A Modest Proposal for a Containerized Weapon System

Leonardo DRS has been chosen to provide the mission equipment package (rendering pictured) atop a Stryker combat vehicle to serve as the Interim Maneuver-Short-Range Air Defense system for the U.S. Army. (Courtesy of Leonardo DRS)

     After the recent report of Russia containerizing anti-air missile systems I got to thinking about containerized systems the Coast Guard might use. There are many systems that might be containerized–sonars, torpedo countermeasures, cruise missiles, drones, 120mm mortars, medical facilities, but there is one combination I found particularly appealing.
     We could tie into the Army’s attempt to develop a new short range air defense system (SHORAD) by mounting a marinized version of the SHORAD turret on a container.  The systems are meant to fire on the move, so they should be able to deal with ship’s movement. The container might be armored to some extent to protect it from splinters and small arms. The container could be equipped to provide power (external connection, generator, and battery), air conditioning, air filtration, etc as the supporting vehicle would have in the Army system.  It looks like the planned interim SHORAD system will include Stinger, Hellfire, an M230 30mm gun and a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun. If we could mount some additional vertical launch Hellfire in the container, so much the better.
     For the Coast Guard these might be used on icebreakers and buoy tenders when they go into contested areas. They might be mounted on the stern of FRCs in lieu of the over the horizon boat using an adapter over the stern ramp, when additional firepower is required. 
     The Army and Marines might also use these containerized systems as prefab base defense systems. As fixed ground defenses, the containers might be buried leaving only the turret above ground level.
     They could also be used on Military Sealift Command and Merchant ships to provide a degree of self defense.

“Russian navy to receive container air defence system” –Navy Recognition

The Pantsir- M presented at Army 2017

NavyRecognition is reporting that the Russians are planning to package air defense systems in standard containers.

Specifically they refer to possible use on the project 20386 corvettes and project 22160 patrol ships. One of the two systems discussed is a missile and gun “Close In Weapon System” (CIWS) but the other system is a much longer ranged system.

This is a significant departure from the container packaged cruise missile systems we have heard about before.

The Pantsir-M CIWS (photo above) would also be effective against surface targets, at close range. In addition to the two 30mm gatling guns, the missiles may also have an anti-surface capability.

In time of war, we might see these, or something similar, on naval auxiliaries or even merchant ships as well as the naval vessels mentioned above. Encountering them on a terrorist controlled vessel is far less likely, but not impossible.

The other way to look at this is, could we do something similar, to make it easy for our icebreakers or perhaps other ships, to go from armed, to unarmed, and back again relatively easily?

Philippines Awards Contract for Upgrade of Former WHECs

BRP Andrés Bonifacio (FF-17), the former USCGC Boutwell.

Updates added below

NavyRecognition is reporting that the Philippines has awarded a PHP1.5 billion ($28.6M) contract to a South Korean firm for upgrades to their Del Pilar Class Frigates. These are the former cutters Hamilton, Boutwell, and Dallas.

“The project has an approved budget of PHP1.5 billion which will be sourced from the Armed Forces of the Philippine Modernization Trust Fund. The upgrade seeks to enhance the ships’ combat management systems, electronic support and sonar capability to make it capable of operating with incoming and more modern naval assets like the two Jose Rizal-class missile frigates being completed by Hyundai Heavy Industries in South Korea.”

The AN/SPS-40 air search radar, SLQ-32 Electronic Warfare System, 25 mm Mk38 guns, and the Phalanx CIWS were removed before the vessels were transferred to the Philippines.

Presumably in addition to sonar, this upgrade will include torpedo tubes and Korean manufactured torpedoes (Update: apparently not–not included in this contract). The EW system will likely also include countermeasures. An air search capable radar like the Hensoldt TRS-3D Baseline D multi-mode phased array C-band radar being installed on the Jose Rizal-class frigates, to replace the AN/SPS-40 will almost certainly be included (Update: Sea Giraffe multi-role radar had been purchased from the US for this purpose, this is the same radar being purchased for the OPCs). Provision for anti-ship cruise missiles is a possibility, but at this point the full extent of modernization is not clear. I would assume the former WHECs will share some systems with the new frigates. 

British Royal Navy adds Missiles to 30mm Gun Mount

Martlet Light Multirole Missile launchers mounted on 30mm gun mount

Britain’s Royal Navy reports they have successfully tested the “Martlet” Light Multirole Missile from their 30mm DS30M auto cannon mount, a mount similar to the Mk38 Mod2/3 used by the Coast Guard on the Webber class and planned for the Offshore Patrol Cutter.

This is certainly not the first time we have seen missile launchers attached to a gun. The Israelis have been doing it for years using the Typhoon gun mount which is the basis for the current 25mm Mk38s as used on the Webber class. .

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

The dimensions of the British missile and American APKWS and Hellfire are provided for comparison.

  • Martlet LMM: Length: 51 in. (1.3 m), Diameter: 3 in. (76 mm), Weight: 28.6 lb (13 kg), Range: 8,000 meters
  • APKWS: Length: 73.8 in (1.87 m), Diameter: 2.75 in (70 mm), Weight: 32 lb (15 kg), Range 5,000 meters
  • Hellfire: Length: 64 inches (1.6 meters), Diameter: 7 inches (180 mm) (17.8 cm), Weight: 100–108 lb (45–49 kg), Range: 8,000 meters

The Martlet has the option of proximity fusing and Laser Beam Rider guidance (in addition to semi-active and IR homing), that probably makes it more effective against air targets, particularly smaller ones like drones. It has been used successfully against a target drone. It also has a longer range than APKWS, but is probably more expensive. Its biggest disadvantage from our point of view is that it is not in the USN inventory.

I am not advocating for this particular weapon, but both Israel and the Royal Navy have seen the wisdom of combining missiles with auto cannon.

  • It minimizes manning requirements in that a single operator can control both missiles and guns.
  • It minimizes space requirements
  • It eliminates the need to pass the targeting information from one fire control to another as the target enters gun range.

Unlike separate systems it probably also means you cannot engage two targets simultaneously.

We need a gun for the signaling, the proverbial shot across the bow, but it is not the best way to neutralize a threat. In an installation like this, the missile is more accurate, has longer range, and is less likely to cause collateral damage.

My feeling is that the Coast Guard would be better off with Hellfire than APKWS. We probably will not have to engage a large number of small targets as the Navy might, but our targets might be larger and this might be the largest weapon available to us. Either APKWS or Hellfire would be an improvement over what we have. The nominal effective range of the 25mm Mk38 is 2,700 yards (2,457 m). The APKWS would double this and the Helfire would triple the effective range. Either would allow us to engage from outside the likely effective range of any improvised weapon system that might be used in a terrorist attack, which I estimate would not exceed 4,000 yards.

When the Mk38 Mod3 was announced, there were indications BAE intended to add a capability to launch APKWS from the mount. I am still hoping.

MAD-FIRES –Multi-Azimuth Defense Fast Intercept Round Engagement System

DARPA is working on what is essentially a gun launched guided missile, and reading their description or this report of testing of the rocket motor, you would not know that it is intended for the 57mm Mk110 gun currently mounted on the National Security Cutters (NSC) and planned for the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC). Fortunately the video above makes that clear. The portion related to MAD-FIRES is time 6:30 to 7:35. (I have seen some indications they plan to use the same technology on different size rounds, but the 57mm looks like the first beneficiary.)

“Envisioned benefits of MAD-FIRES for future systems include:

  • “Improved real-time defense against evolving air and surface combat threats, facilitated by:
    • “Extreme precision
    • “An ability to defend against greater numbers of simultaneous and diverse attacks
  • “Decreased per-engagement costs by a factor of 10 or more
  • “Potential future applicability to air and ground platforms”

MAD-FIRES Projectile. Photo by Dederot

Sea-Air-Space 2019 Virtual Tour

Like most of you I did not make it to the Navy League’s 2019 Sea-Air-Space Exposition, so I have found some YouTube reports that can at least provide some of the information passed along at the event. The descriptions below each video are from the YouTube description.

Day 1 video coverage at the Sea Air Space 2019 exposition. In this video we cover:
– Boeing MQ-25 Stingray aerial refueling drone with Rear Admiral Corey
– Future USVs and XLUUV/Orca programs with Captain Pete Small
– Austal USA new range of medium and large size USVs
Textron Systems CUSV with surface warfare payload
– ST Engineering range of USVs

Day 2 video coverage at the Sea Air Space 2019 exposition. In this video we cover:
– Raytheon SPY-6 radar
– Raytheon / Kongsberg NSM for USMC
– Northrop Grumman PGK for naval 5 Inch and 155mm guns
– Lockheed Martin Freedom-class lethality and survivability upgrade
– Lockheed Martin FFG(X)
– Navantia / BIW FFG(X)

Day 3 video coverage at the Sea Air Space 2019 exposition. Washington-based naval expert Chris Cavas is our guest speaker for this third and final day at Sea Air Space 2019. Cavas covers the follow topics:
– Bell V-247 Vigilant VTOL tilt-rotor UAV in U.S. Navy configuration
– Austal USA USV concepts
– Austal USA FFG(X) Frigate
– Fincantieri FFG(X) Frigate
– GD Bath Iron Works FFG(X) Frigate
– Lockheed Martin Type 26 CSC
– Lockheed Martin hypervelocity missile
– Mic drop

Small Vessel Hellfire Vertical Launch System

Photos: Above, Modular Missile Launcher, also seen below amidships on the Textron CUSV (Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle). Note relatively small size and innocuous appearance. 

Textron Systems’ CUSV with Surface Warfare payload at SAS 2019

Naval News reports that, at this year’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition, Textron showed one of their Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV) craft equipped with a remote weapon station and a modular vertical launch system for the Longbow Hellfire.

I find the Hellfire VLS particularly interesting, as it might find application on Coast Guard cutters. The launcher appears to be about 2’x2’x7. The missile itself is 64″ long (1.6 meters), 7″ in diameter (17.8 cm), with a 13″ span (33 cm).

The CUSV is about 39′ (12 meters) in length. The CUSV’s load space is reportedly 20.5′ x 6.5′.

This earlier report indicates a missile shoot from a CUSV is expected in 2019. 

There would of course be concerns about how to mount these missiles on a cutter. The effects of the smoke at launch on he crew and the possible effects of the engines ingesting the smoke would have to be considered.

The planned transfer of six Webber class cutters to Bahrain, to replace the six Island class cutters assigned to PATFORSWA, might provide the incentive necessary to plan and test a Hellfire installation on this class.