Picking up from the issues and trends, half a dozen sensible suggestions, or harebrained schemes, depending on your perspective!
These suggestions have two underlying themes.
One, after a couple of decades of stabilisation and counter-insurgency operations in the Middle East the UK specifically, and NATO generally, need to get back into the peer conflict mindset.
Two, budgets are not getting any significantly larger so priority setting is important but more importantly, squeezing every last drop of value out of our significant investment in complex weapons by imaginative re-use, ruthless commonality and driving export sales.
It is on that basis that I have channelled my inner chimp!
- ONE – Research Cost Drivers in Complex Weapon Integration
- TWO – Address the Royal Navy Ant-Ship Missile Gap
- THREE – Battlefield Anti-Tank Overwatch
- FOUR – MOAR Rockets!
- FIVE – Flat Rack Universal Launch Platform
- SIX – Throw It Off the Ramp
- Table of Contents
ONE – Research Cost Drivers in Complex Weapon Integration
The first scheme is quite a modest one.
There are very good reasons why it costs £150 million or so to integrate Storm Shadow on Typhoon but no one should be ‘happy’ about it.
It is probably the case that the MoD knows full well what the cost drivers are for complex weapon integration on fixed wing and rotary aircraft but the current situation is not sustainable. It benefits neither industry nor the MoD, everyone loses. If the costs cannot be realistically compressed down whilst maintaining safety then fair enough, but a DSTL, industry and RAF/RN/Army project to investigate and develop means of integration cost reduction may well be a good investment.
The study should not only seek to understand the fundamental cost drivers but also propose solutions for cost reduction, without presupposing the results of such a study, if it results in an ‘invest to save’ option, then this would be an excellent joint MoD/industry investment, surely?
It must be stressed that plans can change, and change quickly, but it currently looks like the Royal Navy is facing a capability gap from 2018 when Harpoon is withdrawn. This gap is to be filled with a new Anglo-French missile to replace Harpoon, Storm Shadow/SCALP and Exocet called FCASW.
This gap is to be eventually filled with a new Anglo-French missile to replace Harpoon, Storm Shadow/SCALP and Exocet called FCASW or SPEAR Capability 5. I suspect that there may be some divergence between the RAF and RN at the moment but the concept of a single missile to replace SCALP, Storm Shadow, Exocet and Harpoon does sound like a worthwhile project, driving commonality across service lines is never a bad thing as we have seen ably demonstrated by CAMM.
All good, but current indications are that this will not be in service until 2030-35, with Assessment Phase contracts to be awarded in 2020. Ten to fifteen years from concept to service seems to be about the average for complex weapons of this nature. So if it assessed that this gap can be mitigated by other means of sinking enemy shipping such as Wildcat and Sea Venom, Astute and Spearfish, naval gunfire (possibly with precision natures) and of course, F-35B with Paveway IV and SPEAR Cap 3 from the early half of the 2020’s then skip forward to scheme number 3.
If the gap is unacceptable in the context of an increasing likelihood of peer conflict then there is no other option than either to cancel FCASW, descope the anti-ship element or pursue an interim solution.
This is where it gets very complicated indeed.
Although an anti-ship Tomahawk remains an outside option there are only three missiles worth considering as an interim, Harpoon Block II+ER, NSM and LRASM.
All three are involved in some way with US Navy competitions and NSM is also in service with other nations.
Harpoon Block II+ER has an active radar seeker with mid-course GPS guidance and a data link, it is still quite large, has a range of 240km and utility against land targets. NSM is smaller than Harpoon in a body that makes extensive use of composites but has a shorter range of 200km. Instead of active radar guidance, NSM uses an infra-red seeker with target recognition/database.
Block II+ER can be dropped directly into existing Harpoon launch and fire control systems and is planned to be integrated with the P-8A Poseidon in 2017. For ease of integration with the Type 23 Frigate and Type 45 Destroyer, this scores highly, and the Poseidon integration is an extra bonus should the UK ever aspire to get back into the anti-ship MPA business.
NSM scores highly in target discrimination, it is a very intelligent system designed to approach targets with a high degree of ‘stealth’ and the precise aim point selection delivered by the imaging seeker allows the missile to use a smaller warhead. The Joint Strike Missile (derived from NSM) will also be a baseline F-35 weapon should the UK wish to purchase it for the RAF/FAA F-35 fleet. Kongsberg argue that their seeker technology makes the NSM much more usable with real world ‘Rules of Engagement’ constraints, they may have a point; there is not much point in an interim weapon if you can never use it. The lower weight of NSM might also be easier to accommodate on new ship designs.
The final option is the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), a large missile derived from JASSM-ER with 450kg warhead and 900+ km range, significantly longer than either Harpoon or NSM
The OASuW Increment 2 competition will see LRASM compete with NSM. Tomahawk and Block II+ER so although it is in limited initial production for ASuW Increment 1, full production is not a certainty.
LRASM is very advanced but there is a slight crimp, although plans exist for a box launcher, it is uncertain whether it will enter service, Mk41 VLS and air launched have only been demonstrated at this stage. Why is this important, simply because the Royal Navy will have no Mk41 VLS equipped vessels until Type 26 comes into service. LRASM is also expected to come into service as part of OASuW Increment 2 in 2024, a mere 6 years away from FCASW ISD and 6 years after Harpoon goes out of service, timing becomes an issue, with a weapon in service for 6 years before its planned replacement, the rationale for FCASW becomes adversely impacted. Looking into the crystal ball, LRASM is likely to be very expensive and put pressure on FCASW from both a timing and capability perspective, I can’t, therefore, see it as an interim solution.
If we took the more industrial politically expedient option of Harpoon Block II+ER or NSM, both are available immediately (or near immediately), but their launch method becomes both a blessing and an added complication.
NSM/Harpoon use inclined box launchers but in current images of Type 26, there does not appear to be a great deal of space for such. Harpoon cannot be fired from a Mk41, and if we want NSM to be so, we would have to pay, not quite the ideal for an interim weapon. Current plans do not seem to have anything filling Type 26 Mk41 VLS either if we accept that LRASM would mean the effective cancellation of FCASW unless there was an urgent operational requirement before FCASW comes into service, that leaves TLAM or ASROC, again, plans for either seem more aspirational than realistic.
This leads to the unavoidable conclusion that fitting Mk41 VLS to Type 26 is an exercise in hoping for a UOR or holding out for FCASW being Mk41 VLS compatible.
Some might then suggest why should the UK bother fitting the Mk41 at all?
This must be resisted as it would be a very short-sighted and foolish decision. With final design freeze approaching for Type 26, this is not an issue than can be deferred for long either
To achieve maximum flexibility, Type 26 needs to absolutely retain Mk41, or at the very least, an ability to do so in the future, but it also needs to be redesigned to accommodate an inclined box/canister launcher for either NSM or Harpoon. Type 31 likewise. This gives the Royal Navy short to medium term options and choices whilst retaining a path to future systems such as FCASW or others such as TLAM or ASROC.
If no funding is available for the missile then retaining the ability to field a choice of missiles is important, flexibility is never a bad choice.
Quite simply, this is an appeal to retain the ability to make a choice should the need arise, not be funnelled into a space where no choice exists.
THREE – Battlefield Anti-Tank Overwatch
Dr Phillip Karber from the Potomac Foundation has written an extremely illuminating document called Lessons Learned from the Russo-Ukrainian War, sponsored by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory & U.S. Army Capabilities Center (ARCIC). This is a very interesting document but in many ways it simply reinforces was what known in the Cold War, and perhaps, slightly forgotten about during the last couple of decades worth of stabilisation and counter-insurgency operations in the Middle East. The paper reinforces or describes four key themes from Ukraine; Ubiquitous Presence of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Increased Lethality of Indirect Fire, ATGM’s and Armours Counter-Revolution, and the Declining Survivability of Light Infantry Vehicles.
These are lessons that were already well accepted and other ‘lessons learned’ type documents draw similar conclusions. It is sheer folly to think dismounted Javelin teams and open-topped vehicles are in any way survivable in such an environment, although as with all things, exceptions are aplenty.
In a territorial defence scenario against Russia or her proxies, NATO will be outnumbered in most types of armoured vehicle and subject to significantly increased indirect fire density so this proposal seeks to increase lethality against armoured vehicles using complex weapons and improve the survivability of those delivering that increased lethality.
This proposal is in three steps, or increments.
The easiest and quickest way to start addressing the issue is to put Javelin on a vehicle remote weapon mount. As far back as 2010, Javelin was successfully test fired from a CROWS system and since has been fired from a number of vehicles on similar remote mounts.
This is nothing especially complex, Javelin is in service and needs no modifications to be fired from such mounts. Fitted to Ajax, Warrior and even MIV/MRV-P, the simple idea is to distribute ATGW across multiple launch vehicles. Downsides are limited capacity and reloading has to be conducted outside the protection of the armoured vehicle, but it is better than nothing and would cost very little, especially in the context of the wider defence budget.
Increment 1 should also include a dismounted option for Brimstone.
Hold on, didn’t you say Increment 1 was about improving survivability?
Well, yes, but it is also a means by which I can start the conversation about platform diversity, driving commonality across the services and increasing production volumes that deliver real cost savings, so have decided to include it with Increment 1.
There are environments where the range of Brimstone (12km, roughly triple that of Javelin) can be exploited. Anti-shipping in littoral defence, desert and mountainous operations for example. For special forces, it would allow long-range interdiction against high-value targets like Transporter Erector Launchers (TEL) or communications systems. Dismounted and tripod launched Hellfire (RBS 17) is used in the coastal defence role by Sweden and Norway, am sure the Royal Marines and even the Falklands Island Defence Force could find a role for such a dismounted Brimstone launcher.
Brimstone is not a small or light missile, at 50kg it is simply not man portable, but it is easily transported using the kind of light and all-terrain vehicles commonly used by light forces, and that is the point, providing these forces with a very long range direct fire capability.
Increment 2 seeks improvements over Increment 1 in three key areas; survivability, capacity and focus.
One such earlier combination was the CVR(T) Striker with Swingfire missiles. Fire from under armour, defilade positions and even from behind buildings, Swingfire could even be controlled by a remote control some 50m from the vehicle. Its job was to provide overwatch for forward deployed recce forces in other CVR(T)’s. If they encountered an enemy tank force they would be far too busy getting the f**k out of dodge to return any fire and so their big brother, Striker, would do the firing or them. Essentially, Striker was there to provide anti-tank cover in the absence of friendly main battle tanks.
We also fielded a Spartan CVR(T) with Milan Compact Turret and the FV438, the latter employed in a different manner to Striker but still relevant to the discussion.
Striker saw action in 1991 and 2003 and despite extremely positive post-conflict operational analysis, was withdrawn without replacement.
Whether the overwatch for lighter vehicles concept remains valid in a world with Ajax is open for discussion but one thing is certain, we need a greater anti-tank capability and wrapping Brimstone in an armoured shell is quicker and cheaper than adding additional main battle tanks. Another advantage of using dedicated vehicles is that of focus, instead of diffusing Javelin ATGW capacity over multiple vehicles it concentrates a similar capability in a dedicated armoured vehicle to improve protection and the ability to fire multiple missiles under armour. This also means the vehicle and crew can focus on the task, not do it as part of everything else they might be doing.
Moving to a dedicated vehicle allows the missile to be heavier and the obvious choice is Brimstone 2.
Brimstone 2 has enough punch to deal with any armour, ERA equipped or not. It also has more range than Javelin, at least triple, even in the ground launched role. That additional range may not always be exploitable in all terrain but in others, may well be. By using Brimstone 2 we also gain the benefits of dual-mode guidance, it can be guided to target using an onboard or offboard laser designator or salvo fired into a kill box where the millimetric radar and target recognition does the rest. The ability to quickly salvo fire against multiple targets would be a big multiplier and once fired, the vehicle can quickly move away to cover.
There are a number of base vehicle and launcher options that come immediately to mind.
First would simply be to reinstate the previously cancelled work on the SV/Ajax programme. Instead of the 38 Protected Mobility Reconnaissance Overwatch variants of Ajax (called Ares) being only a transport platform for dismounted Javelin teams, the base vehicles could be modified to carry a Brimstone launcher.
The easiest method is to just roof mount a box launcher on an MICV/APC type vehicle as these images of current Chinese and older US vehicles show.
This is the simplest means of improving protection, carried capacity and the ability to salvo fire ATGW from under armour.
Unless the missile canisters are armoured, the very expensive missiles become vulnerable to artillery fragments, small arms and automatic weapons. A great big box launcher on the top of a vehicle like Ares also says ‘look at me’. Given their battlefield utility, they will be high-value targets and so whilst this method is probably the cheapest, there are negative issues.
The seventies era Strike and FV438 concepts approached this visibility problem by concealing the launch mechanism within the vehicle so that its profile was no greater than that of a standard Spartan or FV432. It never ceases to amaze me how our elders knew quite a bit about this stuff! There are also a number of more contemporary examples of vehicle mounted launch systems that use elevating mechanisms rather than inclining ones as with Striker and FV438, again, these satisfy the basic requirement of not making the vehicle conspicuous. The current Stryker TOW vehicle uses an elevating turret that contains two missiles that also provides a traverse capability. Lockheed Martin recently proposed the Long Range Surveillance and Attack Vehicle (LRSAV) that integrated Hellfire and DAGR guided 70mm rockets onto the same vehicle, each one being used for the most appropriate target.
The LRASM is an interesting idea and it is easy to see similar with Brimstone and Martlet for varied target effects and guidance methods.
Another concept from the past that I don’t think is as crazy as it first looks is from Germany.
The Germans proposed various combinations of HOT, Milan and TRIGAT missiles on Marder and Leopard 1 base vehicles but the concept was broadly the same.
Using cover provided by trees, buildings and undulating ground, the vehicle would use its mast-mounted observation system and attack oncoming vehicles using up to 16 missiles, also on the same mast. The assumption made was that Attack Helicopters might not be all that survivable on a modern battlefield and to exploit the long range of emerging missile technology on European terrain, elevation was needed.
This is not an outlandish assumption and it might be worth dusting the idea off and conducting some scenario analysis to test the concept.
Regardless of what specific method of mounting direct fire ATGW on an armoured vehicle is chosen, getting multiple missiles onto a dedicated vehicle with a dedicated crew would provide a serious uplift in lethality.
If Increment 2 is about providing a dedicated direct fire anti-tank guided weapon carrier, Increment 3 is pretty much the same thing but with a non-line of sight missile.
If one looks at the original concept of employment for the Israeli Tamuz or Spike-NLOS, it was for use in the defence, blunting enemy armoured breakthroughs by massing accurate indirect fires from a protected platform that looked no different from many other vehicles on the battlefield. It is a great concept, again, working from the assumption that rotary or fixed wing support might not always be forthcoming or timely.
There are also some comparable systems that never made it manufacture; EFOG-M , NLOS and Polyphem for example. EFOG-M had a range of 15km, Polyphem, 60km. NLOS and Jumper were more about precision artillery than anti-tank but both concepts used a vertical launch box that could be carried by many vehicles and simply ground dumped as needed. Connected to a network, control could be initiated from the demanding unit, on call precision fire,
SPIKE-NLOS, or Exactor, has a range of 25-30km, real-time data link flight control and a multi-effect warhead, with options for dedicated anti-tank warhead should it be required, so yes. If the datalink is robust against concerted jamming then there is no need for a cable, fibre or otherwise, but a fibre spooling option for SPIKE-NLOS might be an interesting option to pursue. With a range of 25-30km range, SPIKE-NLOS would be ideal but it is well within the indirect fire danger zone and so an armoured platform, especially with high levels of protection against top attack submunitions, would seem to be prudent.
Increment 3 is, therefore, an armoured vehicle for our Exactor missile, instead of the trailer.
There are any number of potential vehicle choices for Increment 3 but the contributory factors remain similar to increment 2, protection, the number of missiles that can be fired simultaneously and carried, reloading mechanism and whether it is conspicuous or not. The Israeli armed forces used a surplus MBT chassis, perhaps that might also be an option for our surplus Challenger 2’s?
Taken together, these proposals are intended to exploit what we already have in service and make an armoured battlegroup much more powerful, simple.
FOUR – MOAR Rockets!
The fourth harebrained scheme is to exploit ande expand the capabilities of our rocket artillery, again, split into three increments.
Increment 1 is a pretty simple suggestion, go shopping.
First, Buy into the Alternative Warhead Programme that re-introduces area effects lost with the withdrawal of MLRS submunition rockets and second, purchase some large anti-tank submunitions, the German G-SMArt for example.
Both these can be fitted to our existing stocks of M31 GMLRS rockets, which is the main point. These would broaden the utility of our existing missile stocks for relatively small investments.
Where Increment 1 is mainly about leveraging investment in existing systems, Increment 2 looks at introducing a new one.
The larger and longer range ATACMS has long been on the Royal Artillery shopping list.
ATACMS is more of a short range semi-ballistic missile and used for deep interdiction missions, it was extensively used by US forces in Iraq in 2003 for the destruction of Iraqi air defences in the initial stages of the operation. The latest Block IVa version has a range of in excess of 300km. The US DoD started investigations a few years ago into a smaller long-range rocket called Long Range Precision Fires (LRPF). The intent was to retain the 300km range of ATACMS but in a smaller package, specifically, with two rockets per LPC. Warhead size was intended to be the same as GMLRS. Both Raytheon and Lockheed Martin have proposed designs, the Raytheon version pictured below.
Think of LRPF as a longer range GMLRS or a smaller warhead ATACMS, seeker options remain to be confirmed, and importantly, whether the maximum range will be limited to 300km, or pushed out to Iskander like INF Treat busting 500km. Raytheon has confirmed their design has 500km range.With a unitary warhead or the G-SMArt, this would provide UK forces with a very long range interdiction capability and one that could also be used in SEAD/DEAD missions in conjunction with F-35 and Typhoon with Storm Shadow. The US DoD is stumping up the development funding and the UK has little or no industrial capability in this area, simply buying from the winner would make more sense than anything else.
So, increment 2 provides the UK with a new and long range guided rocket.
Increment 3 takes a step back from the notion that everything has to be precision guided so arguably not a complex weapon but included here anyway. The benefit of rockets has traditionally been the ability to quickly mass fires, and mass those fires cheaply, GMLRS costs about £70k each.
We know that operational expenditure rates are always higher that we think, we know that area fires can be just as effective as precision fires and we know that cost is always a factor. Not all operations will be suitable for unguided rockets, this is acknowledged, but others, they will be. Although GMLRS is an accurate system, the 90kg (200 lbs) warhead is too large for some targets and does not deliver an efficient fragmentation effect for area targets. A smaller rocket/warhead would produce much greater fragmentation coverage for a given cost.
For these reasons, there might be a good argument for a mix of rocket calibres, and it is here that we have to cast the shopping net wider than the USA.
Roketsan of Turkey manufacture 107mm, 122mm and 3oomm unguided rockets. TR-122 rockets have been widely exported and have a range of between 21 and 40km with a choice of blast or a blast-fragmentation warhead with proximity fuzes. Roketsan has partnered with Burkan in the UAE for the joint production of 122mm and 107mm rockets. Turkey partnered with China to produce the TR-300 rocket and associated launch systems. This larger rocket has a maximum range of 100km with a single blast fragmentation warhead containing 26,000 steel balls weighing in at 150kg. Roketsan and the UAE are also developing a guided version and a new composite rocket container has also be developed. Avibras in Brazil make the ASTROS system that has also achieved some measure of export success. Rockets are available in three calibres; 127mm, 180m and 300mm. with ranges of 30, 35 and 60km’s respectively. An extended range 300mm variant is also available with a range of 90km, as is a precision guided version of the 300mm rocket called the AV-TM300.
It is probably not a surprise that Israel produces a range of guided and unguided rockets, the Israeli army has recently replaced a number of 155mm gun systems with guided rockets, reflecting its need for greater precision in urban areas. The LAR-160 Light Artillery Rocket System from IMI is a 160mm rocket with a range of 45km, each pod containing 13 rockets. A GPS guided version called ACCULAR is available and all types can be mounted on armoured vehicles, trucks or trailers. The 306mm EXTRA has a maximum range of 150km with GPS/INS guidance and a 120kg payload that can be used unitary warheads or submunitions. An EXTRA pod contains 4 rockets in the same space as the 13 rocket LAR-160 pod. Taiwan has for many years manufactured a similar range of rocket systems, again using a range of calibres; 117mm, 180mm and 227mm with a 15km, 30km and 40km range respectively.
Our allies can provide a diverse range of IM compliant rockets that deliver a range of effects that avoids us having a one size fits all capability.
There are many choices, diversity of choice and diversity of effect is a good thing.
FIVE – Flat Rack Universal Launch Platform
I know this is the one you have all been waiting for :)
The proposal is another simple one, it doesn’t require complex and expensive systems to be purchased but it does require a change in thinking. Instead of integrating high-value complex weapons on low-value vehicles that look exactly like high-value targets, the idea is to create a universal self-contained launch platform that is compatible with most of our complex weapons.
This allows them to be stored, transported and operated using commonly available equipment, swapped between extremely common vehicles and if necessary, made to look like extremely common containers or swap bodies.
The starting point is to look at constraining dimensions and the best place to start is, obviously, the 20ft ISO flat rack format. With forklift pockets and twistlock corner fittings it can be easily handling by in service and common civilian handling equipment.
The corner fittings allow the platform to be secured on trucks, trailers and deck fittings. Extension posts and ends can also be secured using the corner fittings which allows the flatrack to be stacked or enclosed with appropriate doors or coverings. A hooklift attachment can also be easily fitted to allow DROPS and EPLS type vehicles to lift the platform although the speed of operation of a hooklift is not a particularly important factor for this application. An alternative to the hooklift fitting would be extendable legs as fitted to European swapbody containers.
This establishes the 20ft ISO flat rack as the baseline physical platform. On to this platform can be added corner posts, swapbody legs and curtain sides as required. On to this platform would be added a traverse/elevation system, electrical and control interface and any special to type fittings or electronics.
For CAMM, ASTER, NSM/Harpoon, Storm Shadow, Brimstone and EXACTOR, elevation to the vertical only may be sufficient but for any kind of rocket, guided or not, it makes sense to combine elevation with traverse. The elevation/traverse mechanism must also be able to physically secure each of our selected weapon types.
The front section of the rack would be fitted with three demountable enclosures, one each for power, communication and fire control.
The traverse/elevation system and hydraulic leveling legs (if fitted) would be powered by an on board generator and battery pack, supplemented by vehicle power. The communication enclosure could contain an elevating data link mast, fibre optic cable storage and local area networking system. Finally, the third enclosure would be for fire control electronics. The main question here is could an open architecture fire control system be used just as easily for CAMM as it could for a GMLRS round? I suspect the answer is not easily, but to exploit the benefits of this approach it would be a worthwhile development project, or at the very least, ensure connectors and power standards are uniform so that the three enclosures can be changed to suit.
Some missile systems use a soft launch mechanism, such as CAMM. Efflux management becomes less of an issue. GMLRS on the other hand has a significant efflux. For land applications, efflux is generally a fairly easy thing to manage but if we have any aspiration to use such a system on a ship, it must be carefully managed. Deflector plates and runways can be used, or simply exhaust over the side of the vessel.
The US Army Multi Mission Launcher (MML) takes a similar approach to the overall concept, they have successfully fired Longbow Hellfire, Stinger, Sidewinder, Miniature Hit to Kill Interceptor and even the Israeli Tamir missiles. Same launcher and same electronics but with different missile combinations as needed.
The MML has an elevation and traverse platform, universal interface kit and set of stabilisation legs but it is primarily aimed at the air defence ( Indirect Fire Protection Capability Increment 2-Intercept (IFPC Inc 2-I)) role so is relatively short.
What is amazing about MML though is that it was the US Army that conceived and built it on their own for less than $120 million.
The concept is entirely achievable.
Extending to enable free flight and guided rockets and larger missiles like CAMM and possibly even ASTER, should be achievable,
As smart as MML is, it still looks like what it is, an Army truck carrying expensive missiles, much like the Land CEPTOR truck shown below.
Looking at the various missile and rocket dimensions it is clear that even including the height penalty of a trainable launch mechanism capacity can still be reasonably good for a variety of rockets and missiles. On a 20ft container with a length of 5.9m and 2.4m width, ATACMS, GMLRS, Naval Strike Missile, LAR-160, CAMM and CAMM-ER all fit. Because we know the dimensions of standard intermodal containers are the constraining factor, the number and types of missiles and rockets possible to be carried will be a product of these dimensions. If we want more or larger, go up to the next standard container size. LRASM and SCALP would need a 30ft flat rack. Even accounting for a recent stockpile reduction, the UK has a relatively large stock of Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missiles. The similar MBDA TAURUS missile has a ground launch system concept so I wonder if we could adopt the same approach?
If we can get the system to be missile/rocket agnostic, able to fire most of our relevant complex weapons the final improvements would be to address carrying platform independence, visual appearance and ease of transfer/transport.
Ease of Transfer/Transport
Rockets and missiles are becoming increasingly costly, and as with many expensive ‘payloads’, they are often carried on relatively low-cost vehicles that are subject to maintenance and damage. The cost of the missiles is far in excess of the cost of the truck but the truck can be rendered non-serviceable by a myriad of relatively minor issues, and therefore, taking the missiles with it.
In peacetime, this could be as trivial as an indicator bulb but in war time, a broken driveshaft or engine fault would do just the same. The value of the truck is low, we have thousands of them. But the value of the missiles, both in cost and operational terms, is very high, we have far fewer missiles than trucks. If part of our land based air-defence capability was taken out of action by a single trucks engine problem, the potential consequences could be dire, far in excess of the perceived impact of an engine fault.
Maximising availability by quickly transferring the launch flat rack assembly from a broken truck to one that is not, has a great deal of operational value. With the extendible legs and swap body approach, the rack is simply raised a short distance, the broken truck pulled out of the way and a new truck reversed under the flat rack in turn. It is as simple as that, although a crane, forklift or telehandler could also be used.
Ease of transport is aided by the ISO corner fittings, using the global container transport infrastructure.
As our operational context has changed, specifically a context where NATO has absolute control of the air to deny enemy aerial observation the need for visual deception has also changed. The Taleban, Iraq or Libya possessed very little or no aerial observation capability. However, with the ubiquity of unmanned aerial observation systems and the reality of peer conflict, we must get used to operating in an environment where freedom from observation may not be possible in all cases.
There are millions of containers and swap bodies in use, their ubiquity allows the launcher to simply disappear into the civilian transport infrastructure background. This visual camouflage complicates enemy intelligence and targeting processes and in some circumstances, facilitate both tactical surprise and ambiguity of strategic intent.
Ambiguity can be used to our intention and with the addition of corner posts and top rails, the launch rack can be concealed and made to appear as a plain container or curtain side body.
What could be in here?
A load of toilet rolls, or;
- 24 GMLRS or,
- 8 Naval Strike Missiles or,
- 4 ATACMS or,
- 24 CAMM.
Every single one of the systems shown above could be mounted inside a 20 ft swap body container.
Carrying Platform Independence
As a norm, the flat rack launch platform would be carried on a green painted truck, but the ability to place the platform onto a trailer, a train, a barge or even a ship is supported.
This is would not be the norm, definitely a secondary capability, but a valuable one nonetheless.
Whilst not a return to the post Falklands era of containerised Seawolf it could be on the same same lines. The crucial difference is that Sea Ceptor/CAMM does not need a radar director and therefore, much more self-contained. In a task force, the inbound missile or aircraft location, identification and tracking would be performed by a Type 45 Destroyer, or possibly a Type 26 Frigate, with launch instruction and initial target location transmitted to the container over a tactical data link.
It simply provides some measure of expedient launch platform diversity.
The French have recently let a contract to explore the feasibility of using MLRS/GMLRS from their bâtiments de projection et de commandement (BPC) amphibious combat vessels, the Mistral Class. One of the concerns about using such systems from a ship is the adverse impact on accuracy caused by ship motion whilst at sea. Calculations for a land based system make the, entirely reasonable, assumption that it will not be moving. The need for precision land attack has been identified and unfilled for many years, Operation TELIC in 2003 identified the lack of precision land attack as a significant gap, Operation ELLAMY in Libya in 2011, again identified an unfilled gap. A post-Libya Janes Defence Weekly reported on a Royal Navy lessons learned document in which the two major shortcomings were a lack of precision land attack capability and organic unmanned ISR.
Janes quoted Colonel Pierson Royal Marines, the Deputy Director of NATO Operations in Libya;
It was evident that the Libya campaign showed the need for precision fires, [perhaps the Lockheed Martin] Guided Multiple Rocket Launch System (GMLRS), from the sea base, deep into enemy littoral territory.
In 2016, 13 years after Al Faw, the gap persists.
The Royal Navy intends to fill this gap with the Medium Calibre Gun on Type 26, but given the limited numbers and as yet unclear plan for precision-guided munitions for the gun, it strikes me that a perfect stop gap, or even longer term solution, may be to simply drive an MLRS/GMLRS vehicle onto a ship.
The ever practical Israeli’s have looked at this from a similar perspective and for the next iteration of their Meko Saar corvette are likely to include a set of launch tubes for their various guided rocket systems.
The thorny issue of gass efflux management seems to have been solved by hanging the exhaust off the sides of the ship, neat, simple.
Because the flat rack has ISO container corner castings, instead of driving the vehicle onto the deck, the flat rack launcher could simply be dropped onto ISO container twistlock fitting welded onto the deck.
The maps below show distance.
On the first, the smallest is 40km, chosen as the approximate radar and visual horizon at 20m above sea level for both the observed and observer. This results in a 30km inland range for a 70km range GMLRS round, the second circle. The largest circle shows a 120km radius that represents the 120km range achieved with the GMLRS+ rocket motor.
The second map shows a 300km range circle for an ATACMS or LRPF round instead of GMLRS/GMLRS+.
You might think I am going on about containers again but there are several advantages for very little disadvantage.
- Easier to protect the contents from the weather
- Easy to handle
- Can be moved by most trucks and cranes
- Can be fired from any ship or truck or even convenient patch of ground
- The contents can be concealed from prying eyes
- Systems can be shared between land and sea launch platforms
The Royal Navy is short of ships, whilst the Typ 26 is going to get a 127mm main gun, precision natures seem to be only an aspiration and there are only going to be eight of them. Maximising platform independence using a simple rocket launcher for GMLRS/LPRF allows the Royal Navy at risk, a much greater area of enemy territory than they can currently.
SIX – Throw It Off the Ramp
The final scheme returns to the air and the recent news from DARPA on its ‘swarming gremlin’ concept for UAS.
Darpa framed the concept thus;
The retrieval element looks especially challenging.
The DARPA concept might be seen as a development of concepts reminiscent of any number of studies looking at ‘transport bombers’ and even the RAF’s Future Offensive Air System (FOAS) looked at launching stand-off cruise missiles from transport aircraft. More recently, Raytheon is marketing their MALD and MALD-J, both evolved from the earlier Air Launched Decoy ADM-160A. The Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD) is used to lure enemy air defence systems into revealing themselves or attacking aircraft or ISTAR systems that can provide targeting information for stand off weapons. With a range of 500nm, endurance of 45 minutes, operating altitude of 40,000 feet plus, speed of Mach 0.91, modular electronics fit and emissions signature that is designed to mimic allied aircraft it can also be used to simply overwhelm air defences with targets, if they attack MALD they are depleting their finite missile stocks.
MALD and MALD-J have also been designed for carriage on aircraft carriers and unlike many complex systems was developed and delivered under budget. As can be seen from the video above, MALD and MALD-J can be launched in significant quantities using transport aircraft like the C17 and C130. This is called the M-CALS or MALD Cargo Aircraft Launch System
It is an elegant and cheap way of launching decoys in quantity and at low cost.
M-CALS can be stacked so that on a single pallet, 8 decoys can be carried and launched. If more are required the MCALS launch pallet is simply discarded and the next in line positioned. In aircraft like the C17 that can carry two pallets wide, more can be launched without ditching the launch pallet. It was also reported in 2009 that the UK had shown an interest in MALD but this self-evidently went nowhere.
I quite like the concept of using expendable decoys and if the UK is ever to go against, as the phrase goes, anyone armed with slightly more effective weapons than a sharpened mango, they may well be essential.
This Parliamentary Question was also interesting;
And that is the proposal for scheme number 6, in two parts.
ONE; Confirm feasibility of ramp launching Storm Shadow from A400M and C17 in preparation for FCASW. MBDA have already completed trials of ramp launching the Taurus cruise missile, Storm Shadow is conceptually very similar to Taurus.
TWO; Confirm feasibility of ramp eject/launch SPEAR Capability 3 in preparation for a future stand off role if a jamming and/or decoy payload can be fitted into the SPEAR body design.
Both of these would be modest risk reduction activities, not to bring anything into service but to inform future plans.
So there you go, all of these have a couple of common themes, namely;
Preparation for peer conflict.
Maximising what we already have.
Are they that harebrained?