Modifying Webber Class Cutters for Duty in SW Asia

USCG Monomoy (WPB-1326) and Adak (WPB-1333), elements of PATFORSWA

The first two of the probably six Webber class WPCs that will replace the 110s in PATFORSWA have been funded. Before they go, there will likely be some changes in how they are equipped.

When the 110 were deployed they had some relatively minor changes:

During the delay in Hampton Roads, each of the WPBs received upgrades for overseas service. First, maintenance crews addressed all of the cutters’ mechanical problems. These crews also added two .50 caliber machine gun mounts aft of the pilothouse to supplement the firepower of the forward-mounted MK38 25mm gun. Most of the modifications fell within the area of communications, including new high-frequency transceivers, installation of satellite telephones and a number of improvements designed to reduce electromagnetic interference. Work crews installed new highstrength Kevlar lifelines around the decks and Forward-Looking Infrared Receivers (FLIR) on the cutters’ masts for nighttime operations. Each WPB also received night vision goggles; a translating bullhorn; and chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) gear.

Coast Guard planners also increased the patrol boats’ boarding capability. Each cutter received four Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) personnel to bring crew size up to full combat readiness. Coast Guard planners expected this crew augmentation to improve the WPBs maritime interception operations (MIO) capability, which would help the cutters to fulfill their primary mission in the Arabian Gulf. Work crews also added extra bunks in the aft berthing area of each WPB to provide for the war-time crew complement. Even so, certain crewmembers still had to practice “hot bunking,” with different watches sharing the same bunks

Now there is more time to plan and make upgrades. These ships also might serve as prototypes for equipment changes to the rest of the Coast Guard’s Webber class fleet either in response to the terrorist threat or in the future, in anticipation of an armed conflict.

In addition, the Navy’s Cyclone class patrol craft are coming to the end of their service life, and suitably modified Webber class might serve as a replacement.

Missions:

Originally eight Island class cutters were deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, four in the Mediterranean and four in the Persian Gulf. They were to provide force protection. In addition they participated in the capture of an Iraqi vessel attempting to clandestinely mine the Gulf. Later they escorted humanitarian relief supplies up the rivers. They protected Iraq’s off shore oil terminals. Now there are six stationed in Bahrain. In addition to continuing force protection duties, they provide training to Navy ships as they enter the area. They promote capacity building in the navies and coast guards of SW Asia and East Africa. They have conducted counter piracy operations off the Horne of Africa.

Threats: 

Most of the duties these ships encounter are similar to those of continental US vessels, but there are some significant threats in the are we might want to consider.

Revolutionary elements in Yemen have been using unmanned explosive remotely controlled motor boats to attack ship in the Bab-el-Mandeb Straits

The Navy of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp has a force of about 1500 fast inshore attack craft ranging from simple rocket equipped speed boats to torpedo and missile boats. If there is a conflict, they are expected to be used in swarming attacks. My take is that the majority of these boats serve primarily as a distraction and screen to facilitate the attacks of the torpedo and missile armed craft, but some may be used as suicide improvised explosive devices.

Weapons: 

None of these projected threats require large warhead weapons to deal with them, but they do require a short time critical, high probability of kill. The Iranian threat also means there is a need to deal with multiple threats, from multiple directions simultaneously. Attacks could be prolonged, so running out of ammunition could be problem.

The easiest change is to convert the four single .50 caliber mounts to twins. This doubles the ammunition on each mount and provides redundancy if a weapon jams. I think I may have seen that this was already done on the 110 in PATFORSWA.

We might want to give those .50 cal. machine guns the best possible sights. 

Twin or single we need to provide ballistic protection for any exposed gun crews, although putting shield around the forward mount positions might hamper forward vision from the bridge.

We might want to replace some or all of the crew served .50 caliber machine guns with the more accurate, stabilized Mini-Typhoon Mk49 Mod1 ROSAM remote weapon station which is already on four Coast 87 foot cutters used for Force Protection of Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines. This mount is also expected to be installed on the Offshore Patrol Cutters. Their electro-optic devices could also improve situational awareness, particularly at night. 

They will need a laser target designator even if there are no laser guided weapons on the cutter, to allow it to designate targets for other US and allied platforms, perhaps provision for one mast mounted and one hand held.

I would like to see the 25mm gun in the Mk38s replaced by the 30mm which is longer ranged, more accurate, and harder hitting, but that is unlikely to be an option.

To dispatch threats, quickly and effectively, these vessels really need small guided weapons in addition to guns. 

The only small missile installations the Navy has made are Sea Griffin on the Cyclone Class patrol craft and a relatively large 24 round installation on the Littoral Combat Ships.

Sea Griffin lost out to the Hellfire Longbow for installation on the LCS. Hellfire and APKWS have been declared among six “preferred munitions” being procured at maximum production rates, literally thousands of rounds per year. With Sea Griffin falling in size between APKWS and Hellfire, this probably means Sea Griffin does not have a great future. 

As a minimum I think our cutters need a number of APKWS, Hellfire may also be desirable for its longer range, greater hitting power, and fire and forget capability. It would be best if we could use either and trade them off. Unfortunately right now there is no system in the Navy inventory, other than perhaps Sea Griffin, that could readily be installed on our cutters.

The Israeli’s have attached missile launch tubes to their versions of both the Mk38 gun mount that we have on the Webber class and on their mini-Typhoon which is in USN and Coast Guard service as the Mk49 mod1. (Both systems are also expected to be on the OPC.)

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

Rafael Mini Typhoon 12.7mm RWS (MK49 mod1 in USN) and Spike-ER missile launcher recently tested by the USN on an unmanned surface vessel. (photo : Rafael)

This looks doable:

I would suggest these little ships should be armed with a Mk 49 remote weapon station taking the place of, at least the two crew served .50 cal. mounts on the aft corners of the superstructure, perhaps the two forward as well. In addition, the Mk38 mod3 and the Mk49s should be modified to also support a pair of four tube APKWS launchers, similar to the one pictured below. (Perhaps seven or even 19 round launchers in the case of the Mk38.) Assuming we replace only after Mk49 mounts, and have two four round launchers on each mount, this would provide at least 24 guided rockets ready to launch.

Unfortunately, while the Navy has done a test with the Mk49 and has been talked about adding missiles to the Mk38, they have never followed through.  We need to convince the Navy to rapidly push development of this additional capability. They should also have an interest in doing this, since Mk38s are mounted on their destroyers, Cyclone patrol craft, Mk VI patrol boats, and a number of other vessels.  BAE should be all in, they make both the MK38 gun mount and the APKWS. Plus these modified Webber class may be the next Navy PC as well.

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)

Other Options:

I have seen a mockup of small Hellfire Vertical Launch Systems that might it might be possible to mount on the outer superstructure bulkheads in the form of multiple single launch tubes. There are other launch systems like the one below that fit on vessels much smaller than the Webber class.

At the Improv–Marines on Cutters

If we don’t provide guided weapons for these cutters, and the situations deteriorates, adding a fire team or even a squad of Marines to augment the crew with their weapons might be a short term option. In additions to rifles, they might bring with them machine guns, Javelin Anti-Tank Guided Missiles, Carl Gustaf recoilless rifles that the Marines are now pushing down to the squad level (and which may soon get guided projectiles), or  even Stinger Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MADPAD).

Other Things to Think About:

The Cyclone class have light weight EW systems including decoys, some of them have small unmanned air systems, and they have provision for employing Stinger man portable air defense systems.

A Link16 capability would be nice, even if read only.

Other Reading:

“Switchblade Loitering Munition Puma-Switchblade Sensor to Shooter Capability” July 8, 2018

“Guided Weapons Made Easy,” Oct. 21 2017, which discussed the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS)

“Guided Weapons–Getting Closer,” July 18, 2014, which discussed dual mode Hellfire, Brimstone, and Sea Griffin

“Weapons Effectiveness Testing–25mm vs 30mm,” Aug. 25, 2017 Which seemed to show that the 30mm equipped Mk38 mod2, would be much more effective than the 25 mm version.

“Fletcher/APKWS, a Pocket Missile System Made in America,” May 12, 2018 Looks at a simple launcher for Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS)

“At Last, a New Sight for the .50 cal.” Oct. 10,2017

“Navy Chooses Longbow Hellfire,” Oct. 5, 2015

“ASuW Hellfire Test Success–Operational Late 2017,” Aug. 1, 2015

“New Weapon for Patrol Craft,” Jan.24, 2013, specifically about Sea Griffin

 

“Distribute Lethality to the Cutters”–USNI Proceedings

The US Naval Institute Proceedings’ September 2018 issue has an article recommending installation of Naval Strike Missiles (NSM) on the Bertholf class National Security Cutters (NSC) and the Argus class Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC), “Distribute Lethality to the Cutters,” by LCdr. Daniel M. Wilshire, USCG. Its outside the paywall; you can just click on the link.

He makes some good points.

  • The Navy does not have enough ships.
  • The Coast Guard is building 36 likely candidates.
  • Using deck mounted canister launchers it should not be too difficult to mount NSM on cutters.
  • The systems would be Navy owned and we could use Navy training.
  • Arming cutters for combat, including missiles is not new.
  • If there is a major conflict, cutters may find themselves in combat, whether they are prepared for it or not.
  • These are not a replacement for Navy construction.
  • We should not wait for the outbreak of war before arming cutters

In conclusion he says.

“The prospect of great power conflict once again looms. Though the time and nature of that conflict is not clear, one thing is certain: when the next war breaks out, Coast Guard cutters will go into harm’s way as they have done in nearly every major conflict since 1790, not only because every ship will be needed, but because doing so is part of the Coast Guard’s history and culture. Procurement and training decisions made today will dictate whether the Coast Guard enters that conflict with the weapons needed to best help deter or defeat a peer competitor. Failing to put antiship cruise missiles on the 36 cutters of the NSC and OPC classes, cutters that will serve for the next 50-plus years, is an omission that the Navy, the Coast Guard, and the nation can ill-afford.”

My only comment would be:

  • First, I would prefer to see the longer ranged, heavier Long Range Anti-Ship Missile used instead of NSM, as I believe it is better suited for our peacetime anti-terrorism mission as well as being a more effective weapon in wartime.
  • Second, while it is probably a more complex change, reviving the Coast Guard’s Wartime Anti-Submarine Warfare Mission would probably be an even more important addition to the “National Fleet” than an expanded anti-surface capability. While it probably would contribute nothing to our peacetime anti-terrorism mission, long range acoustic sensors might help our counter-drug effort.

 

RIMPAC 2018

Twenty-five nations, 46 surface ships, five submarines, 17 land forces,  more than 200 aircraft, and 25,000 personnel participated in the latest RIMPAC exercise. Nations represented included Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Republic of Korea, Republic of the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam.

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

And the Coast Guard was there. USCGC Bertholf even headed one of the Task Groups. But I have yet to see any stories from the Coast Guard about Coast Guard participation.
Consequently there is not a lot I can say about what the Coast Guard did. Can’t help but think this was a missed opportunity.

All we seem to have are Navy photographs with their captions.

RIMPAC 2018 will also be the first time that US Coast Guard Maritime Security Response Team West (MSRT-W) participates in RIMPAC SOCAL. US Navy Photo

180710-N-CW570-1068
JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii (July 10, 2018) U.S. Coast Guardsmen assigned to Regional Dive Locker Pacific conduct diving operations during a decontaminated water diving symposium at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise, July 10, 2018.  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Arthurgwain L. Marquez/Released)

The Sinking Exercises

One of the highlights of RIMPAC is always the ability to test ordnance against an actual ship in a Sink-EX. This time there were two target ships, the former USS Racine (LST-1191) and a frigate, the former USS McClusky (FFG 41).

The Racine Sink-EX

This RIMPAC was a bit unusual, in that US Army and Japanese ground units participated in the Racine Sink-EX.

Using targeting from a US Army Gray Eagle drone and AH-64E team, the former Racine was hit by four Japan Ground Self Defense Force surface to surface missiles, a Naval Strike Missile fired from a US Army vehicle with a Palletized Load System (PLS), five HIMAR artillery rockets were fired (no indication how many hits), a Harpoon missile fired by an Australian P-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, and another Harpoon and a torpedo from a US submarine.

Photo By Master Chief Petty Officer Brian Brannon | 180712-N-HO130-2002 PACIFIC MISSILE RANGE FACILITY BARKING SANDS, Hawaii (July 12, 2018) Members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) fire a Japanese Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missile (SSM-12) at the ex-USS Racine (LST-1191), positioned at sea, during a sinking exercise, July 12, at Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, during the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise. This marks the first time the U.S. Army and JGSDF have participated in a sinking exercise during RIMPAC.  (U.S. Navy photo by Master Chief Mass Communication Specialist Brian Brannon/Released)

 

The McClusky Sink-EX

We don’t have a video of the McClusky Sink-EX. An early report indicated that she was sunk by fire from “from a ship and an aircraft.

Subsequently we learned that the Singapore Navy, presumably RSS Tenacious (71) which has space for up to 24 Harpoons, fired two Harpoons at the decommissioned FFG and that unlike most Harpoon strikes, these hit at the waterline, causing the ship to sink earlier than expected. (Really I think all anti-ship cruise missiles should be programmed to strike the waterline–perhaps a terminal dive. Usually their detonations let in air rather than water, damaging the target rather than sinking it.)

“In all, six Harpoons were successfully shot between the two SINKEX events, according to manufacturer Boeing.”

I presume this means two surface launched by the Singapore Navy and two air launched against the FFG and one sub launched and one air launched by the Australian P-8 against the LST.

An Air Force launched LRASM was originally planned to be used against Racine, but I have seen no indication one was launched during the exercise.

Innovation Fair

The Naval Institute reported on a new RIMPAC program, the “Innovation Fair.” While apparently it included a lot of high-tech presentations; it was a simple low-tech “why didn’t I think of that” good idea that won the prize, and it looks like something the Coast Guard could use, a floating and reflective damage control (DC) bag.

Royal Malaysian Navy Sub-Lieutenant Chan Jun Kwan, assigned to frigate KD Lekiu (FFG 30), displays a damage control floating bag concept developed by his crew during the inaugural Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise innovation fair. US Navy photo.

 

 

Philippine Navy Launches Missile from 56 foot Boat

The Philippine Navy has recently demonstrated a new capability, launching the small Israeli made Spike ER missile from a 17 meter (56 foot) Multipurpose Assault Craft (MPAC).

The Spike ER has a maximum range of eight kilometers and weighs 34 kg (74 lb 15 oz). It is similar to the slightly larger American made Hellfire.

The launcher is an adaptation of the Israeli Typhoon Remote Weapon Station that is also the basis of the Coast Guard’s Mk38 mod2/3 25 mm gun mounts.

The MPAC is a 17 ton 45 knot aluminum assault/attack craft designed to land up to 16 troops on a beach.

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..