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?