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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Video, Bernard C. Webber, FRC on trials

(Update: Revised video posted)

(If link does not work, copy and paste into your browser.)
Note the Mk 38 mod 2 25 mm gun is mounted on the main deck, lower and further forward than shown in previous illustrations. This is a seriously big “boat.”

Bollinger also launched the third FRC, William Flores, 29 November. The Coast Guard Compass has the story and photos.

(Thanks to for the update)

“Light ‘Em Up With the Laser”–It Could Happen

A new capability may become an option for the Mk 38 Mod. 2 gun mount that is equipping the Webber Class Fast Response Cutters. BAE and Boeing are looking at adding a 10 Kilowatt (13 HP) laser. More here.

“The Mk 38 Mod 2 Tactical Laser System couples a solid-state high-energy laser weapon module with the operational Mk 38 Machine Gun System. The addition of the laser weapon module brings high-precision accuracy against surface and air targets such as small boats and unmanned aerial vehicles. The system also provides the ability to deliver different levels of laser energy, depending on the target and mission objectives.”

I wonder if there is a “stun” setting?

Related: MK 38 mod2, 25 mm, More Than Just a Gun

Boeing and BAE Systems have teamed up to develop the Mk 38 Mod 2 Tactical Laser System for...

(Image: BAE Systems)

Mission Modules, a Possible CG System?

For those who might be interested, here is a “pdf” with a bit of information on how the Navy is implementing their mission module concept on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). Unfortunately the information only covers the 30 mm gun and 60 round missile system. They are also developing mission modules for ASW and Mine Warfare.

I like the concept for the Coast Guard, in that it provides a way for Cutters to be designed to be armed for wartime missions without the service bearing the cost of maintenance, training, and personnel in peacetime. It might be applicable to the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) and possibly other cutters, such as future icebreakers and arctic patrol cutters.

There have been some difficulties with the surface to surface missile (SSM) system being developed for the LCS, the non-line-of-sight launch system (NLOS-LS), which began as an Army project, but which has now been taken over by the Navy. There is a relative recent summary of the status of the project here. It does seem the Navy is going to develop something to fill this perceived need, as well as the existing hole in the decks of the LCSs. There is some additional pictures and information here. If the Navy does get NLOS-LS working, it may also be useful on much smaller vessels. Looks like a 15 round launcher might fit on the FRC.

Offshore Patrol Cutter Update

There seems to be some movement on the Offshore Patrol Cutter procurement and once again the requirements seem to have softened and become less specific. There are two recent news releases here and here. You can also access these and older news releases through the OPC website.

To review the basics, the Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) are a projected class of 25 ships intended to replace all 29 MECs (Medium Endurance Cutters) currently in service including:
 13 Famous Class, 270-foot (82.3 m), which entered service 1983-1990
; 16 Reliance Class, 210-foot (64 m), (including two already sold under military assistance) which entered service 1964-1969; Acushnet (1944); and Alex Haley (1968)

The issues I have with the program currently are as follows:

First, we are replacing 31 ships with only 25. Possible, perhaps, in ideal circumstances, but Murphy has not retired. There will be teething problems with the first few and these ships, like all the ships before them, will have their problems.  This may be mitigated somewhat by the additional capabilities of the Webber class, in that they can, to some extent, take up the slack.

Second, the first ship is not expected until 2019. By that time the oldest of the 210s will have been in service for 55 years, the Acushnet for 75.  If one ship is delivered in 2019 and three ships a year after that, the last one will not be delivered until 2027 when the newest existing WMEC will have been in service for 37 years. For a nation that designed, contracted, and built over 100 aircraft carriers in less than four years, this is pretty sad, but it seems reforms intended to make procurement efficient have made efficient procurement impossible. Even so, I think we need to do better.

Now to the ships themselves. The following is quoted from Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) Project CG-9322 | CAPT Brad Fabling | FEB2010 “Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC)
Brief to ASNE”:

“Notional High-level Mission Requirements:

“Aviation –operate with CG/USN H-60, CG H-65 and UAVs

“Small Boats –Utilized multiple small boats for rescue and law enforcement operations

“Towing –up to equivalent tonnage

“Rescue –bring multiple individuals aboard directly from the water
–bring individuals aboard that are injured or unable to move on their own.

“Sea Keeping –Full operationally through SS5 (i.e. Aviation and Small Boat)
–Limited operations through SS7 and survive through SS8

“Maneuverability –at slower speeds and in smaller ports

“Endurance – 8500 NM/9500 NM at 14KTS sustained
– 14 days between refueling & FAS capable

“Speed –25 KTS/22 KTS

“AFHP / Service Life for 30 years –capable of 185 days (230 days surge)/40 years to fatigue

“Accommodations –104/90 racks & support mix gender crews w/6 persons/space or less

“Combat System –limited air defense, full surface combat, & anti-terrorism ready
**Classed to ABS NVR”

“In terms of engineering robustness, the needs of the modern USCG Cutter can be
considered similar to a small navy combatant, but for different reasons:

““Plus” aspects –increased range, seakeeping for Boat and Aviation operations, fatigue life (40 year), crewing number

“Minus” aspect –no need for shock, air defense, operations in Chemical, Biological, &
Radiation (CBR) environment”

I find very little to argue with here but there are some things that are left unsaid and considerable room for additional specificity.

In the Aviation requirement, when it says “operate with” Navy H-60s, I presume that means land and hanger them, but does it also mean that there will be magazine space for their weapons and storage for sonobuoys and other equipment? I think there should be.

The boat handling requirement is not specific. I would think at least two RHIBs including at least one long range interceptor using a stern ramp like that on the NSC.

The towing requirement is modest, but probably realistic in view of what we really do and the competing requirements for space on the stern.

I don’t really know what the Rescue requirement, “bring multiple individuals aboard directly from the water–bring individuals aboard that are injured or unable to move on their own” means in terms of the ship characteristics. Does this mean there will have to be an opening in the hull at the waterline with a platform like the NSC or are we just talking about “J” davits and tethered rescue swimmers?

The “Sea Keeping” and “Endurance” requirements seem about right.

Presumably the “Maneuverability” requirement just means there will some form of thrusters, we hopefully will be more specific here as to the ability to turn the ship against the wind or move the ship sideways.

If the speed requirement is “25 KTS/22 KTS,” then the requirement is 22 knots and that is probably what we will get. This is little better than what we have now and is inadequate to keep up with or catch many modern merchant ships and it is not quite fast enough to keep up with Navy amphibious ships. At the minimum we need 24 knots sustained.

The planned accommodations are certainly more reasonable than those provided for the Littoral Combat ship. Realistically we can probably run the ship with fewer people, but being able to accommodate more is a good hedge against future requirements.

When the  “Brief to ASNE”  says “’Minus’ aspect –no need for shock, air defense, operations in Chemical, Biological, & Radiation (CBR) environment” I presume they mean that there will be no pressurized, filtered NBC citadel as in the NSC not that there will be no Circle William fittings. (This is a change from previous descriptions of the OPC which included this capability.) Lets also hope that darkening ship will be a routine activity, with the proper fittings and door trips, that doesn’t require the ad hoc approach used on 210s.

I’m not sure what they mean by “limited air defense, full surface combat, & anti-terrorism ready.” I would think that this would imply at least a medium caliber gun and its associated firecontrol system. If it does not include a Close In Weapons System (CIWS) then it should at least include space and weight reservation for a future installation. To cover the rear of the ship and provide unit security and better situational awareness a couple of Mk 38 Mod 2 25 mm mounts like those on the Webber Class cutters, sited to cover as nearly 360 degrees as possible, would also be a useful addition, but they are not a replacement for the medium caliber gun.

There should be significant weight moment margins built into the design for future growth. The margins provided for the NSC were obviously not adequate. They have already been used up. We should anticipate that over the life of the ships they will acquire additional missions and associated equipment. It would be short sighted to think otherwise.

There is no mention of provision for use of mission modules (basically specially configured 8x8x20 cargo containers). This is an approach that is rapidly gaining acceptance and is incorporated in the LCS and Offshore Patrol Vessels being built by Spain and the Netherlands. Hopefully this will be included in the final specifications.  If not, it would at least be a strong selling point for contenders for the contract.

Unless we are awarding a multiyear contract for the full 25 ships, which I doubt would be possible, in order to avoid being tied to a sole source ship yard, all engineering drawings and the license to use them should be included as deliverables in the first contract, along with any modifications in future contracts.

Related posts:

Canadian Icebreaker/Offshore Patrol Vessel Procurement

Arctic Patrol Vessel

WMEC 270 to OPC

Guns for the Offshore Patrol Cutters

“Design” an Offshore Patrol Cutter Today

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?

Mk38 mod2, 25 mm, more than just a gun

Yes, it is a gun but it is also a day/night electro-optic sensor system that can help with SAR, law enforcement, navigation, man-overboard. When the Webber Class Cutters are delivered they will have a new gun system, but it is really much more.

The new system includes the familiar 25 mm chain gun that currently arms 378s, 210s, and 110s but it is mounted on a stabilized system with an on board electro-optic system that appears to have many uses beyond directing the gun.

The Mod2 is a product of BAE Systems Minneapolis, MN, but it is designed by Rafael, Haifa, Israel and it incorporates Rafael’s Toplite electro-optic system that includes 4-axis gimbal stabilization, forward looking infra-red radar with three fields-of-view, a low contrast, low light level color television camera and an eye-safe laser range finder.

Navigating at night, you can pick out a point that would be invisible to the naked eye and get a bearing and range. Looking for a man in the water, the IR will help you find him. See what is happening on suspected smuggler as you approach at night, or document illegal fishing activities. The electro-optic sensors can be slewed separately from the weapon, so we don’t have to point the weapon to use the sensors.

Israel calls the mount the Typhoon and uses the mount on boats as small as the Super Dvora and Shaldag class patrol boats which are slightly smaller than our own 87 ft WPBs. The Israelis also mount small missiles like the Spike-ER on the Typhoon in addition to the gun which extends the range of the system from 2,000 meters for the gun out to 8,000 for the missile. Here is a video of the system in operation: ( You’ll have to copy and paste, I could not get it to link properly.)