Skip to content

What a Terrorist War at Sea Would Be Like

February 9, 2010

Recent threats against US Navy warships on Jihadi websites have rightly caused alarm in naval circles. As a refresher, we look at Sri Lankan lessons from their recent war, who understand what it takes to fight and defeat one of the world’s most feared terror organization, the LTTE Tamil Tigers, in this case the Sea Tigers. Story from the Sri Lanka Daily News:

The main tactic used by the terrorists against naval platforms was that of ‘Swarm Attack’ with craft numbering up to nearly 25-30 in a swarm. These swarms included many suicide craft, and nearly all were converted as suicide craft as the conflict neared the end. The swarms were used to escort terrorists from one place to another along the coastline, to escort logistic craft that were moving from deep sea carrying warlike material and to the shore, and to attack isolated naval craft whilst on patrol. They also resorted to attacking merchant vessels that closed areas that were vulnerable.
The craft used by the terrorists were equipped with radar, GPS, wireless gun communications and night-vision binoculars. The occupants of a standard attack craft numbered nearly 15 with each combatant donned in helmet, body armour and with a personal weapon.
The main weapon, and probably the most formidable used by terrorists at sea was that of the suicide craft. The terrorists in Sri Lanka were masters of this art and had a range of versions that they used for various operations. They range from the disguised fishing boat, to the ship killer which is a large fast-armoured craft, the stealth suicide craft and the semi submersible suicide craft…

The terrorists also built and ran very stealthy semi submersible craft which became a main part of their tactics during the final year and it is plain to anyone how innovative terrorists could be, and lengths they will go through to meet their objectives.

So how do you defeat such a threat? A handful of very large and expensive battleships, few in number because of their high cost? Not quite:

To counter the suicide threat the Sri Lanka Navy after many years of study and various tactical innovations came up with be counter of “Swarm against Swarm,” where the adversary was Out-numbered, Out-gunned, Out-run and not given an opportunity in closing a valuable target. These tactics were effective and were a deterrent to the swarming suicide craft tactic used by the terrorists.

It’s all about control, and in such a situation, the size of your fleet matters much. The Sri Lankans learned to get a tight grip on their enemy and never let up. These are the lessons of war, and a similar situation occurred during the US Civil War, though the principles are constant throughout history. It is extraordinarily effective as proven once again by these little islanders off the coast of India, probably the Western Navies last best hope.


9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 11, 2010 12:03 pm

    Identify the enemy, close with the enemy, kill the enemy. I believe the first is the most difficult. When we do, it is evident that the American fighter is still top shelf. Cannot say the same for their commanders and the time-serving fools who have been operating the show since before President Eisenhower issues his warning as he headed for the door, having done NOTHING to prevent the iron-bound alliance created by Congress, Industry and the Pentagon (excuse the shorthand) which is finally sinking this Republic.

  2. CBD permalink
    February 10, 2010 6:45 pm

    Forgot about that one! Plus Bollinger used a boat ramp on the Sentinel design similar to what was retrofitted to the PCs.

  3. Chuck Hill permalink
    February 10, 2010 4:09 pm

    The remotely operated, stabilized 25 mm gun will also be on the new Sentinel Class Cutters.

  4. CBD permalink
    February 10, 2010 1:54 pm

    More on the multiple laser designation effort from ONR: here.

  5. CBD permalink
    February 10, 2010 1:46 pm

    They bought a lot of Israeli patrol boats (Super Dvoras, MkIII, if I’m not mistaken) with the Typhoon gun system (now the Mk 38 Mod 2) and made some more of their own boats of similar design. They didn’t just swarm, they eliminated the power that swarming boats had against old-style patrol boats. By integrating the advanced technology of these RWS, the boats were able to eliminate the attackers at range and with minimal fire per kill, and with boats that could keep out of range, the ability of the swarm to envelop was removed.

    They’re actually a good example of how high speed benefits small craft (as in the original sea fighter concept). These 27.4m, 60+ ton boats can keep 45-50knots, or patrol for 700nm at 14knots with a draught of only 1.1m with a crew of 9. They’re armed primarily with a Typhoon RWS forward (with 25mm gun, +/- 2 SPIKE-ER ATGMs) and crew-served 12.7mm guns mounted aft. Use of PGMs from these craft (such as the LAHAT and Hellfire missiles) is under development. They also carry a small RHIB.

    While the USN hasn’t publicly stated the reason for the (planned) installation of 2 or more of these mounts on every warship, the experiences of Sri Lanka showed the benefit: By having these mounts on ships, all-weather/24hr protection against small craft is afforded. The precision engagement is possible in a variety of states and is superior in range and precision to manually operated systems. This is a very quiet, but large boost to ship defenses against small craft.

    What other equivalents are there? The Armidale-class OPV, which bears the Typhoon RWS, and other craft types as described in the New Navy Fighting Machine report. The importance of such weapons in major ship defenses can also be seen in the Armada International article (December 1, 2005) “Up Close and Personal: The survival of warships in the littoral environment depends on layers of close-in defence systems to defeat both conventional and asymmetric threats,” (available at

    It is also present, starting this last year, on the Cyclone-class PCs following their latest upgrade (receiving at least 1 and possibly 2 of these systems, although specific information is hard to find). These craft were developed, in part, because of the small craft (boghammer) threat to US-flagged shipping in the Tanker wars off of Iran…and the decision to provide small-ship escorts to counter the swarm threat.

    So countering swarms with moderately armed PBs? Not a new idea…but combined with recent programs to integrate multiple-target identification via E/O and laser designation systems, the use of stabilized RWS gun systems, the placement of Hellfire and ATGMs on small craft and the development of laser-guided 70mm rockets means that a small vessel like the PC could be transformed into a small ship equivalent of a dreadnought. New built, they could cost less than 10% of the LCS.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 10, 2010 5:42 am

    War News-much appreciated!

    Chuck-Yeah, its not like we haven’t been here before, but the Navy now thinks it can use Blue Water ships to be patrol boats too. The Sri Lankans had to deploy over 100 small craft just for their island.

  7. February 9, 2010 11:38 pm

    Your analysis (as always) is spot on.

  8. Chuck Hill permalink
    February 9, 2010 8:36 pm

    Looks a lot like “Market Time.”

    The ships look like the small freighters that used to be used to smuggle drugs into the US.


  1. Maritime Monday 201

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: