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.