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.
The US Naval Institute News service reports a Navy lab is looking into whether surgeries could be performed on “small ships,” specifically the Littoral Combat Ships and the former “Joint High Speed Vessel.”
The select surgical procedures included in the study are stabilizing a fractured pelvis, treating a displaced femur fracture, treating an open wound of the abdominal wall, and a traumatic amputation of the leg. A medical team – consisting of a surgeon, a nurse, a surgical technician and an anesthesiologist – would conduct simulated surgeries in a realistic environment in up to sea state five conditions.
I am not sure why the Navy is doing this, and why specifically sea state five, there are going to be a lot of circumstances when the sea state is lower. Obviously surgeries have been done on small ships in the past. An appendectomy was famously performed on a submarine by a corpsman using a sharpened spoon (although subs have the advantage of being able to submerge out of severe sea conditions).
Perhaps they are talking about putting a surgical module on these ships, and maybe it might fit on Cutters. I’m still hoping the OPC will have some provision for using at least some of the LCS modules.
When we did Ocean Station, cutters deployed with Public Health Service doctors on board, and Midgett did have a SAR case involving a traumatic amputation of a leg in the Bering Sea while I was aboard, but I doubt we could justify regularly deploying with a surgical team. Still, there are circumstances like the 2010 Haiti earthquake when a surgical team and operating room on our cutters could be useful. Big hospital ships are great for some things, but in that case there were several smaller communities that also needed help. Some times you need the ability to spread the capability around.
The USNI is reporting that, “The modified Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class will be redesigned as frigates, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced on Thursday at the Surface Navy Association 2015 symposium on Thursday.”
Mabus noted, ““It’s not an ‘L’ class ship,” he said. “When I hear ‘L’ I think amphib, so does everybody else.”
The FF designation for the LCS will be the first of a planned set of nomenclature changes for other ships classes as well that will come in the coming weeks, Mabus said.
Apparently he also intends to address the designations of the Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB), the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP), and the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV).
I will repost something I quoted in a comment to a previous post regarding an article by Norman Polmar in the US Naval Institute Proceedings “US Navy-LCS, JHSV, MLP…What?”
Quoting his conclusion: “Unquestionably, the LCS, JHSV, and MLP designations must be changed—it is logical and sensible to do so. It can be done with the stroke of a pen by a Secretary of the Navy notice. At the same time, two other ship classes should have their hull numbers changed: The three ships of the Zumwalt (DDG-1000) class and the three submarines of the Seawolf (SSN-21) class should be assigned realistic hull numbers within their respective types, and thus be in accord with the 90-year-old directive that stated ships were to be designated in sequential order within their designation types…“The U.S. Navy’s basic ship-designation system is excellent and deserves to be carried out professionally and logically.”
The designations currently chosen for the Bertholf class (WMSL) and the Offshore Patrol Cutter (WMSM) are do not fit within the established and customary designation conventions of either the US Navy or NATO.
I would suggest, W-PFL (CG Patrol Frigate, Large) for the Bertholfs and W-PFM for the Offshore Patrol Cutters or more simply W-PL (CG Patrol, Large) and W-PM (CG Patrol, Medium). We might also apply the new designations to existing WHECs and WMECs as well.
We might also want to take a look at icebreakers and AtoN vessels, but those designations are really less problematic.
DefenseNews is reporting that Germany will be building four Offshore Patrol Vessels for the Israeli Navy. Israel has seen a need for OPVs to protect its growing offshore energy industry.
Israel had previously considered the Lockheed “international” LCS design, but it was deemed too expensive. The design selected is a version of the MEKO A100. Two versions of this design are already in service, The Kedah class (pictured above) with the Malaysian Navy and the K-130 class corvettes of the German Navy.
It will be interesting to see how these ships turn out. They will be similar in size, perhaps a bit smaller than the Offshore Patrol Cutters.
A late addition:
DefenseNews is reporting Adm. Giuseppe De Giorgi, chief of the Italian Navy says their experience with their massive migrant interdiction operation “Mare Nostrum,” that saved over 150,000, is influencing the design of future frigates.
“The experience of Mare Nostrum has helped shape the design of Italy’s new frigates, which are dual use and can engage in large-scale rescues. Openings on the sides of the vessels allow people to disembark from fishing boats as they would on a dock.
“These ships will have a large space under the flight deck which is wired and plumbed so containers with bathrooms or hospital facilities can be installed, not to mention sleeping quarters. We will also be able to store large inflatable boats for special forces, which can be used, alongside landing craft, to evacuate Italian nationals from conflicts where helicopters are vulnerable to man-portable air-defense systems.
“I think this is the future. Increasingly, I don’t think countries will be able to deploy separate naval forces for policing, civil use and military use. I believe a navy must be designed from the start to be as flexible as possible.
“There are other innovations on the new ships. We are aiming to use electric propulsion up to 10 knots and to use bio-fuel and liquid gas fuel. The fuel tanks are being designed to use regular fuel as well as liquid gas. I think we are the first to do this.
“Additionally, the frigates will be able to provide electricity and drinking water for a community of 6,000 hit by a natural disaster.
“We will also be able to carry sea-skimming robots to clear up pollution on the surface, with the polluted water then stored in the tanks of a new refueling ship we are also designing.”
Italy has both a Coast Guard and a maritime Customs Service, but neither has large patrol vessels (over 1,000 tons) like the USCG, so the Italian Navy performs some coast guard functions.
The next class of US Coast Guard cutter, the Offshore Patrol Cutter, includes a design requirement to hold, shelter, and feed up to 500 illegal immigrants on deck. There are still a number of unknowns, but there is reason to believe that the winning design may also include provision for support of containerized modules and a hybrid propulsion system even though neither were included in the specification.
Aside from the ability to provide electricity to communities ashore, the excess generator capacity of a hybrid propulsion system may also allow the vessels to support electrically powered weapons like lasers and rail-guns.