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.

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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.

Libyan Coast Guard Sinks Tanker

We have reports from NavalToday and Maritime-Executive that the Libyan Coast Guard, using a 30mm auto-cannon, opened fire on and sank a Russian owned, Comoros-flagged oil products tanker, the GOEAST, believed to have been smuggling Libyan oil.

It is not the first time the Libyan Coast Guard has used deadly force, and apparently not the first time the GOEAST’s parent company has been accused of smuggling.

I found this particularly interesting because it seemed to contradict my long held belief that the Coast Guard is unlikely to be able to forcibly stop, much less sink, a medium to large merchant ship in a timely manner with gun fire if it were employed in a terrorist attack. There are many questions about the sinking for which I have not seen answers. What might this incident say about our own ability to stop a terrorist attack using a merchant ship?

The GOEAST was a small and elderly tanker. Admittedly a terrorist organization is more likely to have control of a ship like this, than a larger and more modern vessel. It displaced 9700 tons and was built forty years ago in 1977. It would have been considered relatively large in WWII, but not now. We don’t know its state of maintenance, but it was probably poor. We don’t know how it was loaded, incomplete or asymmetrical loading, and the resulting free surface effect may have contributed to its loss. We don’t know how long it took to sink or how long it could steer and make way. Even after being damaged, could it have completed a terrorist mission before sinking?

The actions of the Libyan Coast Guard were probably an excessive use of force. We have no information about what happened to the crew of the amount of pollution that resulted. Whatever the justification for the attack on the GOEAST, it is good to see a degree of success in using a relatively small gun to stop a sink a ship, but there are reasons why we may not be able to take much comfort in this example.

The Libyan Coast Guard vessel appears to have been a former Italian Bigliani II  class patrol boat equipped with a twin Oto Melara-Mauser 30mm gun.

The Bigliani IIs are not big ships. They are 84.7 tons full load and 27 meters (88.6 feet) in length, 6.95 m (22.8 feet) of beam, with a draft of 1.26 m (4.13 feet). That is actually  slightly smaller than our 91 ton full load 87 foot Marine Protector class WPBs. This illustrates that even our small patrol boats could carry much heavier weapons.

The 30mm gun, visible in the video has a relatively high rate of fire, but that is largely irrelevant for our purposes (unless we are being shot at) since even our 180 round per minute chain guns can exhaust their ammunition in only a few minutes.

The 30mm gun fires common NATO rounds which include the armor piercing fin stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS-T) round that A-10 Warhogs use against tanks. Compared to our 25mm gun’s corresponding APDS-T round, the 30mm has a higher muzzle velocity and weighs 71.6% more. This long rod tungsten penetrator is more likely to be able to disable a ship than even our 57mm rounds, which may penetrate the hull but will likely explode before reaching the engine.

The tanker was not returning fire, which could have kept the patrol boat at a distance, and radially reduced the accuracy of fire.

I still have doubts about the ability of a gun to reliably stop a medium to large merchant ship with a determined crew. There are other alternatives, but an upgrade to a 30mm gun on our patrol boats and larger vessels would certainly increase our chances of success.

Mk38 mod3, Different, but not so Much

USCGC Kathleen Moore (WPC-1109), Don’t expect future WPCs to look much different.

In October 2015 I reported that the Coast Guard would be getting a new gun mount, the Mk38 Mod3, and at that time it appeared that the gun would be substantially different from the Mk38 Mod2 that was being mounted on the Webber Class WPCs.
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DefenseMediaNetwork reports the Mk38 Mod3 offers a number of improvements over the Mod2 currently being fitted to the Webber class, including more ready ammunition on the mount (500 rounds vice 165), a coaxial .50 cal. gun (there was already a plan (pdf) to add a coaxial 7.62mm to the Mod2 version), higher elevation (75 degrees vice 40), better weather protection and serviceability, and the ability to simultaneously track up to three targets. There are also improvements to the search function of the ElectroOptic sensor that should make the system more useful in peacetime roles. They also report that BAE and Israeli manufacturer, Rafael, are considering adding the “Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System” APKWSII guided 70mm rocket system to the mount. In fact Israeli versions of this system already support surface to surface and surface to air missiles.
It now appears the only improvements will be in the electro-optics and in fact the gun mount itself will be identical to the Mk38 Mod2.
Slides from a NAVSEA presentation, in fact, list the Mk38 Mod2 gun mount as a component of the Mod3.
A data sheet on the Mk38 Mod3 indicates there is an option to add a coaxial 7.62mm chain gun with up to 750 rounds on the mount, but otherwise the mount is identical to the existing Mod2 installations, e.g., no greater elevation limits, no more ammunition on the mount, as already anticipated, no 30mm gun, and nothing regarding adding APKWSII guided rockets to the mount. There is no indication yet that the Coast Guard intends to add the 7.62mm machinegun to the mount.

“The Mk 38 MGS is a low cost, stabilized self-defense weapon system that dramatically improves ships’ self-defense capabilities in all weather conditions, day or night. Installed aboard 14 different classes of U.S. Navy ships and U.S. Coast Guard cutters, it is used extensively by the U.S. military as well as by NATO forces.

“A major upgrade to the Mod 3 is the system’s advanced electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor which provides 330-degree surveillance capability and three fields of view. The superior optics allow sailors to monitor the seas and respond to threats even in extremely low light conditions with the benefits of a low contrast, low light level color day camera and an eye-safe laser range finder. (emphasis applied–Chuck)

“While the EO/IR sensor system is integrated with the Mod 3’s state-of-the-art fire control system, the Mk 38 Mod 3 is unique from other naval weapons because its surveillance system moves separately from the gun system, preventing adversaries from easily knowing they have been detected.

“The Mk 38 Mod 3 also provides a range of 2.5 kilometers and selectable rates of fire from single to 180 rounds per minute, and fires all U.S. Navy-approved 25mm ammunition. It can be remotely operated from the combat information center or other protected ship structures, allowing operators to remain safe and out of harm’s way.”

I am disappointed that we will not see the additional improvements, but the improvements in the optics that make the system useful as more than a weapon system are certainly welcome.

We still really need a system on our WPBs and WPCs capable of forcibly stopping medium to large merchant ships with an effective range of at least 4000 yards.

Thanks to Luke for bringing this to my attention. 

Weapons Effectiveness Testing–25 vs 30mm

This is old. It goes back to 1992, but if they knew the results here, it raises a question, why are we still equipping the Mk38s with 25mm guns instead of 30mm (or 35mm or 40mm) guns which also fit the same mount? The results are discussed beginning at time 8:00. The 30mm does nine times the damage to the hull and five times the damage inside the hull.

At the very least we need to make sure we have available rounds that do not detonate on impact. The 25mm rounds, exploding on impact, failed to even penetrate the 1/4 inch aluminum hull of the Mk3 target boat.

Thanks to Luke for bringing this to my attention. 

The Rockets’ Red Glare–the Improv Guided Missile Cruiser

Israel Aerospace Industries IAI successfully test ship launch of LORA artillery missile

TheDrive reports that IAI (Israel Aerospace Industries) has successfully tested a long ranged (400 km/216 nautical miles) ballistic artillery missile launched from a container ship.

The missile is called LORA. LORA is a quasi-ballistic missile, meaning, it “has a low trajectory and/or is largely ballistic but can perform maneuvers in flight or make unexpected changes in direction and range.” It is advertised to both Armies and Navies and now has a man in the loop capability against moving targets (like ships). It is comparable to the US Army and Marine Corps’ ATACMS which has been upgraded to use against naval targets and is expected to be replaced by DeepStrike. Deepstrike will have greater range than 160km/86 nmile ATACMS (nearer the treaty limit for such weapons, or about 269 nautical miles) and will require only half the space of ATACMS, permitting four ready missiles on the M270 MLRS and two on the HIMARS launch vehicles.

There is already an indication that the next RIMPAC exercise will include an ATACMS launched from a ship against a ship.

Missiles with similar capabilities, at least against fixed targets, are available to, and in some cases for sale by, Russia, China, Iran, Syria, N. Korea, India, Pakistan, and Hezbollah. Rebels in Yemen have been using ballistic missiles against Saudi Arabia.

Like most military developments these tactical ballistic missiles may be a blessing or a curse.

  1. They might be used in a terrorist attack against the US, a potential new threat.
  2. If we could call on Marine or Army units equipped with these missiles, they might be used to thwart a terrorist attack.
  3. Coast Guard cutters might take them aboard as temporary, improvised. weapons or they might even be permanently installed in wartime.
  4. It could give the Coast Guard the capability to deal with peacetime terrorist threats in the form of medium to large ships that I had hoped we could provide by using LRASM.

They might be used in a terrorist attack against the US: 

Cruise missiles have already fallen into the hands of terrorist. We have seen them used against ships off Lebanon and Yemen. Use of ballistic artillery missiles from ships to land targets would not be much of a stretch. These small ballistic missile are not that different from cruise missiles in their support requirements. The LORA is claimed to require no maintenance for at least five years. Both cruise and ballistic missiles are now commonly truck mounted.

The US has basically no defense against cruise missile attack, and what little defense there is against ballistic missiles is targeted against ICBMs, not these shorter range missiles with their depressed trajectories and short time of flight.

If we could call on Marine or Army units equipped with these missiles, they might be used to thwart a terrorist attack:

Earlier we talked about the difficulties the Coast Guard would have dealing with any terrorist attack that might use a medium to large vessel as the attacking vehicle (here, here, here, and here) .

These weapons might provide a partial solution. At least some of the Army and Marine units armed with these missiles will spend time State-side.

With proper planning, equipment, training, and exercises we might be able to exploit the proximity of some of these units to provide a credible anti-ship capability.

A significant contributor to making this or other forms of cooperation with other military services possible would be to equip Coast Guard surface and air units with laser designators so we can make sure they pick out the right target.

Coast Guard cutters might take them aboard as temporary, extemporised weapons or they might even be permanently installed in wartime:

The option of loading Army or Marine Artillery rocket launchers on ships, including perhaps cutters and icebreakers may provide a quick upgrade.

During war-time, loading these rocket launchers on cutters, perhaps placing them on the flight deck, might be a way to provide more Naval Surface Fire Support or an anti-ship capability.

These tactical ballistic missiles might be particularly effective against the Russian or Chinese Navies that have had decades of effort developing countermeasures against sub-sonic, low altitude anti-ship missiles like the Harpoon, but have never had to deal with ballistic missiles.

If we find ourselves at war, adding several launchers to the flight-deck, might allow cutters to become dedicated Naval Surface Fire Support vessels (with an equally effective anti-ship capability).

Photo: LSM(R)-197 firing rockets at Okinawa, 1945.

It could give the Coast Guard the capability to deal with peacetime terrorist threats in the form of medium to large ships that I had hoped we could provide by using LRASM:

Photo: LORA missile launcher, 14 Sept. 2008, Hebrew Wikipedia, by Tal Inbar (טל ענבר)

Earlier I suggested that equipping our larger cutters with the LRASM missile might provide a means to deal with a medium to large vessel being used by terrorist. While the range and claimed precision of LRASM make it a good choice, the Deepstrike missile may be an alternative, assuming it also receives the ability to hit moving targets. While it isn’t clear that it is going to be accurate enough to target a ship’s propulsion, a penetrating warhead that comes in almost vertically, penetrates the ship from top, goes through the bottom and explodes below hull could be effective. The shorter time of flight of the ballistic missile would also be an advantage.

Another bit of extemporaneous weaponry was seen recently on an Egyptian LPD. These ships had been ordered by Russia from a French shipbuilder. Ultimately the French were convinced that building ships for Russia was not a good idea. Instead the two ships were sold to Egypt, but they never received the self-defense systems that would have come from Russia. NavyRecognition reports the vessel was seen with four Boeing AN/TWQ-1 Avenger short-range air-defense vehicles secured on deck as a stop-gap AAW system.

Boeing AN/TWQ-1 Avenger (fitted with Raytheon FIM-92 Stinger missiles) on the flight deck of the Mistral-class LHD Anwar El-Sadat (L 1020) during the joint French-Egyptian naval exercise “Cleopatra 2017”. Picture: Ministry of Defense of Egypt

India’s OPV mounted ballistic missiles. Really a test rather than an expediency but below you can see that the Indians have launched fairly large ballistic missiles from an Offshore Patrol Vessel.

Dhanush missile launching from INS Subhadra offshore patrol vessel
(Picture: DRDO)

 

German Navy to Test Asymmetric Weapons

Former  FGS Karlsruhe

NavalToday reports that the 33 year old former FGS Karlsruhe, a now decommissioned 3,680 ton frigate, will be used in a live weapons test.

What makes this test unique is,

“According to the German news site Kieler Nachrichten, the navy also plans to asses how asymmetric threats affect the ship. For these tests, the navy plans to use smaller weapons and rockets as they are used by terrorists and pirates.”

I hope we will get access to the results and will apply lessons learned to our new construction.