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Fast Boat Destroyers

June 27, 2009
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Russian Tarantul class missile boat

Russian Tarantul class missile boat

The military will tell you the best defense against a tank is another tank; a fighter another fighter; a submarine another submarine. Against fast attack boats in shallow waters, however, only a helicopter will do? Here is Graham Warwick at the Ares blog:

According to ONR the inshore threat to Navy ships ranges from tens of RPG-armed raiders on jet skis to a handful of fast attack boats carrying short-range cruise missiles. A helicopter launched to defend the ship – whether a manned MH-60 or AH-1 or unmanned Fire Scout – must be able to spot the threat among other boats in the area, pick the most threatening, and rapidly engage them. The Navy does not want a repeat of the 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole in Aden.

The problem we see with the ONR’s strategy is some small boat navies, notably Iran, practice swarming tactics which might overwhelm the handful of choppers our rapidly shrinking fleet will be able to deploy, unless of course you plan to have a carrier with you at all times. Raymond Pritchett makes an interesting theory here in his Population of the Sea article:

If the intent is to build partnerships, preferably by avoiding the destruction of the folks we are not fighting, how will the helicopter or UAV know which fishing boat to sink and which fishing boat not to sink?

HMS Havock torpedo boat destroyer

HMS Havock torpedo boat destroyer

We can only conclude that to make a permanent effort against small boat threats, you would need a more sustainable platform to defend against and to launch strikes against them as well. We are thinking something along the line of torpedo boats destroyers of the early last century, which were just a little larger, faster, and more heavily armed than their torpedo-armed antagonists, which some navies were building in many hundreds as a threat to the battleship.

Some of you know where I am going with this and I of course mean the 1000 ton corvette. Such craft possess enough shallow draft to operate in waters where small ships linger. Their ability to sustain contact with any fast boats is greater than that of the helicopter, and some can be equipped with aircraft themselves, preferably the Fire Scout UAV which can be armed with Hellfire.

 This scenario is not unprecedented as we learned from last year’s Georgian crisis. Russian missile corvettes escorting the giant cruiser Moskva, engaged the Georgian Navy’s missile boats. Here again is Raymond:

The Moskva was apparently damaged in the attack and disengaged. She is certainly capable of destroying big ships, but the battle appears to highlight a weakness against small ships. The battle also tends to add credibility to what many have said, it is best to fight small ships at sea with small ships at sea.

How did the Georgian Navy boats hit Moskva? They swarmed her! It was the escorting Russian small missile corvettes which eventually saved the day.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 28, 2009 7:00 pm

    Thanks CBD and Campbell for the info!

  2. June 28, 2009 5:53 pm

    “A helicopter is an excellent tool, but if her mothership is sunk then what do you have left?”
    Exactly. Throw in the helicopters’ lack of “linger” time, and the fuel costs. Not a truly good solution; but, until recent years, the only one that could partially fill the bill.

    Now, however, it is possible to combine both the helicopter and its’ “mothership” into a single platform; a larger craft that can hover, fly without range restrictions, land in the water when wanted, and carry far more payload than any helicopter.

    Yes, I do mean Airships. NO, I do not mean blimps or dirigibles.

    Mike, sorta as a reference point: I’ve often looked at your Stiletto pic when I come here. It’s good…but enlarged (X3) in every dimension, constructed in a ultralightweight manner, keep the tri-hull configuration, and fill it with enough helium to float in the air….Ah! THEN you’d have something!

    Love to explain a bit of the tech, and I know some people either want or need to know more…, over at my place, if that’s the case, or direct email to me..

  3. CBD permalink
    June 28, 2009 4:50 pm

    The old torpedo boat destroyers were well-armed small gunboats. But these were all pre-missile, armed with 76, 57, 40mm, etc. guns and torpedoes. So what’s our modern equivalent?

    Hellfire Cost (AGM-114K): $65,000 R: 8km
    Launcher weight (modified SeaProtector): 135kg, can hold 2rd
    Speed: Mach 1.3

    Hydra-70 (unguided) Cost: $1-4,000
    (APKWS II) Cost: ~$10-20,000
    R: 5-12km (surface-surface)
    Launcher (modified SeaProtector): can hold 2×7 or 2×19.
    7rd, 91-136kg per launcher, loaded, 16kg empty.
    19rd, 227-272kg per, loaded, 37kg empty.
    Speed: Mach 1.8-3
    Warheads: HE, flechette.

    Harpoon ASM Cost: $720,000
    R: 140km
    Launcher: 2 or 4 missiles
    Wt of missile: 628kg per
    Wt of launcher: 6t
    Speed: High Subsonic

    The first two are simple enough to launch while the Harpoons require some more investment in hardware. IAI sells a variety of sensor pods with optics packages and laser rangefinders/designators starting around $200-300k, which could direct the Hellfire and guided 70mm rockets. These systems should be standard on small vessels since they improve the capabilities of the vessels and can allow passive detection of enemy craft.

    These more basic systems could be used for weapons system integration. If the MT3 system gets off the ground, it could be swapped in.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 28, 2009 7:02 am

    Solomon, I still say numbers count in a swarming incident with small boats. The Royal Navy recognized this a century ago with the torpedo boat threat. Then of course you had the submarine problems so you deployed large numbers of corvette sized ships to counter this. The submarine swarms of the 1940s was usually much smaller than the defense required against it.

    A helicopter is an excellent tool, but if her mothership is sunk then what do you have left?

  5. Scott B. permalink
    June 28, 2009 5:42 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Distiller, according to Wired, 4 boats attacked Moskva with guns. 4 to 1 sounds like a swarm to me, howbeit a small one.”

    And apparently, Mr. Raymond Pritchett himself somehow retracted his claim that Moskva sustained any kind of damage :

    According to Wired :

    “As Information Dissemination noted, there was no clear visible damage to the Moskva. That is possibly because no damage was done.”

  6. Scott B. permalink
    June 28, 2009 5:37 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Distiller, according to Wired, 4 boats attacked Moskva with guns.”

    Anyone who’s even bothered clicking on the link to Wired you provided would have come across this paragraph :

    “I spoke to Captain Badri Putkaradze of the Georgian military in Poti, who was one of the Georgian soldiers to return from Iraq during the war, and who had previously served aboard both the Georgian flagship, Dioskuria, and aboard the Soviet-era missile boat Tbilisi. He was not in Poti during the engagement, but I believe him to be high-ranking enough to report accurately what happened that day.

    I asked him about the apparent engagement with Russian forces, and an alleged attack on the Russian ship Moskva. Putkaradze openly laughed at the suggestion.

  7. Scott B. permalink
    June 28, 2009 4:38 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Scott, please don’t listen to Putin propoganda. Those guys are good at spreading the lies.”

    Dozens of pictures, from various angles, were taken when Moskva moored at Sukhumi on August 27, 2008. There’s no visible damage, nothing suggesting a fire broke out aboard or her seaworthiness may have been compromised as Mr. Raymond Pritchett claims.

    Unless you believe the all-mighty Russians somehow managed to erase any evidence of damage in less than 3 weeks, what the photographic evidence means is that Moskva didn’t suffer any damage during the skirmish that took place on August 9/10, 2008.

    And Moskva didn’t suffer any damage because…

  8. solomon permalink
    June 28, 2009 3:48 am

    You’re all missing the point. If you’re operating in the China Sea and you’re talking about repelling attacks by swarming boats then a trainable Mk44 gets the job done a lot better than a bunch of smaller vessels. The problem will be in identifying which ships are hostile and which one are just in the wrong place. Helicopters give you the standoff distance to be able to identify, sort and engage the suspect boats. Big or small, if a US ship is allowing boats close to it, and they’re hostile, the number of ships or their displacement won’t matter.

  9. June 27, 2009 5:11 pm

    4-1 is still a swarm, albiet a small one…more like dinky. but I’ll be generous and conceed your point.

    what I would say is that, a mix of small and larger escorts will always be more capable of defending against an attack by these attack boats better than helicopters; quite simply because the targets make themselves obvious by actually attacking. whereas the helicopters have to sift the wood from the trees as it were…its not like fighting submarines…where the only thing that moves thats like a sub, is a sub or a whale…

    yours sincerly


  10. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 27, 2009 2:48 pm

    Distiller, according to Wired, 4 boats attacked Moskva with guns. 4 to 1 sounds like a swarm to me, howbeit a small one.

  11. Distiller permalink
    June 27, 2009 12:44 pm


    Georgia didn’t have anything to swarm and the Russians didn’t use escorts. The Georgians fire a couple of burst from an autocanon, that’s all.

    Re using helicopter to defend from littoral swarm attacks: Can’t depend on secondary platforms for defense. What if it’s busy, being repaired, or carrying the wrong stuff? Everything could/would happen too fast to re-arm. Midway redux inverse.

    Every warship has to be able to defend its bubble in all three realms.

  12. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 27, 2009 10:52 am

    Scott, please don’t listen to Putin propoganda. Those guys are good at spreading the lies.

    Lee and MasterGunner, good points. I’m surprised at the Navy not arguing for more hulls rather than just better or more exquisite ships. Without numbers you eventually fade away. But they are hell-bent on the suicide pact.

  13. leesea permalink
    June 27, 2009 9:34 am

    Mike your points are good history and the Navy should be listening? I agree with your 1000 ton corvette proposal.

    The problem is the CNO has declared that the LCS is the only POR and no one shall detract from it.

    MasterGunner has observed this:
    I don’t understand one thing. The ONR says multiple targets. Well, Hellfire is a fire and forget weapon. Once the bird has a missile lock and it is launched, you just designate another target with the laser, get a lock and fire. It would seem to me that you will run out of Hellfire missiles before you run out of targets.

    I would also note: It only proves that all ships no matter how small need a layered defense in dangerous waters. The Israelis found out the hard way that one system set to off position and they got nailed.

  14. Scott B. permalink
    June 27, 2009 8:15 am

    Mike Burleson : “How did the Georgian Navy boats hit Moskva? They swarmed her! It was the escorting Russian small missile corvettes which eventually saved the day.”

    This episode of the last Russian-Georgian conflict is entirely fictional. It never happened.


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