Navy recognition is reporting the announcement of a new 40mm naval gun system, based on an existing land based system (pdf). It is claimed to be “a new generation CIWS effective against super sonic seaskimming missile thanks to the airburst ammunition, as well as against asymmetric threats…” while having about the same “footprint and weight as a 25mm system.”
The system is interesting, but the star of the show is the gun and its innovative ammunition. The ammunition is “Case Telescoped” meaning that the shell is embedded in the casing and surrounded by the propellent. The gun and its ammunition are products of CTA International, an equal-shares joint venture company between defence companies Nexter (France) and BAE Systems. The resulting round is very short and shaped like a cylinder rather than the typical double tapered shape of most fixed (one piece) ammunition.
The short length of the ammunition means that the portion of the gun inside the mount can be very compact. In the illustration below, the 25mm M242 Bushmaster used in the Mk38 mount is at top right and the Case Telescoped (CT) 40mm is at the bottom right. It’s very compact breech mechanism is apparent.
If this gun could replace our 25mm guns on the Webber class WPCs and the Offshore Patrol Cutters, either by replacing the mount or perhaps by replacing the gun in the Mk38 mod2/3 mounts (also a BAE product), it would give us improvements in range, accuracy, impact, and particularly penetration. Rates of fire for the two systems are the same.
The effective range of the Mk38 has been variously reported as 2500 or 3000 yards. This has been a matter of concern to me because when approaching a suspicious vessel that might be being used to make a terrorist attack, I believe a cutter should remain at a distance such that improvised armaments cannot target specific critical equipment on the cutter (like its one gun mount). Improvised armaments might include heavy machine guns, anti-tank guided missiles, or Soviet era anti-aircraft or anti-tank guns of up to 130mm. From my observations and research, in order to preclude targeting critical systems, the cutter should initially approach no closer than 4,000 yards while its boarding party investigates. .
The NavyRecognition post reports a claim of 4,000 meters (4,373 yards) for CTA’s 40mm. While I have not been able to find a claimed max range for the CTA 40mm, the maximum range for the ballistically similar Bofors 40mm/70 is 13,675 yards (12,500 m). The M242 25mm used in the current Mk38 mod2 has a max range of 7,450 yards (6,800 m). Assuming the effective range is proportional to the maximum range, the CTA 40mm should be able to effectively engage from beyond 4000 yards (3,659m).
The image below, from thinkdefence, shows a comparison of effectiveness against armor using armor piercing fin stabilized fin stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) rounds.
To me, greater armor penetration translates into being able to penetrate the hull and go on to wreck a larger diesel engine than the smaller round.
As far as I can tell, while there is an armor piercing fin stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) round for the 25mm, the Mk110 57mm has no round comparable to the APFSDS round offered for the CT 40mm, which has a muzzle velocity of 1,640 meters/second or approximately 5,379 feet/second. The 57mm round would explode shortly after penetrating the skin of the ship, likely before it reached the engine.
Because the 40mm round is about twice as big as the 25mm round, its effective radius is considerably larger.
The image below (also from Thinkdefence) shows a fragmentation comparison between a 30mm airburst round (left) and the 40mm GPR-AB (40mm airburst). The lethal area for the airburst nature at 1,500m is 125m2. Apparently there is no airburst projectile for the 25mm because it is considered to small to be effective.
Is this gun really ready for “primetime?”
Our friend at thinkdefence.co.ukhas done an extensive examination of the development of this weapon.
The gun has been adopted by the British Army for installation on two types of armored vehicles and the French are also planning on using it in one of their armored vehicles.
Apparently the gun is a success and will probably find additional application, including, hopefully, a version of the Mk38.
The Navy has been talking a lot about distributed lethality lately, and “if it floats, it fights.” There is even talk of mounting cruise missiles on Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships, even though it might compromise their primary mission. But so far there has been little or no discussion of extending this initiative to include the Coast Guard. The Navy should consider investing high-end warfighting capability in the Coast Guard to augment existing force structure and provide a force multiplier in times of conflict. A more capable Coast Guard will also be better able to defend the nation from asymmetrical threats.
Why Include the Coast Guard?
A future conflict may not be limited to a single adversary. We may be fighting another world war, against a coalition, perhaps both China and Russia, with possible side shows in Africa, the Near East, South Asia, and/or Latin America. If so, we are going to need numbers. The Navy has quality, but it does not have numbers. Count all the Navy CGs, DDGs, LCSs, PCs and PBs and other patrol boats and it totals a little over a hundred. The Coast Guard currently has over 40 patrol ships over 1,000 tons and over 110 patrol craft. The current modernization program of record will provide at least 33 large cutters, and 58 patrol craft of 353 tons, in addition to 73 patrol boats of 91 tons currently in the fleet, a total of 164 units. Very few of our allies have a fleet of similar size.
Coast Guard vessels routinely operate with U.S. Navy vessels. The ships have common equipment and their crews share common training. The U.S. Navy has no closer ally. Because of their extremely long range, cutters can operate for extended periods in remote theaters where there are few or even no underway replenishment assets. The Coast Guard also operates in places the USN does not. For example, how often do Navy surface ships go into the Arctic? The Coast Guard operates there routinely. Virtually all the U.S. vessels operating with the Fourth Fleet are Coast Guard. There are also no U.S. Navy surface warships home based north of the Chesapeake Bay in the Atlantic, none between San Diego and Puget Sound in the Pacific, and none in the Gulf of Mexico with the exception of mine warfare ships.
In the initial phase of a conflict, there will be need to round-up all the adversaries’ merchant ships and keep them from doing mischief. Otherwise they might lay mines, scout for or resupply submarines, put agents ashore, or even launch cruise missiles from containers. This is not the kind of work we want DDGs doing. It is exactly the type of work appropriate for Coast Guard cutters. Coast Guard ships enjoy a relatively low profile. Unlike a Carrier Strike Group or Navy SAG, they are less likely to be tracked by an adversary.
If we fight China in ten to twenty years, the conflict will likely open with China enjoying local superiority in the Western Pacific and perhaps in the Pacific in general. If we fight both China and Russia it may be too close to call.
The National Security Cutter (NSC)
This class of at least nine and possibly ten, 418 foot long, CODAG powered, 28 knot ships, at 4,500 tons full load, are slightly larger than Perry-class frigates. Additionally they have a 12,000 nautical mile cruising range. As built they are already equipped with:
Navy certified helicopter facilities and hangar space to support two H-60 helicopters,
A 57 mm Mk110 gun,
SPQ-9B Fire Control Radar
Phalanx 20mm Close in Weapon System (CIWS)
2 SRBOC/ 2 x NULKA countermeasures chaff/rapid decoy launcher,
A Sensitive Compartmented Intelligence Facility (SCIF)
In short, they are already equipped with virtually everything needed for a missile armed combatant except the specific missile related equipment. They are in many respects superior to the Littoral Combat Ships. Adding Cooperative Engagement Capability might even allow a Mk41 equipped cutter to effectively launch Standard missiles targeted by a third party.
The ships were designed to accept 12 Mk56 VLS which launch only the Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles (ESSM). Additionally, the builder, Huntington Ingalls, has shown versions of the class equipped with eight Mk41 VLS (located between the gun and superstructure) plus eight Harpoon, and Mk32 torpedo tubes (located on the stern). Adding missiles to the existing hulls should not be too difficult.
The Mk41 VLS are more flexible in that they can accommodate cruise missiles, rocket boosted antisubmarine torpedoes (ASROC), Standard missiles, or Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles (ESSM). Using the Mk41 VLS would allow a mix of cruise missiles and ESSM with four ESSMs replacing each cruise missile, for example eight cells could contain four cruise missiles and 16 ESSM, since ESSM can be “quad packed” by placing four missiles in each cell. Development of an active homing ESSM is expected to obviate the need for illuminating radars that are required for the semi-active homing missiles. Still, simpler deck mounted launchers might actually offer some advantages, in addition to their lower installation cost, at least in peacetime.
Cutters often visit ports where the population is sensitive to a history of U.S. interference in their internal affairs. In some cases, Coast Guard cutters are welcome, while U.S. Navy ships are not. For this reason, we might want to make it easy for even a casual observer to know that the cutter is not armed with powerful offensive weapons. Deck mounted launchers can provide this assurance, in that it is immediately obvious if missile canisters are, or are not, mounted. The pictures below show potential VLS to be considered.
The Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC)
The OPC program of record for provides 25 of these ships. A contract has been awarded to Eastern Shipbuilding Group for detail design and construction of the first ship, with options for eight more. The notional design is 360 feet long, with a beam of 54 feet and a draft of 17 feet. The OPCs will have a sustained speed of 22.5 knots, a range of 10,200 nautical miles (at 14 knots), and an endurance of 60-days. It’s hangar will accommodate one MH-60 or an MH-65 and an Unmanned Air System (UAS).
Notional design characteristics and performance of the OPC. (USCG Image)
It will have a space for a SCIF but it is not expected to be initially installed. As built, it will have a Mk38 stabilized 25 mm gun in lieu of the Phalanx carried by the NSC. Otherwise, the Offshore Patrol Cutter will be equipped similarly to the National Security Cutter. It will likely have the same Lockheed Martin COMBATSS-21 combat management system as the LCS derived frigates. It is likely they could be fitted with cruise missiles and possibly Mk56 VLS for ESSM as well. Additionally these ships will be ice strengthened, allowing the possibility of taking surface launched cruise missiles into the Arctic
The Fast Response Cutter (FRC)
The FRC program of record is to build 58 of these 158 foot, 28 knot, 365 ton vessels. 19 have been delivered and they are being built at a rate of four to six per year. All 58 are now either built, building, contracted, or optioned. They are essentially the same displacement as the Cyclone class PCs albeit a little slower, but with better seakeeping and a longer range. Even these small ships have a range of 2,950 nm. They are armed with Mk 38 mod2 25 mm guns and four .50 caliber M2 machine guns.
The first Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter (FRC), USCGC Bernard C. Webber. (USCG photo)
They are already better equipped than the Coast Guard 82 foot patrol boats that were used for interdiction of covert coastal traffic during the Vietnam war. If they were to be used to enforce a blockade against larger vessels, they would need weapons that could forcibly stop medium to large vessels.
The Marine Protector Class
There are 73 of these 87 foot, 91 ton, 26 knot patrol boats. Four were funded by the Navy and provide force protectionservices for Submarines transiting on the surface in and out of King Bay, GA and Bangor, WA.
If use of these vessels for force protection were to be expanded to a more hostile environment, they would likely need more than the two .50 caliber M2 machine guns currently carried. The four currently assigned to force protection units are currently equipped with an additional stabilized remote weapon station.
The U.S. Navy currently has or is considering four different surface launched cruise missiles: Harpoon, Naval Strike Missile (NSM), Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), and Tomahawk. Of these, LRASM appears most promising for Coast Guard use. Tomahawk is the largest of the four and both Harpoon and NSM would be workable, but they do not have the range of LRASM. The intelligence and range claimed for the LRASM not only makes it deadlier in wartime, it also means only a couple of these missiles on each of the Coast Guard’s largest cutters would allow the Coast Guard’s small, but widely distributed force to rapidly and effectively respond to asymmetric threats over virtually the entire U.S. coast as well as compliment the U.S. Navy’s efforts to complicate the calculus of a near-peer adversary abroad
Small Precision Guided Weapons
It is not unlikely that Fast Response Cutters will replace the six 110 foot patrol boats currently based in Bahrain. If cutters are to be placed in an area where they face a swarming threat they will need the same types of weapons carried or planned for Navy combatants to address this threat. These might include the Sea Griffin used on Navy’s Cyclone-class PCs or Longbow Hellfires planned for the LCS.
Additionally, a small number of these missiles on Coast Guard patrol craft would enhance their ability to deal with small, fast, highly maneuverable threats along the U.S. coast and elsewhere
Light Weight Anti-Surface Torpedoes
If Coast Guard units, particularly smaller ones, were required to forcibly stop potentially hostile merchant ships for the purposes of a blockade, quarantine, embargo, etc. they would need something more that the guns currently installed.
The U.S. does not currently have a light weight anti-surface torpedo capable of targeting a ship’s propellers, but with Elon Musk building a battery factory that will double the worlds current capacity and cars that out accelerate Farraris, building a modern electric small anti-surface torpedo should be easy and relatively inexpensive.
Assuming they have the same attributes of ASW torpedoes, at about 500 pounds these weapons take up relatively little space. Such a torpedo would also allow small Coast Guard units to remain relevant against a variety of threats.
Adding cruise missile to the Coast Guard National Security Cutters and Offshore Patrol Cutters would increase the number of cruise missile-equipped U.S .surface ships by about 40 percent.
Coast Guard Patrol craft (WPCs) and patrol boats (WPBs) significantly outnumber their Navy counterparts. They could significantly increase the capability to deal with interdiction of covert coastal traffic, act as a force multiplier in conventional conflict, and allow larger USN ships to focus on high-end threats provided they are properly equipped to deal with the threats. More effective, longer ranged, and particularly more precise weapons could also improve the Coast Guard’s ability to do it Homeland security mission.
Thanks to OS2 Michael A. Milburn for starting the conversation that lead to this article.
Photo: The Government of Mexico purchased four CN235-300M aircraft (similar to the Coast Guard’s HC-144A). Oct. 1, 2010, the Foreign Military Sales program awarded a $157.9 million contract to EADS North America to produce these aircraft. The fourth and final delivery took place May 2, 2012, at EADS’ facility in Seville, Spain. Photo courtesy of Airbus Military.
CIMSEC has an interesting post that postulates a greatly expanded leadership role for the Coast Guard. In many ways it is radical, but I think it may be the way we are headed.
It suggests an enlarged role in international maritime policing and Foreign Military Sales. That probably implies intelligence collection and distribution.
“Under the umbrella of muscular law enforcement, the Coast Guard would manage not only patrols of the American coast, but also patrols off South America and Africa as well.”
That may already be close to reality in the SouthCom AOR.
The author describes a standard “frigate” that could very well be the Offshore Patrol Cutter:
“The principal requirements would be low cost, ease of maintenance, and margins for growth. The basic warship would have a simple power plant, enough systems to operate as a minimalist patrol ship, and substantial space and weight left available for additions.”
“Built cheaply and in large numbers, flotillas of these semi-modular ships would patrol for pirates off Africa, drug smugglers in the Gulf of Mexico, or vessels in distress off North America.”
He also sees a role for these ships in Amphibious Assaults.
“…the amphibious train would be escorted by frigates (based on the common hull introduced above) specialized with the maximum number of naval guns possible. With these frigates, the amphibious force would be able to defeat enemy forces in waters too constricted for the blue-water warships to operate effectively.”
We have seen a growing Coast Guard role in Foreign Military Sales with the delivery of hundreds of boats to dozens of nations, new 87 foot patrol boats going to Yemen, and maritime patrol aircraft going to Mexico. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to see OPCs or Webber class WPCs being sold to our allies and friends, possibly funded in whole or in part by US Foreign Military Assistance.
There may be minor issues with his vision. I might argue that in accordance with the post’s logic, force protection should be under Coast Guard management, but generally his views are sound. It is surprising to see so much of a post by a former E-2C/D Hawkeye Naval Flight Officer devoted to the Coast Guard. The whole post is worth a read.
Announcements of previous names are here and here. There was a bit of a change in that the name of Joseph Napier was reassigned to WPC-1115 when WPC-1110 was named after Raymond Evans.
Previously assigned Cutter names assigned were:
Bernard C. Webber (WPC-1101)
Richard Etheridge (WPC-1102)
William Flores (WPC-1103)
Robert Yered (WPC-1104)
Margaret Norvell (WPC-1105)
Paul Clark (WPC-1106)
Charles David (WPC-1107)
Charles Sexton (WPC-1108)
Kathleen Moore (WPC-1109)
Raymond Evans (WPC-1110)
William Trump (WPC-1111)
Isaac Mayo (WPC-1112)
Richard Dixon (WPC-1113)
Heriberto Hernandez (WPC-1114)
Joseph Napier (WPC-1115)
Winslow W. Griesser (WPC-1116)
Richard H. Patterson (WPC-1117)
Joseph Tezanos (WPC-1118)
Rollin A. Fritch (WPC-1119)
Lawrence O. Lawson (WPC-1120)
John F. McCormick (WPC-1121)
Bailey T. Barco (WPC-1122)
Benjamin B. Dailey (WPC-1123)
Donald H. Horsley (WPC-1124)
Jacob L. A. Poroo (WPC-1125)
I cannot be sure which hull numbers will be assigned to each of the names, but the names in the order they were announced are:
Richard T. Snyder
Forrest O. Rednour
Robert G. Ward
Terrell Horne III
Benjamin A. Bottoms
Joseph O. Doyle
William C. Hart
Oliver F. Berry
Presumably they will be WPC-1126 through WPC-1135.
While the rest of the Federal Government has a 2015 budget, Homeland Security still does not. The DefenseDaily reported the bill out of committee in the House, describing the provisions, including this regarding the Coast Guard:
“The bill would give the Coast Guard $439.5 million above the president’s request, primarily by rejecting proposed cuts “that would have gutted vital Coast Guard operations,” according to the news release. The House committee increased Coast Guard funding to allow more cutter and aviation operating hours, training and maintenance; and to purchase the eighth National Security Cutter, two Fast Response Cutter patrol boats, an additional C-130J aircraft and one H-60 remanufactured helicopter.”
At this point the bill has been approved by the House and sent on to the Senate. DefenseNews talks about why Homeland Security is tied up in Immigration Policy.
It is good to see some additional operational funds, but I am frankly disappointed that there are only two Webber class WPCs included. This was the administration request, but I had hoped to see more added as has been done in the past. It could still happen, so we will have to wait and see.
This does raise the question of what CG-9, the Acquisitions Directorate, is doing about the contract for follow-on WPCs? All options on Bollinger’s original winning bid have expired. The Coast Guard paid for and now owns the design. A new bidding process was expected for the remaining ships, but last year’s buy was apparently negotiated without competition. As the number of ships remaining to be built gets smaller the ability and incentive for other yards to compete against Bollinger’s already established assembly line will decrease.
The experiment is being done on the cheap, using surplus Marine Corp WASP III UAS.
This particular aircraft is very small (less than a pound), with a maximum speed of about 40 knots, an endurance of about 45 minutes, and a nominal range of 5 km, so it is not going to get very far from the launch platform. Sensors are limited to color and IR video, so it is still like “looking through a staw” in terms of its ability to search, but it might be useful for taking a closer look at targets, without the necessity of moving the CG vessel to intercept, particularly at night; for documenting a drug bust; or for keeping an eye on the disengaged side of a potentially hostile target during a boarding. The recovery method used was to land in the water, but we could certainly do better.
I can’t say I am particularly impressed with what I have seen of the system so far, since I can pick up something similar at the local hobby shop (google “First Person Video”). I have a friend who flies one, including the ability to use GPS to fly way-points and automatically return to the launch point and land, all for less than $1,000, but it is a start and at least it is a recognition of a need and an opportunity.
Still think we could fly Scan Eagle from the WPCs.
Pakistan’s “TheNews” is reporting, “The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to Pakistan for GRC43M Cutters and associated equipment parts training and logistical support for an estimated cost of 350 million.”
They are to be built by Westport Shipyard, Inc. (Westport, WA), a company best known as America’s largest yacht builder. We have seen an example of this 43 meter (143 foot) class before. They were demonstrated for the Coast Guard in 2011.
This composite construction vessel is closer to the original concept of the FRC than the Webber Class, and it appears that the cost is about three quarters that of the Webber class. Claims are also made of lower maintenance and longer hull life. They are also faster. Now that the initial contract for the Webbers has run its course, perhaps it would be a good time to reevaluate these as an alternative.