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.