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Sunday, January 23, 2005

Escorts for the Littorals

In an earlier post I raised some concerns over the potential training of terrorists to use speedboats in attacking ships. The challenges posed threat of such small, high-speed surface units some of which may be seaborne improvised explosive devices (SIEDs) are interesting. Triggered either remotely or on contact with the hulls of high value units, the SIED is not a new threat, SIED speedboats are comparable to the Japanese kamikaze forces of WWII (the comparison is not just an analogy- there were suicide attacks by Japanese boat crews in addition to the better known aircraft attacks). The concept behind such attacks is to overwhelm the available defenses to such an extent that some number of the attacking force may leak through and hit a target, causing damage.

The Royal Navy has looked at the problem
...The possibility of an attack by suicide boats packed with explosives were a major concern during Operation Telic, and the threat remains, such that the Navy was investigating the provision of additional firepower to deal with this threat.

“You can kill the occupants of a suicide boat with machine-guns, but the boat can keep on coming,” the Admiral said. “We are looking at modifying systems like Phalanx to direct them against small surface vessels – although a lot of work needs to be done.

“A fast RIB packed with explosives is a threat – and it is difficult to counter because of rules of engagement. We don’t want to go shooting at a boat full of pleasure seekers which comes too close to our ships.”

Once again, American Scribbles paints a scary scenerio
Granted, these boats can be launched from any shoreline in the Persian Gulf, Straits of Hormuz, Gulf of Oman or off the Arabian Sea. But, they could just as easily be loaded aboard cargo vessels of moderate size, transported to and launched in the Mediterranian Sea or off the coast of Africa or even in the waters off the Indonesian coast, to prey on U.S. vessels helping the tsunami relief efforts ongoing in that area.

Now, when I say prey on U.S. vessels. Don't think I'm suggesting that these would be used to attack a carrrier group. That's not going to happen. But, they could be used to attack a U.S. hospital ship, or unarmed sealift assets.

Teamed together in groups of 5 or 6 boats and grouped into assault groups of 6 to 10 teams, and acting in concert attack a group of U.S. ships moving through a relatively narrow area (say the Straits of Hormuz). In each team, 2 boats are rigged with contact initiated high explosive charges. Several boats take the lead, providing harrassing fire while the HE boats manuever for a suicide run on the target ship. Once one or both HE boats ram the target ship and those charges detonate, inflicting damage akin to that of the USS Cole, the remaining boats move in for RPG attacks against the hull at the water line in an attempt to sink the vessel at that point. If the ship cannot be sunk, they board and execute the crew.

Unlikely? Yes.

Impossible? I doubt it.
What if the terrorists have or (use their speedboat tactics to) seize a "neutral" freighter or tanker and then use that ship as either a SIED or as a "ram" to attack to attack our ships (for this purpose, I believe a tanker to be their preferred vessel because of the potential for fire and pollution and the attendant increase in publicity and spectacular television coverage -so for convenience I will use the word "tanker" alone to refer to this threat).

Now we've identified two potential threats arising from speedboat terrorists: (1) a speedboat SIED and (2) a "pirated" tanker (as SIED or as a ram). How can we protect our sealift ships from them?

Historically, the navies of the world have protected merchant shipping by providing armed escort vessels and/or by arming the merchants themselves and by operating in convoys.

Let's suppose we place armed teams on the sealift ships as they did in WWII with the Naval Armed Guards. How many speedboats are needed to attack from different directions to overcome the firepower that the forces on any one of the sealift ships can generate?Can the fire power of an armed guard force fend off an attack by captured freighter? As set out above, the Royal Navy answers the question about the use of machine guns to kill the crews of speedboats. It would be even harder to kill those piloting a tanker using only the guns and other weapons that could be mounted on a sealift ship. For these reasons, I believe that the answer does not lie in armed guards on sealift ships.

That leaves escort vessels and aircraft. What escorts can we use to protect these high value but important assets? This is where assymetrical warfare agains raises its head.

In my view, most modern U.S. Navy surface warships are not designed to fight at close quarters with small, high speed spedboats. I am not being critical, it's a hard business designing naval vessels to meet threats that might be encountered around the world during the nominal 30 year life span of a ship. Anti-air, anti-missile, anti-submarine and fire support missions in support of forces ashore are concerns of a warship's captain. The proposed "Littoral Combat Ship" (LCS) is supposed to be anti-small boat capable:

LCS provides the Navy with a minimum risk capability to defeat the small boat threat and, in fact, deny the enemy the use of small boats as a credible deterrent to ESG/CSG [Expeditionary Strike Group and/or Carrier Strike Group] and to SEA BASING operations. LCS provides the Navy with a minimum risk capability to defeat the small boat threat and, in fact, deny the enemy use of small boats as a credible deterrent to CVBG operations. The LCS will use its speed and off board systems to set a layered defense against small boats, ensuring they are defeated before they can threaten naval access to the littoral. Through the deployment of unmanned sensors and weapons, coordination of targeting assets and LCS groups with point and area weapons engaging enemy small boat high-density attacks, the LCS force has the ability to prevent small boats from narrowing the Joint Force Commander's range of options.

LCS SUW {Surface Warfare] Characteristics:

High speed to allow interception, screening, and self-defense.
Electronic deception capability to confuse radar-equipped small craft.
Helos and UAVs/UCAVs fitted with surface radar and high rate-of-fire guns and missile launchers
Small UAVs with search, track, target and shadow capability
Deployable surface and bottom acoustic and RF arrays to act as tripwire and early warning of threatening small boat activity
USVs that can lay tripwire sensors, conduct ISR missions and act as floating magazines with their guns / missiles targeted and launched by helos / UAVs
Short/medium range anti-ship missiles to engage enemy C2 platforms as point targets.
Area engagement capability through a large caliber short-range gun or high rate of fire small caliber gun with dispersal fire control system.
Deployment of systems such as aerostats and robotic airships to extend the horizon and provide a stable antenna farm (further keeping LCS signature low) versus low observable targets such as small, fast movers.

LCS SUW Concept of Employment:

LCS provides detection, tracking and attack of small boats via off board and organic sensors.
LCS builds and manages the search, track and ID to engagement problem, which creates a common operational picture (COP) in the littoral.
USVs deployed to lay tripwire sensors at small boat operating ports/harbors.
LCS deploy acoustic/RF sensors to provide early warning of significant small boat activity on likely approach axis.
Manned and unmanned aircraft launched to identify and target small boat formations.
LCS in groups use speed to maneuver for interception, deception, distraction, screening and break up of high-density small boat attacks.
LCS off board and organic sensors detect and track formations of small boats.
Larger vessels and aircraft (C2 nodes) are attacked as point targets using targeting data from helo/UAV with missiles launched from LCS and deployed USVs or by CSG / ESG assets.
High densities of smaller contacts are engaged as an area target using large caliber area weapons or high rate of fire smaller caliber weapons with wide dispersal patterns.
Whatever, the LCS is not currently available. Quite a list of "characteristics," though.

Until the LCs joins the fleet, some other platform must be used. If only U.S. Navy ships are available, I choose the
Cyclone class PCs
Length: 170 feet (51.8 meters)
Displacement: approx. 331 tons
Speed: 35 knots
Armament: 2 25mm Mk-38 machine guns; 2 .50 cal machine guns;2 Mk-19 automatic grenade launchers; 6 stinger missiles
These ships, if used in groups of four, and backed up by some helicopter capable larger ships and supported by helicopters carrying AGM-119B Penguin Anti-Ship Missiles as well as some air support, could be the nucleus of an effective convoy group for choke point escort services. Several other navies have exceptionally capable patrol boats and ships that would also provide high speed interception and interdiction of small speedboats. Having a destroyer in the group would provide some additional firepower for protection against the pirated tanker threat.

One man's opinion.

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