Climbing the Fighty Ladder
In the first section of this series I concept of defining roles across a range of cost and ‘fightiness’ scales. All through, I have been at pains to avoid adding equipment that puts MSS into the tasks that should be conducted by a Frigate, Destroyer or other surface combat vessel. The whole name of the series reinforces this point.
If there is fighting to be done, it would be done by the offboard systems MSS carries; small craft, embarked forces and helicopters for example.
This keeps the cost down, one of the underlying principles of MSS.
Beyond HMG, GPMG and a minigun the examples described, don’t have any other fixed armament, deliberately. These could be augmented with a small detachment of Army or Royal Marines personnel equipped with Javelin ATGW’s and HVM air defence missiles.
However, there might be an argument for hardening and ascending the fight ladder.
The first thing to address would be countermeasures.
Countermeasures are not often discussed but are advancing all the time and many consider them more effective at protecting against anti-ship missiles than CIWS.
A range of active and passive decoys will be deployed depending on the threat.
In 1994 GEC Marconi were awarded an £80m contract to develop their Siren system to fulfil the Royal Navy ‘Outfit DLH’ requirement. It was designed to seduce inbound anti-ship missiles using a launched RF countermeasure (Mk 251 Active Decoy Round) fired from standard 130mm SeaGnat launchers. A joint UK/French programme called ACCOLADE is currently investigating advanced RF decoys.
In addition to the advanced Mk 251 Siren, the RN Outfit launcher systems can also use RF distraction (chaff) and IR decoys such as the Chemring Mk 216 Mk 1 Mod 1 and Chemring Mk 245 IR. The Royal Navy has replaced the Mk 245 IR round with the Chemring TALOS that uses variable timing and submunitions rather than a single round, called the A2, as in the image below.
The Airborne Systems IDS300 (now called the FDS3) inflatable RF decoy is also commonly used (the launchers are the horizontal cylindrical devices in the image below). The FDS3 is a self-inflating octahedral shaped corner reflector that floats on the surface and unlike chaff, is persistent, able to float for 3 hours in sea state 4
Whilst the physical launch systems may be very low cost, the warning and control components will add cost and complexity.
But if we want MSS to operate in a hazardous area, even with protection from surface combat vessels and aircraft, it may be a reasonable investment that when taken in context, is not actually that big.
The fixed barrel launchers are simple and cheap, but not without problems, mainly the need to align the ship in order to deploy an optimal countermeasures pattern. A fixed system also limits the flexibility of the newer variable range countermeasures. These issues may be exacerbated in a ship with minimum crewing.
The Chemring Centurion seeks to address these issues.
I have read estimates of £3m per system pair; if true it would be a big step up from a handful of fixed steel tubes but on the other hand, it offers a great deal, the ability to launch countermeasures into the optimal position in time and space (did I actually just say that!). The launcher takes up a minimal footprint, about 2m in diameter, and does not need any deck penetration, just 440v power and a data connection. The launcher can use all standard 130mm countermeasures, the newer 150mm types and the 170mm flared rounds like the Large Payload Carrier.
Chemring have also teamed up with Raytheon to demonstrate a Javelin ATGW launch capability and a low signature protection cover.
It only weighs 1.2 tonnes and could be easily mounted on an ISO container flatrack, which as any TD readers will know, gets it plus points, but it also means it can be positioned and secured with relative ease. On all the MSS variants, there is ample space.
Medium Calibre Weapons
To provide a step up from 7.62mm and 12.7mm and fitted to both the Type 45 and Type 23 are MSI 30mm automatic cannon systems.
The MSI mounts have a long heritage with the first designs being introduced in the early eighties with the 30mm RARDEN cannon. In the mid-eighties, the Royal Navy selected the Oerlikon 30 mm KCB to replace all existing 20mm and 40mm automatic cannons as a post-Falklands lessons learned exercise. First entering service in 1988 they have been continually refined and the latest version is the DS 30B Mk2 equipped with offboard sensors, the ATK 30mm Bushmaster Mk44 cannon (instead of the Oerlikon) and Seahawk fire control systems that are replacing all previous versions on Type 23 by 2014 in a £15m contract with MSI.
It is officially called the Automated Small Calibre Gun (ASCG)
They would certainly provide more firepower than the small calibre weapons and MSI have even proposed a variant called SIGMA with a Thales Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM) for use against light aircraft, UAV’s and surface targets.
Close in Weapon System
The Raytheon Phalanx is a multi-barrel close in weapon system primarily for use against anti-ship missiles although it retains some capability against surface targets.
UK Phalanx has been variously upgraded, used on trailer mounts for C-RAM in Iraq and Afghanistan and converted back to the maritime role. The latest version is the 1B that upgrades a number of components and adds a visual cueing and tracking system for use against surface targets. In addition to providing the 1B upgrade, Babcock has a ten-year support contract for the 36 Phalanx systems, based on providing availability of the systems throughout their life on board ship.
It also provides an upgrade path to directed energy weapons, the Raytheon Defender for example uses the Phalanx mount but replaces and/or augments the gun with a high energy solid state laser. The US Navy is engaged across a number of demonstration programmes for laser weapons and in October 2015, awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman Solid State High Power Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) program. The Royal Navy and DSTL has initiated a number of exploratory programmes to start looking at the potential for laser weapons. A trip to Red Bull by Admiral George Zambellas to look at F1 Motorsport Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) gives us a clue to what is perhaps the greatest challenge, energy storage, not generation.
CIWS, Medium Calibre Automatic Weapons and Countermeasures would provide a high level of self protection.
The US Navy’s Distributed Lethality Concept is certainly creating some interest, basically, more firepower in more places.
An example of this is the use of the Tomahawk land attack cruise missile in the anti-shipping role, a quote from the US Navy Director of Surface Warfare, Rear Admiral Peter Fanta;
The concept is a whole lot more complicated but this aspect is really illustrative of a pragmatic attitude and an increasing recognition that relying on the magic money tree is not a good strategy.
One of the discussion points has been whether to add offensive weapon systems to logistics vessels, the basic principle of ‘if it floats it fights’ would indicate that does. It also means that logistics vessels can be used to create electronic sensor networks, netted together with others.
They might not actually use a more advanced radar or EW sensor directly onboard, but the radar and signals picture could be shared across an entire battlegroup.
An interesting alternative to a stabilised crane is a stabilised platform onto which a crawler crane can be operated from. Barge Master can supply a modular and containerised three axis motion compensation platform called the BM-T700. It can handle a crawler crane or maximum payload of 600 tonnes, and compensate for a wave height of 2.5m.
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.
For the guided rockets, the impact of platform movement will be lessened, but there may still be limits.
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;
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 a MLRS/GMLRS vehicle onto the Barge Master platform.
In the roles and requirements section I made the point that experimentation and systems development are an important function of MSS, there we go, an opportunity to see if it works.
If it does work from a safety and technical viewpoint, operational concepts can be developed.
The image below shows three circles.
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
Use an ATACMS round instead of GMLRS/GMLRS+ and the 300km range is shown below.
ATACMS is more of a short range semi ballistic missile and used for interdiction type missions, it was extensively used by US forces in Iraq in 2003 for destruction of Iraqi air defences in the initial stages of the operation. With a range of over 160km (M57 variant) it can carry either a 230kg (5oo lbs) unitary warhead or 274 M74 sub-munitions. The latest Block IVa version increases the range to in excess of 300km. An ATACMS rocket was sled tested in 2005 with the BROACH warhead, the same as fitted to Storm Shadow, this allows it to attack hardened and buried targets.
Future developments are likely to include an insensitive and selectable warhead, semi active laser (SAL) guidance and extended range.
There has also been some discussion on developing GMLRS as a carrier for the Small Diameter Bomb (50km range) and SPEAR Capability 3 weapon. By using these weapons that are equipped with wing kit’s, the intention is to extend the range of the already long range GMLRS and provide additional guidance and warhead options. The M30A1 (Increment 3) Alternative Warhead will restore the area attack capability lost with the Ottawa Treaty.
GMLRS rockets cost approximately $110,000 and over 3,000 have been fired by the UK and USA in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In short, lots of capability and lots of potential.
There are even other rocket systems available.
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 sub-munitions. An EXTRA pod contains 4 rockets in the same space as the 13 rocket LAR-160 pod.
IAI (not IMI) make an ATACMS equivalent called LORA with a range of between 30km and 300km and a choice of warheads. It is also suitable for shipboard use and as can be seen from the images below, relatively compact and available in a demountable rack launcher.
A development for the MBDA TAURUS cruise missile will see a vehicle launched variant and perhaps, there might even be a land attack role for the Fire Shadow loitering missile.
We might actually be getting into Frigate territory now but in line with the ‘Distributed Lethality’ direction of travel, there are a number of anti-ship missiles that could either use a simple box or vehicle launcher. The box launcher can be fitted into the footprint of either a 20ft, 30ft or 40ft ISO container.
The Naval Strike Missile from Kongsberg is an anti-ship and land attack missile. It will integrated onto the F35 as the Joint Strike Missile so commonality benefits could be realised if we chose to purchase it for the F35’s, unlikely, but it is an option. With a 150km range the NSM weighs 400Kg with a 125kg warhead and can attack a mix of land and surface targets, click here to read about its development path.
The NSM has been criticised by some because it is not hypersonic but I think that is misplaced, the NSM has taken a reasonable line with regards to balancing capabilities against cost and development time, the seeker is reportedly very advanced and low its signature is a valuable feature when faced with a plethora of anti-missile weapons.
In April 2014, Raytheon announced their intent to test a new multi mode seeker for the Tomahawk;
This new seeker is intended to deliver greater precision and and alternative options for both land AND sea targets. The enhancement programme will also upgrade the communications and warhead. The Block IV missile has a two data link. In October 2015, the planned test was completed and the missile hit a moving target at sea after receiving targeting data from an aircraft.
With a range in excess of 1,000 miles, a Block IV enhanced Tomahawk would provide a powerful and flexible capability against land and sea targets.
The future Long Range Anti Surface Missile (LRASM) may possibly be available in a box launcher, i.e. not a Mk 41 VLS.
Where these concepts tend to fall down is the cost of the missile systems and supporting infrastructure tends to dwarf the cost of the platform, so a loss of the platform because it is cheap and cheerful means the loss of the missiles, which are far from cheap and cheerful.
Which leads me to the general conclusion that the argument for adding land attack or anti surface missiles on MSS is not a strong one.
That said, I still like the idea of a GMLRS/ATACMS launch platform in some situations.
A more useful enhancement to MSS may well be a containerised or fully integrated SIGINT capability.