Guided 57mm Round Being Developed


Navy Recognition reports that BAE is developing a laser or image recognition guided round for the Mk110 57mm gun that equips the Bertholf Class, National Security Cutter (NSC) and is expected to equip the Offshore Patrol Cutter in addition to the two classes of Littoral Combat Ships.

It is referred to as “Ordnance for Rapid Kill of Attack Craft or ORKA (technical designation: MK295 MOD 1).” Which seems to indicate it is not an anti-aircraft round.

Guided rounds are already available for larger caliber weapons. Guess we will have to wait a while to see if it is actually any cheaper than a guide missile like Griffin or Hellfire. We already know the launcher is not cheaper.

Navy Chooses Existing LCS Designs as Basis for Small Surface Combatant

Photo: A modified Littoral Combat Ship design based on the Lockheed Martin Freedom-class. US Navy Image. Click on the image to enlarge. Note the USNI post also includes an image of a modified Independence class LCS

USNI is reporting that the existing Littoral Combat Ship designs will be modified to become the new Small Surface Combatant. It is not clear if they mean they will continue to build two designs in parallel, or if they mean they will select only one of the two. Perhaps there will be a competitive bid.

In spite of apparently incorporating all the elements of both the anti-submarine and anti-surface modules plus over-the-horizon Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles, it is reported they will have a lighter displacement than the existing LCSs. Surprisingly they apparently will not include VLS, but will include a multi-function towed array sonar, over the horizon ASCMs, upgraded radars, EW, and Cruise Missile decoy systems, torpedo countermeasures, a Mk38 Mod2 25 mm, and additional armor, in addition to the Mk110 57mm, two Mk46 30mm, Hellfire, MQ-8 UAVs and HM-60 helicopters. Both designs will use SeaRAM.

The question for the Coast Guard now is, how much commonality with this new class can be incorporated into the Offshore Patrol Cutter either as equipment actually installed or as equipment fitted for but not with? The more commonality that can be achieved, the more supportable the ships will be over the long haul.

The world seems to be becoming a more dangerous place, where the US may need every warship it can muster. We cannot afford the luxury of building the OPCs without wartime potential.

Alternate Weapons for New Large Cutters?

Had an interesting discussion about why the National Security Cutter retained the Phalanx Close In Weapon System (CIWS) while the very similar weapons suite on the Freedom class Littoral Combat Ship used the Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) system instead.

Mk 49 Rolling Airframe Missile Launching System Photo credit: Darkone 13 Aug, 2006, via Wikipedia

My friend contended that, while the Phalanx is very maintenance intensive, the launcher for the RAM is virtually maintenance free, which would benefit the relatively small crew. He also noted that the current models have an excellent anti-surface capability and longer range than the Phalanx.

This got me to thinking. I won’t make a recommendation, but will discuss alternatives that might be considered. I’ll talk about who is using the RAM and how, and discuss how the Coast Guard might use it, and its advantages and disadvantages as a possible replacement for the Phalanx and possibly even the 57 mm. But before we get to that, as we are always told, you have to start with the mission.

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Reflections on the CNO’s Navigation Plan CNO has issued a “navigation plan” for for Fiscal Years 2013-2017 that can be accessed here. (It’s only four pages.)

“The Nav Plan provides details on how we will execute this guidance, highlighting our investments through the lens of my three tenets: Warfighting First, Operate Forward, and Be Ready.”

Most of it is, of course, not Coast Guard related, but there are some that might ultimately impact the Coast Guard.

Under “Warfighting First”:

“Improve near-term capability to counter fast attack craft by fielding enhanced gun and surface-to-surface missile systems for Patrol Coastal (PC) ships and Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and laser-guided rockets for helicopters and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).”

Some of this might ultimately be applicable to CG platforms.

Under “Operate Forward”:

“Sustain the “places” our forward operating forces depend on to rest, repair, refuel, and resupply in Spain, Italy, Greece, Djibouti, Diego Garcia, Bahrain, Japan, Singapore, and Republic of Korea – as well as our forward base on Guam”

“Field improved Firescout UAVs…”

“Forward station additional ships – LCS at Singapore and PCs at Bahrain – to improve our ability to cooperate with regional partners in maritime security operations.”

“Improve our ability to remain forward by studying options for rotational crewing of other classes of ships.”

We already have Patrol Boats at Bahrain. We may see an additional push to put more assets, including perhaps more than one FRC, in Guam, (maybe not a bad thing for SAR and Fisheries enforcement). The increased Navy presence in Guam may also provide opportunities to exploit their units for SAR and LE as well.

Hopefully the CG will benefit from improvements in Firescout, but the Navy is talking about increasing the size of the airframe substantially which may be problematic for CG ships.

Certainly there will the opportunity to share experience in rotational crewing, and perhaps make it work.

Under “Be Ready”:

“Improve the “wholeness” of the Aegis Weapons System through data link and software upgrades while adding the Shipboard Self Defense System to more non-Aegis ships, such as amphibious assault ships.”

“Improve operational energy efficiency by investing in new technologies such as hybrid-electric drive.”

The weapon systems on the NSCs, and presumably the OPCs, are derived from the Aegis system and, I believe, closely related to the Shipboard Self Defense System for non-Aegis ships mentioned above. As the system evolves, ultimately we might see the Rolling Airframe Missile system replace the Phalanx on the NSCs. It is essentially the same weight and is used by the very similar system on the Freedom Class Littoral Combat Ship.

The Navy is already using hybrid-electric drive on the USS Makin Island (LPD-8) and a fully integrated system on the USNS Louis and Clark class T-AKEs. There may be opportunities to ride the coat tales of their experience. Fuel economy is probably even more important to the Coast Guard than to the Navy.

What was not there:

I notice there was no mention of either African Partnership station or Drug Enforcement.

National Security Cutter as Navy Patrol Frigate

Navy Times’ “Scoop Deck” asks what the Navy will do “After the frigates are gone” and suggest that variants of the National Security Cutter (NSC) might be a better solution than the Littoral Combat Ship (LSC).

Back in March, Defense News also suggested that the NSC might be the Navy’s best option.

This has been an on going discussion for a long time, fueled no doubt by Northop Grumman’s desire to sell more ships. But the suggestion has been taken seriously. In July 2009, the Congressional Budget Office Study did a study that included an upgraded 20 NSCs as an option to 25 of the LCS.

That study suggested that these 20 NSCs be upgraded as follows:

“For approximately $260 million, the Navy could replace the Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) currently used on the national security cutter with the SeaRAM Mk-15 CIWS. Unlike the former system, which consists of a rapid-firing gun designed to engage subsonic antiship missiles at close ranges, the SeaRAM CIWS would incorporate a rolling airframe missile on the same physical space but provide the ship with the ability to engage supersonic antiship cruise missiles out to 5 nautical miles. The SeaRAM system includes its own sensor suite—a Ku band radar and forward-looking infrared imaging system— to detect, track, and destroy incoming missiles.

“An additional layer of antiship missile defense could be provided by installing the Mk-56 vertical launch system with Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSMs) along with an Mk-9 Tracker/Illuminator system to detect, track, and engage antiship missiles. The ESSM can engage supersonic antiship missiles at a range of nearly 30 nautical miles. Installing 20 sets of a 12-cell launching system (which would carry 24ESSMs), buying the missiles, and integrating the weapons with the ships would cost about $1.1billion.”

So these upgrades would cost $1.360B/20 ships or $68M/ship

With many more critics than supporters, there is a lot speculation that the Navy will not build anywhere near the 55 LCSs currently planned. The black-eye lean manning is getting in the Navy lately, and the fact that the LCSs are designed for lean manning with no apparent option for growing the crew, is adding to criticism of its limited weapons and poor endurance. The Coast Guard is looking smart for providing the NSCs and OPCs with both realistic crews and room for growth.

If the government wanted to open an option for the future, it might be smart to increase the CG buy of NSCs to 12, to make up some of the shortage of ship days that is certainly in our future and direct that the last 6 be made as a “B” class with a weapons fit including the systems sited above, a towed array sonar, and all necessary space and equipment for support of two MH-60Fs, with the marginal cost paid out of the Navy budget. The nation would have an additional capability and the Navy would have have a ready option in a mature design, that could take on the functions of the FFGs.

USCGC Death Star

Back in May, I mentioned that a laser equipped Phalanx CIWS had successfully shot down a drone target, “What’s Next, a Laser Death Ray for Our Major Cutters?” Now we have the video and more details from Scientific American.

Since this was done with commercially available lasers and is expected to be operational as early as 2016, it is clear that beam weapons are coming on faster than we might have expected. A capability not addressed in any of the articles I have seen so far is the ability to blind pilots of manned aircraft even if it does not destroy the aircraft directly. There is also the possibility of having very precise ability to disable boats, or the ability to apply it in a low powered, non-lethal way to force compliance by making individuals very uncomfortable, in addition to use against cruise missiles and small boat swarms. It might even be used against incoming artillery shells.

Thinking about implications for the future, this does suggest we may want to make sure our future ships have ample electrical generating capacity. Having diesel electric propulsion would make that relatively simple.

Guns vs. “The Swarm”

When I first saw the video of the Bertholf’s trial of the Phalanx Close In Weapon System (CIWS) against a small fast surface target, I was a bit disappointed to see the wide dispersion of projectiles, knowing how small a cruise missile, seen end on, would be, but it didn’t think a lot about it. This blog post (post is not longer available, Chuck) has caused me to look at the trials in a different light, and I find it a bit disturbing.

Paired with the video of the Bertholf’s trial is one of a new Navy Guided Missile Destroyer engaging unmanned fast surface drone targets. His conclusion is that apparently we still have a problem with reliably stopping small boats.

I imagine both exercises were considered successful, and undoubtedly the targets in both videos were hit several times. Being on one of these boats would have been very dangerous, but the fact remained that the boats seemed to loose none of their speed or maneuverability.

I would like to be able to say that the failure to stop the boats was due to exercise artificialities, that there was an intentional offset in bearing or range so that we avoided hitting the target, but that does not seem to be the case. Or perhaps we were using practice ammunition that could not penetrate the target which service ammunition would have?

Several years ago the Navy had a landmark exercise in which a Carrier Battle Group was set upon by a swarm of small boats that got a mission kill on the Carrier. Ever since that exercise and the attack on the Cole, they have started paying attention to this type of attack. Countering swarms of small boats was a primary mission driving the creation of the of the new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). The Iranian Revolutionary Guards expect to use swarm tactics.

I pulled the videos out separately if you would like to get a better look at them. Here is the Bertholf’s trial, which, judging by the delay from the gun firing until the fall of shot, appeared to be at ranges beginning at about 3000 yards and ending at about 1,000 yards.

Here is the video of the USS Howard (DDG 83)’s layered defense exercise of 25 September 2005 using 5″, 25 mm, and .50 cal in addition to the CIWS, which began at a bit over 7,200 yards.

Realistic testing and training, along with a realistic assessment of your probabilities of success are essential to good tactical decision making. Why weren’t we able to stop these boats?

What’s next? A laser death ray for our major cutters

Now this is what we really need, a death ray for our cutters.

“The LaWS is essentially a laser upgrade to the MK 15 Close In Weapon System (CIWS), a.k.a. the Phalanx gun, a radar-guided autocannon that is already installed on Navy surface combatants. According to NAVSEA, the system tested fired a laser through a beam director installed on a tracking mount, which in turn was controlled by a  Mk 15 CIWS. That’s the basically same system that controls the Phalanx.”

Read the whole story at the link here. We do already have the CIWS on our WHECs and National Security Cutters and expect to have them on the Offshore Patrol Cutters.

It’s not April First is it?