In the previous post on littoral concepts I looked at the higher speed options, raiding craft and hovercraft. In this post I am going to look at complimentary equipment.
Fires and Support Craft
One of the operational feedback lessons from littoral operation in Iraq was the need for more armour, this resulted in the Offshore Raiding Craft with their clip on Dyneema armour panels that provide basic small arms ballistic protection. In order to retain high speed, manoeuvrability and air portability the ORC relies on speed as much as armour for protection. The open top design also provides superb situational awareness which also contributes to protection and the ability to rapidly return fire with a range of automatic weapons clearly makes attacking an ORC a difficult proposition.
That said, attackers may naturally have the element of surprise and with the proliferation of guided anti tank weapons and RPG’s the vulnerability of the ORC may be exposed, situational awareness, speed and firepower may not be enough. The same might also be said of the hovercraft, feedback showed that whilst the Griffon 2000TD’s were able to withstand greater small arms damage than imagined the crew were exposed, the newer 2400TD LCAC(L)(R) feature armoured panels and bulletproof glass.
There are operational parallels, the US brown water navy in Vietnam faced similar challenges and came up with the concept of the heavily armoured and armed monitor. These including a broad range of types even including those that had water jets for literally washing away shore based fortifications.
So my thinking on this is that there might be a need for a heavily armed and heavily armoured fire support platform.
In a previous post I thought there was not a great need for replacing the existing LCVP Mark 5B landing craft but on further thinking I think there might be some justification (see later on in the post) and this would free up a number for conversion. It might be argued that a dedicated design might be more appropriate but in these bargain basement times I am trying to squeeze capabilities out of existing kit for little money.
How could any conversion proceed?
The existing craft can carry a payload of about 3 tonnes, which is not very much for a fire support platform. Additional buoyancy will be required and possibly additional fuel/engine power, this was the route taken for the US river monitors. If one looks at pictures of these 1960’s vintage craft and a a Mastiff (for example) one can see the bar/slat armour on both. Apart from wondering about the circular nature of armour developments and the fact that military organisations seem doomed to learn and forget the same lessons that their forebears have, the logic for additional protection is clear. Armour technology has of course improved in the last 50 years but so have offensive capabilities. As a minimum the wheelhouse, engine and fuel areas should be heavily protected against small arms, light canons, RPG’s and ATGW’s. There is of course a balance to be struck and practical limitations but as a general principal, the purpose of the craft is to go into harms way so protection trumps speed and manoeuvrability.
The fire support variant of the Offshore Raiding Craft moves the console to the middle of the craft to allow a weapon position to be placed towards the stern. Creating an armoured wheelhouse towards the centre of the craft will allow all round arcs of fire but if this is not possible due to equipment or machinery placement than a lightweight weapon mount like the Kongsberg Sea Protector should be fitted, to provide this greater coverage, perhaps on the wheelhouse roof.
In the well deck could be fitted a series of weapon or support modules, based on the standard ISO container. The modular concept is not new, it has been used in naval and ground vehicle equipment for some time, examples include the Danish naval STANFLEX or German/Dutch Artec Boxer armoured vehicle. The modular approach allows a wide variety of equipment fits to be utilised, there are many graduated firepower options.
In the direct fire mode one springs immediately to mind, the MSI Defence Systems DS30M mount (Automated Small Calibre Gun) is already fitted to Royal Navy vessels for close in protection against small craft and is a remotely operated system equipped with an ATK Mk44 Bushmaster 30mm cannon.
For logistics commonality this would be the favoured option, especially if the air bursting ammunition (based on the AHEAD design) is taken. As an alternative, If commonality with the Apache gunship ammunition is favoured, the ATK M230LF might be fitted.
MSI have also produced the Stablilised Integrated Gun/Missile Array (SIGMA) A2 design that adds a 7 cell launcher for the Thales Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM) system. A laser-guided missile powered by a Roxel two-stage solid propellant motor and carrying a 3kg blast/fragmentation warhead, the LMM is small and highly accurate, using components from the Starstreak system it has a maximum range of 8km. Designed for mounting on a wide variety of platforms including surface vessels, UAV’s and vehicles it is likely to fulfil the Future Air to Surface Guided Weapon – Light (FASGW(L)) requirement.
If greater firepower is needed a modified armoured vehicle turret could be utilised, either manned or unmanned. Recoil might be a problem so a low recoil weapon would be sensible, for example, one of the CMI Defence 90mm or 105mm weapons I thought might be a possible contender for the FRES Fire Support variant. Ordinarily a more traditional naval mount would be the preferred option but these tend to have a significant deck penetration or height and this might not be suitable. Vehicle turrets and mounts tend to have a lower profile although the stabilisation might not be as effective as a naval mount, compromises might have to be made.
To provide indirect fire support another obvious choice would be the Patria Nemo, a 120mm rifled mortar that has been successfully trialled on the Marine Alutech M12 landing craft.
Counter battery fire against a mobile platform such as this landing craft conversion would be very difficult and the 120mm mortar can use precision natures in addition to the usual HE, smoke and illumination. They could sit off the effective range of RPG’s and anti tank missiles, providing sustained, distributed and effective fire support from a range of up to 10km. The Nemo can also provide direct fire so the previous module might be superfluous, depending on performance and detailed requirements. In later posts I will be looking at artillery and indirect fire support, there might a place for the Nemo to be used for the RM, fitted to a Viking.
The front ramp might need to be reduced in height to provide clear arcs of fire for a weapons module. Other modules might include diver support, command and control or communications. It might even be used in the plain old logistics role, just better protected and armed than normal.
The key to this proposal is protection and modularity, they will be required to go in harms way and speed and maneuverability only go so far. Modularity adds flexibility.
Because the existing LCVP Mk5’s have all been converted (in this proposal) there exists an obvious need for a replacement landing craft. We might simply replace like with like, after all, there is very little actually wrong with them.
However, additional performance is never a bad thing!
The QinetiQ partial air cushion catamaran (PASCAT) demonstrator has recently been launched and although this 30m demonstrator is LCU Mk10 size the design might be scaled for the smaller requirement.The demonstrator sits slightly below the Mk10’s in terms of payload and weight. To be compatible for the davits and other machinery on various RN/RFA vessels the size and weight should be the same as the Mk5’s.
PASCAT is an innovative concept that seeks to provide easier beach handling, greater payload and speed for landing craft. The demonstrator has been created by QinetiQ in conjunction with BMT, Aluminium Shipbuilding and of course, Griffon Hoverwork. The specification for the demonstrator is predicated on transporting 5 Viking armoured vehicles from ship to shore, rather than a Challenger 2 so maximum payload is 55 tonnes. PASCAT is not a solely military technology and was originally developed by the Independent Maritime Associates for a European Commission Study into transport options for European waterways. Additional studies for the USMC, USN and German MoD have also been carried out.
If the PASCAT technology cannot be scaled down to Mk5 size then a simple one for one replacement would be the lowest risk option.
The expanded assault squadrons of the Royal Marines, in this proposal, should be relatively flexible organisations (as they are now) able to integrate with a variety of other units/capabilities and support a wide range of missions.
The greater in number and capability equipment as proposed in this and the previous post can only enhance their utility.
The next and final post in this series will look at logistics and a larger, offshore and littoral combat ship.
The FDR littoral series of posts is summarised below;