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LCS Alternative Weekly

June 16, 2010
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An Argentina Navy Espora-class corvette ARA Gomez Roca. Note the retractable hangar.

Fractured LCS Acronyms

Only one this week from a very special “guest”. Here is Rep. Gene Taylor, as quote in Defense Daily (subscr. only) with his own version of what LCS stand for :

Late, Costly, and Subject to protest

That’s pretty good! Keep sending them in.

*****

Big Ships Helpless Before the Swarm

Combat Fleet of the World posts a couple videos of US Naval and Coast ships failing to defeat small craft in an exercise. One of the videos is here for your consideration:

The first shows the USCG Cutter “Bertholf” engaging a “fast small drone target craft” with here CIWS 20mm Phalanx gun during weapons testing in 2009. Have seen that 6 salvos of 20mm, fired by a CIWS Phalanx (Each salvo lasts +/- 1or 2 second, with dozens and dozens of 20mm shells), were unable to stop a fast small craft…

The second (even much more amazing) shows the US destroyer Howard (DDG 83) facing several small fast drone target craft during weapons testing in 2005. And despite numerous shots of 12,7mm, 20mm, some 25mm and even some 127mm rounds, he can not destroy them … (at best … only small near miss…).

Which is why we continue to urge that the best defense against small warships is another small warship.

*****

007 and the War on Terror

One of our readers earlier in the comments pointed to a 100 mph James Bond-style naval fast attack boat, the XSR military interceptor, similar to the Strand Craft 122 featured earlier this week. The British has good reason for looking into the small boat threat, according to this Sep. 2009 article from Thomas Harding at the Telegraph:

In an era where potential adversaries such as Iran use the “swarm” tactic of multiple fast boats attacking a single big target, the XSR can operate as a counter to the threat.
During the Cornwall incident in 2007 the 14 Royal Navy personnel were taken prisoner by the Iranians partly because their small boats were outgunned and slower than their Iranian captors.

Part of the reason New Wars advocates that established navies utilize these light but fast and lethal craft in their arsenals, is for the fact they are especially geared for operations in littoral waters. Though some large ships can sail in shallow seas, such as Blue Water frigates, their lack of maneuverability is a problem, as their large bulk makes them very noticeable targets, in an environment teaming with light and lethal threats. So small warships, while usually being cheaper, and available in numbers is particular suited for the Green/Brown Water environment.

*****

Corvettes versus LCS

Within the recent proposals by Rep. Barney Frank and others concerning dramatic cuts in US Defense Spending (Debt, Deficits, & Defense A Way Forward) was the following modest approach:

Build and operate fewer Littoral Combat Ships. Save $11 billion from 2011–2020. Scale back the LCS program and consider investing in a less expensive class of frigates or corvettes to better suit the strategic needs of the Navy. In the meantime, refurbish a reduced frigate fleet (14 by 2020) at a cost of about $100 million each. Besides the four LCSs already (or nearly) completed, the Navy plans to build about 24 in the next 10 years, at an average cost of $550 million each. Forgoing these vessels would thus save $13.2 billion
over the next 10 years, plus $3.1 billion in associated O&M costs. Accounting for the costs of refurbishing
and retaining the frigates would result in net savings of $12.3 billion over ten years. Net personnel costs would be $1.6 billion.

It might be expedient to stop this under-armed and overpriced boondoggle while it still in its early stages, before more precious funding goes toward this patrol-boat-in-all-but-name. More than the cost and armament, is the false notion that large traditional type warships can operate safely and effectively in a littoral environment teeming with many threats. Here is a dangerous idea that must die quickly before we lose hulls and precious crew needlessly in such waters.

*****

Israel Seeks Pocket Battleships

Last month a few articles cropped up concerning the Israeli search for a new guided missile corvette, to replace its on fleet of very potent Sa’ar warships. At first the American littoral combat ship was considered, but this was considered too underarmed, and probably too expensive for the small navy’s needs. From Israel National News we get details on a powerful German vessel which may suite her needs:

The Israel Navy is hoping to acquire the Meko A-100, built by Blohm and Voss, a division of Germany’s Thyssen-Krupp Marine Systems (TKMS) Group. Aviation Week is predicting that Israel will purchase the latest stealth version of the vessel, known as the Meko CSL, “which can be adapted to meet Israeli requirements for versatility sensors and deck space.”…

It is expected that Israel will arm the vessels with the Barak 8 extended-range air-defense system from Israel Aerospace Industries. In addition, it will carry more missiles than the current Saar 5 class, and will be able to mount the Elta MF-Star 360-degree phased-array radar system, anti-submarine weapons and a helicopter.

Via Defence Guide, here is the specs for the MEKO® CSL corvette:

  • Length-108.8 m
  • Beam-21 m
  • Draft-3.9 m
  • Displacement-2,250 tons light
  • Propulsion-CODAG-WJ
  • Speed-40 kts
  • Crew-75
  • Range-3500 nm @ 15 kts

Not a bad little ship, and note again the heavy armament planned by the Israelis. I don’t especially see the CSL as an LCS alternative, at least not for the USN. It is fairly large and probably expensive, placing it closer in firepower to larger frigates, though it is probably more economical than those vessels. For a small fleet, it is perfect, and should be considered a capital vessel in East Med, Western Indian Ocean areas. For building up fleet numbers, say for the UK and US, something a little more spartan and smaller is all that is required, since these navies already deploy powerful air defense ships.

*****

Excuses, Excuses

Last week I reported the LCS USS Freedom was a no-show at the Canadian Navy Centennial because of needed repairs. Craig Hooper, the blogger formerly known as Springbored had this to say recently:

Stand by for a barrage of  “it’s first-in-class” arguments and “first ships are hard” excuses.  Certainly, it’s normal for problems to emerge a shakedown cruise.  New fancy stuff is getting put on the vessel.  That’s all to be expected.
But the Navy may be underestimating just how critical robustness and reliability actually will be in the overall “valuation” of the two LCS platforms.  If operated according to theory, the LCS will be operating on a far tighter timetable than virtually all the Navy’s other major combat vessels.

I like this last comment:

If we plan to run these ships, then the ships must be built to run.

*****

24 Comments leave one →
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  5. June 23, 2010 1:45 am

    The problem with the Phalanx as a anti-boat gun is its ammunition. The Phalanx uses either the Mk 149 Mod 2 with depleted uranium core or Mk 149 Mod 4 with tungesten core or Mk 244 Mod 0 with a tungsten alloy penetrator with extended range. The ammunition itself is designed to shred the airborne target and either cause warhead detonation or a break-up of the airframe in flight from aerodynamic forces. When used in the anti-boat role, the rounds simply pass through the target unless they hit something solid.

    The Army’s C-RAM (counter rocket, artillery, or mortar) version of Phalanx uses the M246 HEI-TSD (high-explosive incendiary tracer – self-destroying) or M940 MPT-SD (multipurpose tracer – self-destroying)rounds. If a round misses its intended target, when the tracer element burns down at the end of flight, the round explodes.

    Thus, a paradox exists. The CIWS is designed primarily an anti-ship missile defense weapon, but to engage small craft, it really needs the HEI-TSD or MPT-SD rounds of the Army’s Phalanx to be effective. Unfortunately for Phalanx, it does not have a dual feed system of both penetrator rounds and high-explosive rounds.

    Perhaps a better answer lies in short range missiles. RAM, SeaRAM, and NATO Sea Sparrow or Evolved Sea Sparrow are dual purpose missiles. That is, they can attack either aircraft, anti-ship missiles, or small FACs (fast attack craft). The problem is that not all ships have either RAM (rolling airframe missile) or SeaRAM or NATO Sea Sparrow or Evolved Sea Sparrow missile system.

    It would seem that the idea targeting system for such missiles is infrared (IR) or an active radar seeker. The huge heat signature of small craft make them an ideal target for the IR seeker. Likewise, the typical FAC is not radar stealthy and presents many good radar returns for the active radar seeker.

    I have been most insistant that any warship operating close inshore MUST have a layered defense of both guns and missiles. The more, the better. The reason is that any potential enemy worth his salt is going to throw everything at your ship. This is similar to the “golden BB” approach to anti-aircraft fire. If the enemy has jammed your radars, when you throw enough missiles and anti-aircraft artillery fire into the air you are bound to hit something! This horribly wasteful of ammunition but it can be effective and it scares the living daylights out of pilots and aircrew.

  6. leesea permalink
    June 23, 2010 12:16 am

    A couple of thoughts about LCS and weapons systems. First off the LCS program, sorry to say, will NOT be terminated, but it may well be truncated. The current RFP is only for 15 ships plus the four already in the pipeline..

    Existing system be they LCS or others can certainly be modified to carry better versions of existing weapons systems. But when one starts proposing more systems and different types, the ability to modify runs into problems. So why not stick with the newest versions of weapons and sensors already in the naval acquisition system, not newer models that may take years to install and deploy?

    The other truism is that using existing warships designs is a quicker and more cost effective means of getting new ship into the fleet.

    P.S. I don’t think Rep Frank’s opinion about naval force structure is worth a tinkers damn his sole goal is to cut the defense budget.

  7. June 22, 2010 11:06 pm

    A couple of things come to mind here after viewing USCG BERTHOLF’s gun shoot. BERTHOLF’s CIWS is the Ml 15 Mod 0 Block 1B. The Block 1B is designed with electro/optical sighting and local control software to shoot small, high-speed surface targets.

    1. The target craft must’ve had a very low RCS (radar cross-section) for the CIWS radar. A poor RCS would affect its target lock-on.
    2. There was a lot of sea clutter that would have confused or muddled the radar return. A lot of sea clutter would affect CIWS’ target lock-on.
    3. The gun was probably being fired in automatic and was using its closed-loop radar control spotting. When they got the first misses, they should have shifted to the E/O system and local control. Once you get a good E/O lock-on, the boat should be toast. Also, the boat was not employing any counter measures.
    4. The gun software must have had a burst limiter (software) to help conserve ammo (magazine capacity is about 1500 rounds of 20mm). It seemed like just as the burst was getting on target, it would shutdown. Not good.
    5. A major warship is a huge target for small craft; the reverse is true for the small craft. I am not surprised that the target craft wasn’t sunk.
    6. Large, high value targets need lots of small, fast, heavily armed boats to defeat “swarm” tactics.

  8. Chuck Hill permalink
    June 17, 2010 8:27 pm

    Jacob,

    They could of course. That is usually the best answer assuming they can stay out of MANPAD (shoulder launched AAW missile) range. The guided hydra rockets could be very good for this purpose since a Cobra or Apache could carry four 19 round pods totaling 76 missiles.

  9. Jacob permalink
    June 17, 2010 6:55 pm

    Why not use airpower to defeat small attack boats? A Sea Cobra using its chin mounted gun ought to have a better chance at mowing down such a small target. Helicopters can kill tanks on land, so why not boats at sea?

  10. Distiller permalink
    June 17, 2010 1:01 pm

    Ha! Small fish! Take a look at the Soviet Tupolev G5 torpedo boat. It was semi-submergible, cutting through the swells instead of dancing on them. Now, how would the Phalanx do against such a thing?!

  11. MatR permalink
    June 17, 2010 7:10 am

    Chuck, that’s smart thinking, and an interesting couple of links! :o)

    I agree, we should be worried about Phalanx stopping cruise missiles.

    Oerlikon’s 35mm Millenium gun shoots ‘ahead’ ammunition that’s supposed to be superior, and blanket an area with projectiles, but the flipside of that is that those same pellets would have even less impact on a speedboat-like craft.

    Missiles way well be the way to go – lob lots of Stingers or Javelin at the fast boats with their big, hot engines.

    BTW, isn’t it funny how naval warfare hasn’t really matched developments on land, in some respects? We’ve targeted APCS and tanks with excellent small missiles for years – tied to top-notch electro-optical systems and starbilised turrets – but never really put similar-purpose weapons onto littoral warships in any big way – bar some rare uses like the Israeli Spike ER that you showed.

    Then again, the land lubbers are only now getting to grips with close-in active protection systems…

  12. Graham Strouse permalink
    June 17, 2010 12:42 am

    Likely to Cause Syphillus. :D

  13. Chuck Hill permalink
    June 16, 2010 7:30 pm

    We have been discussing why they were not able to stop the small boat target here as well. http://cgblog.org/2010/06/13/guns-vs-the-swarm/

    The thing that bothers me about the Phalanx shoot is the wide dispersion of the shots. That makes me question if it can stop Cruise missiles as well. I was expecting more laser like accuracy.

    The Phalanx certainly has a problem in that it is using a non-explosive sub-caliber round that, while it can probably go through anything, it can make a lot of non-critical hits without disabling the target.

    Relative to the DDG’s exercise some questions are un-answered. Were they using the most effective round, or were they using practice rounds so as to decrease damage to the target? I suspect the 25 rounds were non-explosive. The 5″ rounds might have been using a non-frag practice round with a thin case and reduced charge.

    A good, relatively cheap solution looks like the Mk38 mod 2 (American version of the Israeli Typhoon) with a small missile system attached like the Spike-ER. http://defense-update.com/newscast/1208/analysis/301208_israelnavyspiketyphoon.html

    For the US market we would probably want to use 70mm rockets with one of the precision guidance packages that appear to be ready for production from BAE, Raytheon, or Lockheed/Martin.
    http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/guided-hydra-rockets-program-halts-new-entries-03157/
    http://defense-update.com/newscast/1109/news/bae_apkws2_301109.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Precision_Kill_Weapon_System
    http://www.dodbuzz.com/2010/02/11/laser-guided-hydra-nears-production/

  14. B.Smitty permalink
    June 16, 2010 4:48 pm

    Mike,

    You should add the video of what appears to be an effective test against a small boat target.

    Sea Sparrow plus a few 76mm airburst rounds equals dead drone.

  15. Hudson permalink
    June 16, 2010 12:49 pm

    Re the two videos:

    Wow! Ineffective gunfire, to say the least! When Phalanx got the range, its fire was fairly accurate but failed to sink the boat, even stop the engine. It might have knocked off a few crew. Most inaccurate fire seemed to come from the .50 caliber, 25mm and 127mm–really terrible!

    Scott B. is surely correct that a small boat chasing another small boat at speed, with spray flying in the face of the gunners, would fare even worse. Even at 50 meters, your bow would be up in the air or down in the trough most of the time and you’d just be shooting up the environment.

    Without evidence of superior results in similar videos with the same weapons, I’d recommend that the Navy immediately begin replacing some of its small gun mounts with TOW, Hellfire and similar guided weapons, even at some risk of the back blast. I would expect helicopter gunships to do better than deck mounts against the small boats.

  16. D. E. Reddick permalink
    June 16, 2010 11:42 am

    We might want to examine a parallel discussion on this general topic that has been started by EagleOne at his blog EagleSpeak and also the USNI blog. The two threads started out the same but have turned out a bit differently. And yet they both fit into what is being discussed here.

    New, Cheaper Littoral Fighters: Someone is going “EagleSpeak” in their thinking

    http://www.eaglespeak.us/2010/06/new-cheaper-littoral-fighters-someone.html#comments

    New, Cheaper Littoral Fighters

    http://blog.usni.org/2010/06/15/new-cheaper-littoral-fighters/#comments

  17. June 16, 2010 10:15 am

    Hello,

    Mike Burleson said:

    “It might be expedient to stop this under-armed and overpriced boondoggle while it still in its early stages, before more precious funding goes toward this patrol-boat-in-all-but-name. More than the cost and armament, is the false notion that large traditional type warships can operate safely and effectively in a littoral environment teeming with many threats. Here is a dangerous idea that must die quickly before we lose hulls and precious crew needlessly in such waters.”

    I am also hoping the Littoral Combat Ship is axed but when did trimarans and 3,000 tonne,50 knot planing vessels become “traditional type warships”?

    Mike Burleson said:

    “Not a bad little ship, and note again the heavy armament planned by the Israelis. I don’t especially see the CSL as an LCS alternative, at least not for the USN. It is fairly large and probably expensive, placing it closer in firepower to larger frigates, though it is probably more economical than those vessels. For a small fleet, it is perfect, and should be considered a capital vessel in East Med, Western Indian Ocean areas. For building up fleet numbers, say for the UK and US, something a little more spartan and smaller is all that is required, since these navies already deploy powerful air defense ships.”

    I am very glad to see that we both regard a vessel with a full load displacement of 2,750 tonnes as a “little ship”.
    I would agree that the MEKO CSL appears to be an excellent choice for Israeli requirements.
    Though I am not sure why they would need so much speed,operating mostly near their home bases,they have not got too far to go if they need to refuel.

    The Royal Navy and United States Navy on the other hand operate many thousands of miles away from their home bases and would require many replenishment vessels to support small ships operating so far from home.
    Which is why much larger vessels are more suited to their needs,building a bigger ship is cheaper than having to buy a replenishment vessel.

    tangosix.

  18. Mike Burleson permalink*
    June 16, 2010 9:52 am

    Jed wrote “what is the point of trying to fire and maneuver in order to effect your escape when the ROE does not allow it ?’

    Good point.

  19. Scott B. permalink
    June 16, 2010 9:15 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Though some large ships can sail in shallow seas”

    Your mentioning *shallow seas* provides a good opportunity to ask a couple of questions that I’ve had in mind for some time now, and that you may not have noticed yet :

    1) What sort of shallow waters are you talking about, i.e. how deep in feet / meters ?

    2) What would be the corresponding maximum navigational draft of the vessel you envision ?

  20. Jed permalink
    June 16, 2010 9:02 am

    Mr Harding of the Telegraph knows nothing about what he is discussing:

    “During the Cornwall incident in 2007 the 14 Royal Navy personnel were taken prisoner by the Iranians partly because their small boats were outgunned and slower than their Iranian captors.”

    Neither of these elements was a factor at all, the fact that they were well out numbered and the UK’s restrictive ROE did not allow the boarding party to fire upon the Iranians, so what is the point of trying to fire and maneuver in order to effect your escape when the ROE does not allow it ? Thus while the Iranians did not shoot at the RN team, they were able to surround them as they had many more boats. I doubt very much that the team lead thought, mmm’ our boats are too slow to make a run for it, but I bet he did worry about those nasty looking MG’s that were being pointed at him…………….

  21. B.Smitty permalink
    June 16, 2010 8:36 am

    We didn’t see what Bertholf’s 57mm would do against these targets. My guess is the results would be far more satisfying.

  22. Bill permalink
    June 16, 2010 8:32 am

    Having tested the 20mm Phalanx against air drones, sea drones and towed targets (mounted on 210′ LOA vessel)…..I wonder what ‘gizmo’ was directing the 20mm fire in that Bertholf video? We had evaluated three different targeting technologies..each had its own plusses and minuses.. Best I recall, all worked reasonably well at close ranges. I’m not an operations guy..but a weapon like that being effective only at really close ranges is not what the operators call a ‘good thing’ is it? ;-p

  23. Scott B. permalink
    June 16, 2010 8:10 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Which is why we continue to urge that the best defense against small warships is another small warship.”

    A small warship shooting the same weapons (.50″, 20mm and 25mm) at the same targets and same distances would obtain much POORER results !!!

    How such degraded performance might be labelled as *best defense* is really hard to understand…

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