Guided Weapons–Getting Closer?

Lockheed Martin animation of Hellfire employment from an LCS

It looks like the Navy is beginning to field some weapons that are appropriate for the Coast Guard’s mission of preventing maritime terrorist attacks while addressing concerns that using weapons in US ports may cause collateral damage.

We talked about this concern recently.

I have always felt this mission had to devolve onto the smaller vessels, because the larger cutters don’t spend much underway time around US ports and when they are in port they usually cannot be gotten underway quickly. For this reason the WPCs need to be able to perform the mission.

Navy Recognition has news of progress on two of these systems, Dual Mode Hellfire and Dual Mode Brimstone.

The Longbow Hellfire is already present in the US inventory in large numbers and is being adopted for the LCS anti-surface module. The Brimstone is very similar in size, warhead, and range (about 8,000 yards), but has the advantage of a datalink that allows a “man-in-the-loop” which I think is desirable. Unfortunately, so far the USN is only looking at Brimstone as an air-launched weapon.

Test of Brimstone against two 40 foot maneuvering targets, discriminating between the targets and similar sized craft

Test of the Griffin. (Note limited damage)

A third system, SeaGriffin has a smaller footprint and warhead and has had a shorter range (only 43″ long, weighing 33 pounds, with a 13 pound warhead, surface to surface range of 5,500 meters), but it appears that the latest version may have a longer range, than either Hellfire or Brimstone, perhaps up to 18,000 yards (assuming they have, as reported, triple the previous range). The latest version of SeaGriffin does have a man-in-the-loop capability. Griffin is already being deployed on US Navy Cyclone class PCs. There are lots of photos showing the relatively small size of this system here.

I have never expected that extreme range was an important consideration for Coast Guard weapons, but for the anti-terrorism mission (or enforcing a blockade in wartime), we probably need the ability to engage from outside 4,000 yards (beyond the effective range of the 25mm Mk 38), because inside that range, there are a number of systems that might be added to a ship that could have a good probability of quickly disabling our vessels.

I still believe none of these weapons is capable of quickly and reliably stopping a medium sized ship or anything larger. For that I think we still need at least a light weight torpedo, but these weapons would significantly improve the chances against vessels of any size and particularly against small high speed maneuvering targets. Equipped with these, a Webber class cutter could be better able to fulfill this mission than a National Security Cutter with its 57mm guns.

Another Weapon Option, Longbow Hellfire

File:Lockheed Martin Longbow Hellfire.jpg

Photo credit: Wikipedia, Stahlkocher, Lockheed Martin Longbow Hellfire.

The US Navy is looking at weapons to arm the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) for operations against swarming small craft. These weapons will be relatively small and low cost, so they are potentially applicable to Coast Guard vessels as small WPBs. The first system selected was the Griffin, but while it may be improved, it currently has only a very short range.

Earlier, we talked about one of the contenders, the Brimstone, also called the Sea Spear. Another contender has surfaced, including both a missile and a firecontrol system that is already in the US inventory, the LONGBOW system employing the fire-and-forget LONGBOW HELLFIRE AGM-114L missiles. This missile is similar in size to the Brimstone, and like the Brimstone has a millimeter wave guidance, fire and forget capability.

Unlike the Brimstone, there is no claim of a man-in-the-loop capability, which would appear to be a desirable feature, particularly for the Coast Guard, where the target may be surrounded by innocent vessels that we would want to avoid targeting. On the other hand the vertical launch capability does appear to offer some packaging advantages. Lockheed claims “…Nearly 400 radars and more than 14,000 missiles have been contracted for the U.S. Army and international customers” so it is already an established product line with advantages in economy of scale. These systems are currently mounted on Attack Helicopters, so we can be assured that the weight and space requirements are not too demanding for installation on even relatively small craft.

NavyRecognition reports that the Army, Navy, and Lockheed Martin has demonstrated that these missiles can be vertically launched from a 65 foot Navy boat simulating a section of an LCS. The Navy may also want to fit this, or whatever system is ultimately chosen, to their new patrol boat.

Specifications for the AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire from Wikipedia:

  • Range: 8,000 m (8,749 yd)
  • Guidance: Fire and forget Millimeter wave radar seeker coupled with Inertial guidance, homing capability in adverse weather and the presence of battlefield obscurants
  • Warhead: 9 kg (20 lb) tandem shaped charge high explosive anti-tank (HEAT)
  • Length: 176 cm (69.2 in)
  • Weight: 49 kg (108 lb)

Here is Lockeed Martin’s description:

The LONGBOW system is built by a Joint Venture of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. U.S. Army testing shows integrated capabilities enhance the Apache lethality fourfold and survivability sevenfold. The mission equipment package is in production for the U.S. and several international customers. The Apache LONGBOW system is a proven force multiplier that has been battle-proven in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The LONGBOW Weapon System has been in full-rate production since 1996, with First Unit Equipped in 1998. Nearly 400 radars and more than 14,000 missiles have been contracted for the U.S. Army and international customers. For the Apache Block III upgrade, a new Radar Electronics Unit (REU) will replace two line-replaceable units. The REU will provide growth capabilities to the LONGBOW FCR and will reduce maintenance cost.

The LONGBOW FCR has a very low probability of intercept. It rapidly and automatically searches, detects, locates, classifies, and prioritizes multiple moving and stationary targets on land, water and in the air in all weather and battlefield conditions from standoff ranges. Target coordinates are automatically available to other sensors and weapons for target confirmation, rapid engagement, and reduced fratricide. Target data is digitally available through the data modem for real-time transfer to other platforms and command posts. The self-contained Radar Frequency Interferometer provides rapid and accurate identification and azimuth to enemy air defense units. High system reliability and two-level maintenance maximize operational availability and reduce support costs.

The LONGBOW system employs fire-and-forget LONGBOW HELLFIRE AGM-114L missiles that can be launched from defilade, increasing battlefield survivability. The LONGBOW HELLFIRE missile locks on targets before or after launch and has been used in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The M299 Smart Launcher has a fully digital interface to the Apache helicopter and fires all types of HELLFIRE missile.

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.

Continue reading

New Small Missile System for the LCS–Coast Guard Applications?

It’s not official yet, but it looks like the Navy has found a missile system for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). The Navy had been planning to use a system that was being developed by the Army called Netfires, also referred to as the NLOS-LS (non-line-of-sight, launch system), but the project proved overly ambitious and expensive, and worst of all inaccurate.

The newly selected missile is the Raytheon Griffin. It is small and light, with a warhead intended to limit collateral damage, only 43″ long, weighing 33 pounds, with a 13 pound warhead. In its current form it has a relatively short surface to surface range of 5,500 meters, but there is talk of extended range version. It uses GPS for attacks against fixed targets and semi-active laser guidance against moving targets. In addition to finding a home on the LCS, it looks like all four DOD services will use it, on a wide variety of platforms, and it will be produced in very large numbers, driving the price down. The picture below shows four mounted on a HumVee. The missile is already being used by special forces units including some of their supporting C-130s. Its being used on UAVs where its light weight means that three Griffins can replace each Hellfire. Among others it is expected to be used on the Navy’s shipboard RQ-8 Fire Scout which the Coast Guard is also considering using.

Here is a pdf with more information:

Navy Close to Choosing Griffin Missile for LCS

I know a lot of people will roll their eyes when I talk about giving the Coast Guard access to missiles, but think about it. This weapon can give a patrol boat stopping power that only our largest cutters have now. Perhaps more importantly, when we use force, we want it to be precise, to destroy only what we intend. The 76 mm and 57 mm guns we have on our ships now are potentially much more destructive. Even when we fire a 25 mm, .50 cal, 7.62, or an M-16, it can land thousands of yards behind the target, in places we never intended, including among innocent civilians. When you absolutely, positively, have to stop someone, this may be a better choice.

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.

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.)