“Precision-Guided Munitions: Background and Issues for Congress” –CRS

The Congressional Research Service issued an update of their 42 page “Precision-Guided Munitions: Background and Issues for Congress” on February 27, 2020. This contains a lot of information on weapons we have discussed here, for potential Coast Guard applications to improve our ability to stop threats ranging from small fast highly maneuverable small craft to medium or large sized ships. The weapons that might be of interest to the Coast Guard include Hellfire (also discussed here and here) and its successor the Joint Air to Ground Missile (JAGM), the Precision Strike Missile, the Naval Strike Missile (NSM), and the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM). Missing from the list is the Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System (APKWS) which is really a guidance kit used to provide semi-active laser homing for the 70 mm Hydra rocket.

For some reason the Coast Guard seems to be guided weapon phobic. Is it the Coast Guard not asking? or the Navy not supporting? No way to tell, but it does look like guided weapons could answer an unfulfilled need to be able to forcibly stop any vessel, regardless of their size, speed or maneuverability. Also unlike conventional naval guns they provide greater precision, minimizing the potential for collateral damage. This could be a significant advantage in view of the fact that the Coast Guard may be called upon to engage terrorists near population centers.

Yes, individual guided weapon rounds are more expensive than conventional gun projectiles, but the total cost to provide a given level of capability and train and provide supporting personnel is usually less. (The 57mm Mk110, its ammunition, and people to support it are not cheap. Reportedly the gun cost $7.2M and the rounds $1200 each.)

The ubiquity and sheer number of modern precision-guided weapons is staggering.

In FY2021, the Department of Defense (DOD) requested approximately $4.1 billion for more than 41,337 weapons in 15 munitions programs. DOD projects requesting approximately $3.3 billion for 20,456 weapons in FY2022, $3.9 billion for 23,306 weapons in FY2023, $3.9 billion for 18,376 weapons in FY2024, and $3.6 billion for 16,325 weapons in FY2025.

Below I will provide a brief description of the weapon and using the figures from the report provide an approximate unit cost.

ATLANTIC OCEAN—A Longbow Hellfire Missile is fired from Littoral Combat Ship USS Detroit (LCS 7) on Feb. 28 2017 as part of a structural test firing of the Surface to Surface Missile Module (SSMM). The test marked the first vertical missile launched from an LCS and the first launch of a missile from the SSMM from an LCS. (Photo by U.S. Navy)

AGM-114 Hellfire Missile: 

Originally designed as a helicopter launched anti-tank weapon, Hellfire is relatively small at about 110 pounds. It has a surface launch range of about eight kilometers or about 4.3 miles. The warhead is about 20 pounds. It could be highly effective against small, fast, highly maneuverable targets. Even multiple hits would be unlikely to sink a medium to large ship, but at least it has the possibility of disabling one.

These weapons are procured in very large quantity.

All three military departments procure Hellfire missiles. From 1998 through 2018, DOD procured more than 71,500 missiles at a cost of $7.2 billion. Congress appropriated nearly $484 million for approximately 6,000 missiles in FY2019. For FY2020, DOD requested approximately $730 million for 9,000 Hellfire missiles, and it plans to purchase 13,100 missiles at a cost of $1.2 billion between FY2021 and FY2024 (Table 3). In its FY2020 recent budget request, DOD states that it is requesting to procure the maximum production of Hellfire missiles.

Unit cost on the basis of the FY2020 request would be less than $83,000.

AGM-169 Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM):

JAGM is expected to replace the closely related Hellfire Missile, but there is as yet no firm timeline. In form, it is very similar to Hellfire but has various improvements.

“JAGM has a maximum effective range of 8.6 nautical miles when launched from a helicopter…” the surface launched range should be similar. It uses an existing AGM-114R rocket motor so presumably the range of the latest versions of Hellfire may be similar.

Requested and Programmed procurement for the JAGM for the six years from 2020 through 2025 amount to 4,771 missiles at a cost of $1,624.96M for a unit cost of about $341,000

US Navy photo. A U.S. Navy Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) in flight during a test event Dec. 8, 2017 off the Coast of California.


LRASM is a relatively large, very sophisticated anti-ship missile with a range of over 200 nautical miles. It weighs 4400 pounds in its surface launch configuration and has a 1000 pound warhead.

Requested and Programmed procurement for the LRASM for the six years from 2020 through 2025 amount to 356 missiles at a cost of $1,260,350,000 for a unit cost of about $3,540,309.

Precision Strike Missile: 

This is a ballistic missile rather than a sea-skimmer. It has a range “in excess of 400 kilometers.” It is intended to replace the ATACM artillery rocket which is being modified for use against naval targets. Since the missile is physically smaller than the ATACM, it is likely the warhead is smaller than the 500 pound warhead used on some versions of ATACM.

Requested and Programmed procurement for the Precision Strike Missile for the five years from 2021 through 2025 amount to 1,018 missiles at a cost of $1,073,410,000 for a unit cost of just over $1M.

Naval Strike Missile (NSM) :

The Naval Strike Missile (NSM) is smaller than the more familiar Harpoon missile. It is only 13 feet long and weighs only about 900 pounds. It has a 125 kg (276 lb) warhead. That is not large enough to sink most ships without multiple hits, but it is a smart missile and it may be possible to direct the missile precisely enough to do critical damage.

The CRS report indicates that the range for this missile is between 100 and 300 nautical miles depending on launch and cruise altitude. 100 for a low (launch altitude), low (cruise altitude), low (terminal approach) flight profile and 300 for a high, high, low profile. Assuming it can be programmed for a low, high, low, it might have a surface launched range considerably greater than 100 miles, which would increase it utility for the Coast Guard as this could allow more distant large cutters to target larger threat vessels, in cooperation with less well armed local units.

Requested and Programmed procurement for the NSM for the six years from 2020 through 2025 amount to 207 missiles at a cost of $366,010,000 for a unit cost of about $1.77M.

How much would it cost to equip the Coast Guard?

There are certainly a lot of unanswered questions here, but I think we could at least approximate the cost within an order of magnitude.

Such a program would extend over several years. This would reduce the annual impact.

While all the missiles mentioned above have potential Coast Guard applications, the Hellfire and Naval Strike Missiles also selected for installation on the Littoral Combat Ships and the new FFG are the most likely be supported by the Navy. After all, the new larger cutter share much in common with the LCS.

Hellfire: Just as a notional approximation, let us say we are going to put six Hellfire on each of the Webber Class FRCs, the Bertholf class NSCs, and the Argus class OPCs. That is 100 installations and 600 missiles. The missiles would cost about $50M. I would assume the launchers and control systems might double the cost to $100M. But this would be a multi-year program. The OPCs will not be finished until well into the 2030s so it would be unlikely the program would cost more than $20M/year.

Naval Strike Missile: Assuming an installation similar to that we are seeing on the LCSs, this would include two, four cell launchers. We probably would not necessarily routinely fill all eight cells, but if we did so equip eleven NSC and 25 OPCs that would be a total of 288 missile. The missiles would cost approximately $510M. Installation of launchers and control equipment might bump the total cost to about $1B, but again this would be spread over several years, continuing into the late 2030s as the OPCs are completed, and the Navy would be footing most of the bill. Installation on two ships a year would probably cost on the order of $50-60M/year.

New Thai Patrol Craft

Graphical rendering of the new patrol craft for the Royal Thai Navy (Image from Marsun)

MarineLog reports that the Thai Navy has chosen MAN 16V175D-MM, IMO Tier II engines, each rated at 2,960 kWm at 1,900 rpm, to power a new class of two Patrol Craft. With two engines for each vessel that is just under 8,000 HP.

This new class is only the latest in a string of patrol craft, indigenously built by Marsun. This class appear to be closely related to the T995 and T996 patrol gun boats. if so it should have a speed of about 27 knots.

It appears to be equipped with a small RHIB, but the boat handling equipment does not appear as convenient as a dedicated davit or stern ramp.

Recently, the Thais seem to have been providing more powerful weapons for their patrol vessels than do most other countries. They recently equipped an Offshore Patrol Vessel with Harpoon Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles in addition to a 76mm gun. The choice of gun for this class appears to be a departure from the weapons that equipped previous patrol craft. The caliber, 30mm, is the same, but the rate of fire and the origin of the weapon are different.

The gun appears to be a Russian 30mm AK-306 barrel rotary cannon, a lighter version of the ubiquitous AK630. Maximum rate of fire is 1,000 rounds per minute. It should be quite effective as a short range anti-surface weapon.

AK-306 rotary cannon, Zbroya ta Bezpeka military fair, Kyiv 2017, Photo from VoidWanderer via Wikipedia Commons


A New 30mm Round –Maybe a Reason to Upgrade the Mk38 Mounts

Military.com reports that Northrop Grumman is developing a proximity fuse for the 30mm gun that arms the San Antonio class LPDs and is part of the Surface Warfare module on the Littoral Combat Ship. The new round is being developed for use against drones, which are a difficult target to hit directly. It might also make the gun more effective against the small boat threat and should improve its chances against aircraft.

The Coast Guard also has an interest in being able to down drones, but this may also be of interest to the Coast Guard because it may provide the incentive needed to upgrade the guns used on Mk38 gun mounts, not just in the Coast Guard, but in the Navy as well. We have known for a long time that the 30mm round is much more effective than the 25mm round, but there has been no movement toward replacing the 25mm guns.

The Mk44 Bushmaster II, 30 mm chain gun is a derivative of the 25 mm M242 Bushmaster. They share a number of parts. All indications are that there would be no significant problem in replacing the M242 Bushmaster used in the Mk38 gun mounts with the more effective 30mm gun. The Mk38 gun mount is the primary armament of the 210 foot WMECs and Webber class Fast Response Cutters. It is expected to arm our Offshore Patrol Cutters and replace the 76mm on WMEC 270s that go through a planned Service Life Extension Program.

I really would rather see either the 50mm version of the Bushmaster III or the 40mm version of the Bushmaster II, but while none of these options are a complete answer to the Coast Guard’s need to be able to thwart a potential terrorist attack, any increase in projectile size allows both engagement at greater range and increases the probability of success against larger threats, while maintaining equal or better probability of success against smaller craft. The 30mm would be a significant improvement.

Three Missile Armed Cutter X for Senegal, 20 Patrol Boats for Ukraine

OPV 58 S from PIRIOU

Two posts from Naval News. French shipbuilders are doing well in the patrol vessel market.

First, “The Ministry of Armed Forces of Senegal and French shipbuilder PIRIOU signed November 17 a procurement contract for three OPV 58 S for the Navy of Senegal. The vessels will be fitted with missile systems, a first for this African navy.”

Second, “The Government of Ukraine gave its green light for the procurement of 20 FPB 98 patrol vessels made by French shipyard OCEA.”

The Senegalese OPVs:

The ships for Senegal fall into that class significantly larger than the Webber class, but significantly smaller than the OPCs. They will be even a little smaller than the 210s. It would be at the lower end of a type, I have called cutter X, vessels with a crew and equipment similar to that of a Webber class FRC, but with better sea keeping and longer endurance. Specifications are:

  • Length: 62.20 meters (204′)
  • Width: 9.50 meters (31.2′)
  • Draft: 2.90 meters (9.5′)
  • Speed: 21 knots
  • Range / Endurance: 25 days, 4,500 nautical miles @ 12 knots
  • Hull / Structure: Steel / Aluminum
  • Accommodations: 48 (24 crew + 24 mission personnel)
  • Stern ramp for two RHIBs

For an Offshore Patrol Vessel, it is very well armed with:

  • A 76mm main gun on the Foc’sle
  • 4x Marte MK2/N anti-ship missiles forward, between the gun and the bridge
  • 2x 12.7mm manned manchine guns on the bridge wings
  • 2x 20mm remote weapon stations (Narwhal by Nexter) at the back of the bridge
  • A SIMBAD-RC surface to air system

The Marte MK2/N missile weighs 310 kg (682#) and is 3.85 metres (12.6′) long. The warhead weighs 70 kilogram (154 pound). The missile, has “an effective range in excess of 30 km, is a fire and forget, all weather sea skimming missile with inertial mid-course navigation through way points and active radar terminal homing. These missiles give these boats a range almost double that of the 57mm or 76mm guns.

SIMRAD-RC is a remote weapons station for launch of two Mistral missiles. Developed as a shoulder launched, Man Portable Air Defense (MANPAD) system, Mistral is a short ranged (6km) IR homing missile. It is claimed to be capable against a range of air targets as well as small surface targets.

Ukrainean OCEA FPB 98 patrol boat:

OCEA FPB 98 patrol boat (Credit: OCEA)

This is a deal, we discussed in July, when it appeared likely. I will repeat the description here.

They have a GRP hull and are powered by two 3,660 HP Caterpillar diesels using waterjets. Specs for vessels of this type sold to Algeria.

  • Displacement: 100 tons
  • Length: 31.8 meters (104’4″)
  • Beam: 6.3 meters (20’8″)
  • Draft: 1.2 meters (3’11”)
  • Speed: 30 knots
  • Range: 900 nmi @ 14 knots
  • Crew: 13

They will probably be equipped with a 20 to 30mm gun.


“Defense Primer: U.S. Precision-Guided Munitions” –CRS

The Congressional Research Service has issued a three page, “Defense Primer: U.S. Precision-Guided Munitions.” (Thanks to the USNI news service for bringing this to my attention.)

The remarkable thing is how pervasive these systems have become.

The U.S. military has become reliant on PGMs to execute military operations, being used in ground, air, and naval operations. In FY2020, DOD requested approximately $5.6 billion for more than 70,000 such weapons in 13 munitions programs. DOD projects to request $4.4 billion for 34,000 weapons in FY2021, $3.3 billion for 25,000 weapons in FY2022, $3.8 billion for 25,000 weapons in FY2023, and $3.4 billion for 16,000 weapons in FY2024.

What has this got to do with the Coast Guard? The Coast Guard is a military organization. We are an armed force at all times. We are armed, but we are not really armed for the realities of the 21st century.

Precision guided weapons have the potential to provide the capabilities we need on a wider range of platforms, with increased effectiveness, at lower costs, with less likelihood of collateral damage.

One of the Coast Guard’s core peacetime capabilities should be the ability to forcibly stop a vessel of any size. Earlier I discussed why I believe we are not capable of doing this, here in 2011, and in fact not as capable as we were in the 1920s and 30s here in 2012.

If we are to make a meaningful contribution in any future conflict, we need to be equipped with modern weapons.

Precision guided munitions are no longer reserved for capital ships. Littoral Combat Ships, the Navy combatants that are closest to our large cutters, were built with Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) systems and Naval Strike Missiles are being added. There is not a single class of US Navy surface combatants, down to, and including the Cyclone class patrol craft, that is not equipped with some form of precision guided munition.

It is time for an upgrade.

Guided weapons can give even relatively small platforms a heavy weight punch. Anti-ship cruise missiles and torpedoes have been successfully fitted to numerous classes of vessels of less than 300 tons full load (e.g. smaller than the Webber class).

Certainly precision guided weapons, be they missiles or torpedoes, cost more on a per round basis, but a gun system that can inflict comparable damage requires an expensive gun, a large quantity of ammunition that is expensive, heavy, and a potential danger to the ship itself, extensively trained technician maintainers and operators, and frequent live training. The launchers for smart munitions by contrast may be simpler. The weapons are most frequently “wooden rounds” that require no maintenance, and training programs are frequently incorporated in the launch system software.

Lastly, if we are going to engage targets, potentially within the confines of U.S. harbors, we want to make sure rounds don’t go astray and hurt innocent Americans. Guided weapons are far less likely to cause unintended damage.

The document briefly describes twelve systems. This is certainly not all the systems in the US inventory. I presume, only these are described, because these are the systems that are included in current budget deliberations. I am reproducing the description for the systems that I think are most likely to be applicable to the Coast Guard, preceded by comments on how they might be used by the Coast Guard. The document divides missiles into “Air Launched,” “Ground Launched,” and “Naval,” but as we know, several of these missiles can be launched from ships as well as from the air or ground.

Hellfire, a good candidate for countering small, fast, highly maneuverable surface threats. Also capable of inflecting serious damage on larger targets if multiple rounds are used. Damage is roughly comparable to a shell from a WWII cruiser. Versions are now being used to arm Littoral Combat Ships. They appear to be a good fit for vessels as small as WPBs.

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

Hellfire Missile. The first Hellfire was introduced into service in 1982 on the Army’s AH-64 Apache, using laser guidance to target tanks, bunkers, and structures. Hellfire missiles have a maximum effective range of 4.3 nautical miles. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Hellfire missiles were introduced on the MQ-1 Predator, and later the MQ-9 Reaper, enabling unmanned aerial vehicles to provide a strike capability. Hellfire missiles have become a preferred munition for operations in the Middle East, particularly with increased utilization of unmanned aircraft like MQ-1s and MQ-9s. 

JAGM, a possible direct replacement for Hellfire. same size and shape:

Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM). The Joint Air-to-Ground Missile is designed to replace the Hellfire, TOW, and Maverick missiles. JAGM uses a new warhead/seeker paired with an existing AGM-114R rocket motor to provide improved target acquisition and discrimination. JAGM underwent testing starting in 2010, declaring initial operating capability in 2019 having successfully been integrated on the AH-64E Apache and AH-1Z Super Cobra attack helicopters.

Naval Strike Missile, chosen for the Littoral Combat Ship and new frigate, this would seem to be a natural fit for the National Security Cutter and Offshore Patrol Cutter. I would prefer the LRASM because of its longer range and much larger warhead, but this system does have a smaller foot print so might fit where the LRASM could not. This is the first time I have seen a maximum range of 300 nautical miles quoted.

A Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) is launched from the U.S. Navy littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS-4) during missile testing operations off the coast of Southern California (USA). The missile scored a direct hit on a mobile ship target. 23 September 2014.
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zachary D. Bell

 Naval Strike Missile (NSM). The NSM is an anti-ship low observable cruise missile capable of flying close the surface of the ocean to avoid radar detection. The NSM is designed to fly multiple flight profiles—different altitudes and speeds—with effective ranges of between 100 and 300 nautical miles at a cruise speed of up to 0.9 Mach. The Navy has integrated the NSM on its Littoral Combat Ship, which deployed to the Pacific region in September 2019.


LRASM, this would be my preferred option to arm the NSC and OPC. It has sufficient range to almost guarantee that if there were a terrorist attack using a medium to large ship, we would have a vessel underway, ready, and within range to engage it. Its warhead is almost four time the size of that of the NSM, so it would be much more likely to get a mobility kill with a single round. It, like the NSM, can be launched from deck mounted inclined canisters.

US Navy photo. A U.S. Navy Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) in flight during a test event Dec. 8, 2017 off the Coast of California.

Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM). LRASM was conceived by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, using a JASSM missile body to replace the AGM-88 Harpoon. Flight testing began in 2012 with the B-1B and the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. LRASM uses radio-frequency sensors and electrooptical/infrared seekers for guidance.


If you want to dig deeper into this, the Congressional Research Service has done a much more in depth study of the procurement issues.

“General Dynamics’ Next Generation Squad Weapon – The RM277”

The army is in the process of selecting a new rifle and light machine gun. This report looks at one of the candidates, but also provides links to information about the other candidates. It is probably going to be a while before the Coast Guard sees a replacement for our existing weapons, with the possible exception of the specialized units.

There is also some information on the new 6,8mm (.277″) round designed to be relatively light while having greater range and better penetration of advanced body armor than the 5.56mm (.222″) round.

“French Navy to Test SOFRESUD’s IPD aboard its PAG Ships” –Naval News

Naval News reports,

An Intuitive Pointing Device (IPD) will be installed and tested aboard one of the French Navy’s PAG type patrol vessels.

We talked about this device earlier, I thought it might be used for more than just its designed purpose, perhaps even replacing our alidades.

I wanted to provide the video above, that explains some of the features of the device and better shows how it is installed.

The PAG vessels referred to in the report all operate in the Western Hemisphere, based in Martinique and French Guyana, so there is a good chance Coasties will have an opportunity to see this system, and discuss their use with their French counterparts.

According to the video the device is currently used by nine different navies, those of the UK, France, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Malaysia, Morocco, Korea, and Norway, so we might have other opportunities to take a look at it.

French Navy Guyana-based Light Patrol Vessel PLG La Confiance is Now on Active Duty

French Navy PLG light patrol vessel La Confiance in combined anti-drug training with US Coast Guard Cutter Winslow Griesser. French Navy picture.