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.

 

Small Missile Systems From the Army

After three decades without a significant air threat, the Army has realized they might actually need a surface to air weapon. As a result they have embarked on a program to provide Short Range Air Defense (SHORAD) against cruise missiles as well as manned aircraft. In addition they want to provide protection from rockets, artillery, and mortars (RAM) and Unmanned Air Systems (UAS), hopefully in the same launcher. The program of record is called Integrated Fire Protection Capability.

They have already built a launcher in house.

Multi-Mission Launcher (MML) firing
(IFPC, “Indirect Fire Protection Capability”) Launching Hellfire missile

This Multi-Mission Launcher somewhat emulates the Mk41 VLS, in that it is intended to launch several different missiles for different purposes. It has launched AIM-9 Sidewinder (repurposed as an surface to air missile) , the Tamir (interceptor for the Israeli Iron Dome system), the Lockheed Miniature Hit to Kill (MHTK) Missile, an Army developed missile, and the Hellfire.

The Miniature Hit to Kill (MHTK) missile designed to counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar (RAM) threats as well as some unmanned aircraft might be use against projectiles fired at a cutter or an asset we are protecting. Cost is only about $16K per round.

“The missile is 27 inches long, two inches in diameter (actually only 40mm or 1.6″–Chuck) and weighs 5 pounds “at launch,” he added. The semi-active missile has no warhead, using kinetic energy — or thrust — instead to take out a target. “It’s really a bullet hitting a bullet,” which is the bread and butter capability in Lockheed’s missile technology. One launcher can fit 36 of the missiles, Delgado said, and two launchers can fit onto a single truck.”

As a very small system, MKTK can be quad-packed. Photo: Defense-Update

The Navy is apparently showing some interest in this program. Since the Army developed multi-mission launcher is not a vertical launch system I presume it has to be pointed. This is somewhat complicates installation, but I can’t help but believe something, launcher or interceptors, will come out of this program that may be of interest to the Coast Guard in the future.

Late Addition:

Reconfigurable-Integrated-Weapons-Platform-Mission-Equipment-PackageRIwP-768x432

Photo: Multipurpose remote weapon station chosen for the Striker Short Range Air Defense System.  Moog Reconfigurable Integrated-Weapons Platform (RiwP) turret:: 4 Stinger missiles on one side, two Hellfires on the other, with a 30 mm autocannon and coaxial 7.62 mm machinegun in between (Leonardo DRS)

Navy Selects Kongberg-Raytheon Naval Strike Missile for their “Small Surface Combatants”

Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile. Kongsberg Photo

The US Naval Institute News Service is reporting the Naval Strike Missile has been selected to provide the long range surface to surface capability for the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and presumably the new frigate as well. This is no surprise since the other two candidates had dropped out of the competition, “…Boeing Harpoon Block II Plus and the Lockheed Martin Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) were both withdrawn by their respective companies from the competition last year. Both Boeing and Lockheed complained that Navy requirements for the OTH missiles did not value the networking capability of their offerings, several sources confirmed to USNI News.”

There are a couple of points to look at here.

The initial contract is for $14,856,016. This reportedly includes, “…encanistered missiles (EM) loaded into launching mechanisms (LM); and a single fire control suite (FCS). This contract consists of EMs (tactical, telemetered and inert operational); FCSs; LMs; mission support equipment, training equipment and courses; engineering services; and travel and other direct costs. This contract includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $847,611,857.” So it appears the initial contract includes at least one full ship set. The cumulative value is 57 times greater. There are only 52 Small Surface Combatants planned including both LCSs and the projected frigates (FFGs). Given that we would expect the price to go down in a quantity buy, it looks like these missiles may also go on other platforms as well.

We don’t know how many missiles will go on each platform, but Raytheon seems to indicate each LCS will support two quad launchers. While reportedly launchers are available for one, two, three, four, or six missiles, all the installations so far have been in the quad format. “USNI News understands the Thursday award buys about a dozen missiles.” Presumably some missiles will be expended in tests.

Raytheon Image

NSM is smaller than Harpoon, comparing NSM vs surface launched Harpoon.

  • Weight: 900 lb (410 kg) vs 1,523 lb (691 kg) with booster
  • Length: 13 ft (3.95 m) vs 15 ft (4.6 m)
  • Warhead: 276 lb (125 kg) vs 488 pounds (221 kg)
  • Range: 100 nmi (185 km) vs in excess of 67 nmi (124 km)

It is in targeting where the NSM’s superiority shines compared to the legacy Harpoons..

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.

 

How much would it cost to weaponize a cutter?

Photo: Sigma 10514 in Mexican Navy configuration, fitted with a BAE Systems Bofors 57Mk3 57mm main guna 12.7mm remote weapon system right behind it. The Mexican Navy opted for the Smart Mk2 radar by Thales. The Mexican “Long Range Patrol Vessel” will not be fitted with VLS cells but a Raytheon RAM launcher will be fitted on top of the helicopter hangar.

How much would it cost to turn one of our new construction cutters into a minimally capable frigate with at least some capability for anti-submarine, anti-surface, and self defense anti-air warfare?

I don’t have a definitive answer but we did get a good indication along with more information about Mexico’s new long range patrol vessel, a Damen 10514 design, that is close enough to our own Offshore Patrol Cutter requirements, that I thought it might have been an OPC contender.

Earlier we had an indication regarding the addition of VLS and  Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSM) when Chile ordered $140.1M worth of equipment to arm three ships. Plus we had an earlier post based on a 2009 Congressional Budget Office study (apparently no longer available on line) that suggested costs to replace the Phalanx on NSCs with SeaRAM and to add 12 Mk56 VLS and associated equipment, which could have provided up to 24 ESSM.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency has issued a news release concerning the sale of weapons for the new Mexican patrol vessel, and the shopping list is a pretty extensive, including anti-surface, anti-air, and anti-submarine weapons.

Mexico –Harpoon Block II Missiles, RAM Missiles and MK 54 Torpedoes

Media/Public Contact: pm-cpa@state.gov
Transmittal No: 17-63

­­­WASHINGTON, Jan. 5, 2018 – The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to Mexico of RGM-84L Harpoon Block II surface launched missiles, Block II Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) tactical missiles and MK 54 Mod 0 lightweight torpedoes for an estimated cost of $98.4 million.  The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale today.

The Government of Mexico has requested to buy six (6) RGM-84L Harpoon Block II surface launched missiles, twenty-three (23) Block II Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) tactical missiles and six (6) MK 54 Mod 0 lightweight torpedoes.  Also included are eight (8) MK 825 Mod 0 RAM Guided Missile Round Packs (GMRP) tri-pack shipping and storage containers; RAM Block 2 MK 44 Mod 4 Guided Missile Round Pack (GMRP); two (2) MK 32 Surface Vessel Torpedo Tubes (SVTT) triple tube launchers; two hundred and fifty (250) rounds of AA98 25 mm high explosive and semi-armor piercing ammunition; seven hundred and fifty (750) rounds A976 25mm target practice and tracer ammunition; four hundred and eighty (480) rounds of BA22 57mm high explosive programmable fuze ammunition; nine hundred and sixty (960) rounds of BA23 57mm practice ammunition; containers; spare and repair parts; support and test equipment; publications and technical documentation; personnel training and training equipment; U.S. Government and contractor representatives’ technical assistance; engineering and logistics support services; installation services; associated electronics and hardware to control the launch of torpedoes; and other related elements of logistics and program support.  The estimated cost is $98.4 million.

This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a strategic partner.  Mexico has been a strong partner in combating organized crime and drug trafficking organizations.  The sale of these ship-based systems to Mexico will significantly increase and strengthen its maritime capabilities.  Mexico intends to use these defense articles and services to modernize its armed forces and expand its existing naval and maritime support of national security requirements and in its efforts to combat criminal organizations.

Mexico intends to use the weapon systems on its Mexican Navy Sigma 10514 Class ship.  The systems will provide enhanced capabilities in effective defense of critical sea lanes.  The proposed sale of these systems and support will increase the Mexican Navy’s maritime partnership potential and align its capabilities with existing regional navies.  Mexico has not purchased these systems previously.  Mexico will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces.

The proposed sale of this equipment will not alter the basic military balance in the region.

The equipment will be provided from U.S. stocks.  There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale.

Implementation of this proposed sale will require annual trips to Mexico involving U.S. Government personnel and contractor representatives for technical reviews, support, and oversight for approximately two years.

There will be no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale.

This notice of a potential sale is required by law and does not mean the sale has been concluded.

All questions regarding this proposed Foreign Military Sale should be directed to the State Department’s Bureau of Political Military Affairs, Office of Congressional and Public Affairs, pm-cpa@state.gov.

The big ticket items certainly made the head lines, but the ammunition for the 57mm is not cheap.

Fortunately for the Coast Guard, the Navy generally pays for our ammunition and weapon systems. The cost to the Coast Guard is installation and integration, plus primarily long term personnel and training costs.

SNA Symposium, Virtual Tour

airbus ds trs 4D SNA 217

If you were unable to attend the Surface Navy Association Symposium, but would like to see what you missed, NavyRecognition offers a series of videos. They include a number of systems that have been discussed here including, smart projectiles for the 57mm, unmanned surface vehicles, the LRASM Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, SeaRAM as a replacement for Phalanx, TRAPS Towed Reelable Active Passive Sonar, MK20 Mod 1 Electro-Optical Sensor System (EOSS), TRS-3D Baseline D multi-mode radar (MMR) ordered for the ninth NSC.

If you want to look primarily at the frigate proposals as well as the proposed weapons modules for the LCS which might also be applicable to the icebreaker, there is this composite video. 

Incidentally why was there no mention of this symposium on the National Cuttermen Association Chapter, Surface Navy Association website?

Was Libya’s Sinking of a Tanker “Fake News?”

I have begun to suspect that the report of the Libyan Coast Guard sinking the Tanker GOEAST may have been more propaganda than reality.

Compare the Libyan video above with the video of USCGC ANACAPA sinking a much smaller derelict Japanese fishing vessel Ryou-Un Maru.

The Tanker was probably 20 times as large as the fishing vessel and had a crew on board and operating pumps to address flooding. USCGC ANACAPA began the operation at 13:00 and the RYOU-UN MARU sank at 18:15. It appears that the F/V may have been hit 100 times by 25mm projectiles, and at one point the ANACAPA used a hose to pour water into the fishing vessel.

.

On the video, the Libyan patrol boat fires no more than 20 rounds from its 30mm and I believe it was less than 15. At no time was there sustained fire directed at the tanker. The longest burst was perhaps four rounds.

At the end of the video, the tanker is pumping water, but it is also upright with no significant list and it appears to be making way. I am positive the tanker is underway at least as late as five minutes into the five minute 44 second video.

Perhaps things happened later, but if they recorded the opening shots, it seems they would have recorded the sinking.

This might have been an attempt at deception by the Libyans to discourage smuggling.

It might have been that the patrol boat skipper had been instructed to sink the tanker, and when he failed, he lied about the result of the attack.

It may be that a government information officer simply assumed that because they fired at the ship, that it was sunk. Capsized and sunk does make a much better story than shot at, was annoyed, and sailed away.

It is not impossible the entire thing was theater staged with the cooperation of the tanker, although I think that very unlikely.

Certainly the tanker’s owners may have reasons not to debunk the story.

  • They don’t want to confirm they were smuggling.
  • The report may discourage competing smuggling organizations.
  • They may even rename and reflag the tanker and file a bogus insurance claim.

Certainly, there was nothing in the video to indicate that this ship was sunk.

A final note. The patrol boat is seen firing into both sides of the tanker. If you want to sink a ship, it is usually better to concentrate as much damage as possible on one side. It is more likely to make the ship list and ultimately capsize. As the list increases holes initially made above water start to submerge and take on water.