optics are severely limited. (Using the 30mm Mk38 Mod4 with its separately located optics might improve this situation.) It is also not clear where the .50 caliber remote weapon stations (and their associated optics) will be located since the model only includes crew served .50 mounts. Presumably at least one and probably both will be forward, below the bridge and above and behind the 57mm Mk 110 gun mount.

The EMS is a ship the Coast Guard is likely to work with during disaster response operations and possibly during capacity building efforts. Operating Coast Guard helicopters from these ships during a natural disaster would seem a natural partnership.

This video was included in a Naval News report, “Austal Diversifies Revenue Base, Announces New Contracts.” Perhaps also of interest to the Coast Guard, included in the report was the statement that Austal was now “…the exclusive manufacturer of Saildrone, Inc.’s wind and solar-powered Surveyor USV…”, a system the Coast Guard has extensively tested.

“The More ‘Eyes On The Water’, The Better” –Marine News

221207-N-NO146-1001 ARABIAN GULF (Dec. 7, 2022) An Aerovel Flexrotor unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) takes off from U.S. Coast Guard fast response cutter USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC 1145) transiting the Arabian Gulf, Dec. 7. U.S. 5th Fleet’s Task Force 59 launched the UAV during Digital Horizon, a three-week event focused on integrating new unmanned and artificial intelligence platforms, including 10 that are in the region for the first time. (U.S. Navy photo)

Marine News has an interesting story that discusses both PATFORSWA’s operations using the recently arrived Webber class WPCs and the recent Digital Horizon 2022 exercise. There is also a bit of a tie in between the two in that at least one WPC was operating as part of Task Force 59, the 5th Fleet element charged with operating unmanned systems. We have heard a bit about the exercise before, but the list of participants in the graphic below seems particularly revealing.

Graphic illustration depicting the unmanned systems that participated in exercise Digital Horizon.

“Navy’s Digital Horizon exercise showcases power of ‘mesh networks,’ AI” –Defense News

A Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vessel operates alongside U.S. Coast Guard fast response cutter USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC 1145) in the Arabian Gulf, Nov. 29, during Digital Horizon 2022. (Sgt. Brandon Murphy/US Army)

Defense News reports on 5th Fleet’s “Digital Horizon” exercise.

“We have done a lot of work with AI previously, and we’ve done computer vision, we’ve done anomalous behavior detection, we’ve done AI-enabled [command and control], but we’ve done all of those separately,” the commodore explained. “At Digital Horizon, for the first time ever, we did that together on a single stack, and that’s all integrated on a single pane of glass.”

They have been trying a number of new systems, “10 of which are being operated in 5th Fleet for the first time.” We got a look at a portion of this exercise earlier, “Task Force 59 Launches Aerial Drone from Coast Guard Ship in Middle East” –NAVCENT. Also, among the systems they tested was V-Bat UAS.

There is also confirmation here that a similar effort will be going into 4th Fleet (Latin American/Caribbean Waters); that it will involve partner nations; and that it will look at IUU fishing as well as drug interdiction.

Fortunately, it looks like Coast Guard personnel and assets have been intimately involved in this effort and it looks like it will benefit our Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) efforts.

(Will the Coast Guard’s next class of ships be USV tenders?)

USV Attacks on Sevastopol and Novorossiysk

I certainly applaud the exploits of the Ukrainian Navy in taking the fight to the Russians using innovative means, here and here, but let us look at this from the prospective of the defender.

Naval Blogger Cdr Salamander offers some thoughts on the lessons of the recent attack on the Russian Navy Base in Sevastopol, but I think he may be selling the Russians short, under estimating the effort they put forth and suggesting that we would have done much better.

Quite properly he puts the attack in a historical context and calls for the US to be ready for similar attacks on US assets in US ports, but I have to take issue with his apparent belief that the Russian did not attempt to prepare for this type of attack.

This is another demonstration that the military culture of Russia is broken. The human element in the Sevastopol was manifested in the complete lack of preparation for the attack in spite of the warnings so clearly provided in September.

The Russians have a history of their ships being attacked in port that goes back to at least the Russo-Japanese war when the Japanese opened the war with a torpedo attack on the Russian fleet inport in Port Author. The unpleasant experience was repeated in WWI and WWII. As a result they have a relatively robust coastal and harbor defense organization, maybe better than ours.

Grachonok class anti sabotage ship P-351 in Astrakhan. Photo credit Mil.Ru

The Russians have built a number of “anti-sabotour” boats that are equipped with DP-64 anti-sabotage grenade launchers and DP-65 remotely-controlled rocket grenade launcher system, a type of weapon I don’t believe we have in the US inventory. Reportedly there are ten of these anti-sabotour boats stationed in the Black Sea.

The Russians do not appear to have taken the most obvious and immediate steps to address this cheap, low-tech threat. They did not have significant barriers in place at the entrance to their harbors or around their ships’ berths. They did not have Sailors on watch with weapons at the ready.

Actually the Russians did have a physical barrier, probably a net. The shape of the bow, the shallow draft, and waterjet propulsion of the Ukrainian USVs may have allow them to jump the net.

The video above, taken by one of the attacking craft, shows an armed helicopter shooting at the craft. It seems likely this helicopter was there and airborne when the attack occured because it was part of a defense plan.

The Ukrainians applied the “quantity has a quality of its own” principle. I believe I saw a report that nine USVs were used in the attack. If only three ships were damaged, then it appears the Russians successfully countered 67% of the threat. Additionally the response might have resulted in the Ukrainians damaging easier targets, closer at hand, rather than the ones they had originally intended. From the Ukraininan point of view, the damage may have been less than they had expected or hoped for, nevertheless we see it as a success. Unfortunately for the defenders, anything less than 100% success is a failure.

Achieving 100% success is not as easy as the referenced post seems to suggest. Crew served Ma Duce .50 cal. are not adequate weapons. If the Russians had had something like APKWS, in the right places, I doubt those ships would have been damaged.

An Observation on the Ukrainian Attack Craft: 

Since our first glimpse of these Ukrainian suicide drone boats, I have wondered about the “external ribs” as they are labeled above. Certainly they could be structural, but that seemed unlikely.

The most likely way to detect these craft at night is by their IR signature or seeing their wake. If the craft is pointed at you, those “ribs” might obstruct the view of the hot portions of the craft and its wake. They would also minimize light reflected from the inevitably wet top portion of the craft.

Image of the suspected Ukrainian USV circulating on Russian social media. Image via Naval News

“Sea Serpent ASW system successfully used by US Navy” –Navy Recognition

Sea Serpent system deployed from a boat (MIND photo)

Navy Recognition reports,

“On September 27, 2022, MIND Technologies Inc., a Texas/U.S.-based company providing underwater research solutions, announced the successful demonstration of its Sea Serpent ASW system during the U.S. Navy’s Coastal Trident 2022 exercise.”

The Sea Serpent system is described by Mind Technologies as,

  • “…based on COTS Seismic Arrays, applicable for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), and Waterside Security (WSS) applications.
  • “…designed for rapid deployment from USV platforms or as a ‘clip-on’ capability to existing light- and medium-weight Coast Guard (emphasis appkied–Chuck) or Naval vessels
  • “…modular and scalable, with lengths from 50 m to over 12,000 m acoustic aperture available
  • “Processing uses a scalable, app-based architecture and includes multiple beamforming options,  as well as broadband, narrowband/LOFAR, and DEMON processing
  • “Other apps will include Automatic Detection and Tracking (ADT) and Target Motion Analysis (TMA)
  • “The architecture is fully open to allow third-party/government processing and supports private cloud operation for distributed tracking, multi-static processing, and data fusion.”

All the reports I have seen were based on the company’s news release so we don’t have an independent evaluation of its success.

An exercise with the United States Coast Guard’s Maritime Security Response Team-West was leveraged to conduct Advanced Naval Technology Exercise experiments with wearable sensors and remote physiological monitoring.

Coastal Trident is a series of annual exercises conducted by Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Port Hueneme Division. Apparently the Coast Guard has participated in the exercise in the past. It certainly seems to be something the CG should be interested in.

 

“Mystery Drone Boat Washes Up Near Home Of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet” –The Drive

See the linked post for more photos

The Drive/The War Zone discusses reports of a possible suicide drone surface vessel. This looks more sophisticated than the unmanned explosive motor boats that were used by Yemen’ Houthi faction, possibly using satelite communications to allow it to be operated over much greater distance from the control station.