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Current trends in surface ship armament: the weapons arming today's surface combatants.

Current Trends in Surface Ship Armament

The Weapons Arming Today's Surface Combatants

Any discussion of surface ships' armament, both offensive and defensive, must take account of two fundamental question:

* what threat does the ship face? * how can such a threat be met in an affordable way?

Although the visible elements of a surface fleet are its ships and aircraft they must be tied together by communications links. The effect of external command and control is to extend the horizon of each individual ship, identifying the position of potential targets and enemies sufficiently early to enable weapon systems to engage effectively.

Onboard combat systems have become vastly more effective in recent years, enabling the command team to identify radar tracks and to allot priorities to specific weapons and targets. Automatic systems can store target tracks, reducing the workload on plotters and avoiding confusion in the face of saturating attacks.

A most important development is the data bus. Early electronic systems were "hard-wired" or wired to a specific radar set, the data being transferred from system to system by voice or even by hand. It is now possible to feed all the data from sensors into a common "bus" from which computers can extract what they need. This means that computers and display consoles can be added or subtracted from a system without large-scale rewiring. It also means that space and weight can be saved because individual consoles and computers do not need separate data cables. Instead, each is connected to the bus, in the same way as it is connected to a common power supply.

It is argued that the more computer processing is distributed throughout the ship the less vulnerable she will be to action damage. Such "federated" systems have no centralized computer. Instead, each sensor has an associated processor which feeds into or extracts from the data bus. Decisions are made at command consoles to extract data from the sensor bus and feed them into a separate command bus. Because the full database is replicated at all the consoles a commander looking at, for example, the anti-air warfare picture can switch to the anti-submarine picture without moving to another console. As each console holds the full tactical picture the loss of one console will not result in the loss of the data base.

Offensive Weapons

The most formidable weapons at sea are cruise missiles, so called because they have a long intermediate cruise phase. The first cruise missiles were pilotless aircraft relying on midcourse guidance to stay on course, notably Regulus, but they were cumbersome. In the late 1960s the US Navy was interested in spreading strategic firepower over a greater number of platforms, in order to force the Russians to dissipate their greater number of nuclear missiles over a large number of targets. In a non-nuclear conflict such a strategy also had the advantage of securing the survival of a greater number of surface assets such as aircraft carriers.

It must be remembered that the Soviet Navy had deployed a large number of missiles at sea, many with alternative nuclear warheads. The first of these was the SS-N-3 Shaddock, credited with a range of 250 nautical miles and designed to attack major warships such as aircraft carriers. It was deployed in the Kynda class rocket cruisers and submarines, and as the SS-C-1 was used for coastal defence. It developed into the SS-N-12 Sandbox, which is faster and has a slightly greater range; the weapon is mounted in the Kiev class carriers and the Slava class cruisers. The final development in this series is the SS-N-19 Shipwreck, which is fast enough to dispense with mid-course guidance; it arms the Kirov class battle cruisers.

Following the success of the SS-N-3 Styx against the Israeli destroyer "Eilat", the Russians developed the SS-N-9 Siren for launching from the Nanuchka type corvettes and the Charlie type submarines. It was followed by the SS-N-22 Sunburn missile, flying at Mach 2.5 at a range estimated at 58 to 65 nautical miles; platforms include the Sovremenny class destroyers and the Tarantul III corvettes.

It was to counter this formidable armoury that the US Navy started an internal study in 1971 for a sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM). The initial proposal was for submarine-launched SLCMs and a tube-launched system; General Dynamics' Tomahawk BGM-109 was chosen. In fact the two projects were merged, the SLCM and a 300-nautical miles submarine-launched tactical missile (STAM), which accounts for the existence of both tactical and strategic versions. The effective range of the Tomahawk anti-ship missile (TASM) is limited by the need to search for the target at the end of the 250-nautical miles flight, whereas the Tomahawk land-attack (TLAM) versions are limited by the weight of warhead.

There are five versions of the Tomahawk currently in service or under development: BGM-109A - nuclear land attack; BGM-109B - HE anti-ship; BGM-109C - HE land attack; BGM-1090 - land attack with bomblets; BGM-109F - land airfield attack.

The first TASM and TLAM installations in US Navy warships were in four-cell armoured box launchers mounted on deck but they are now launched from the Mk.41 vertical launch system (VLS).

The Soviet Navy was not far behind with its SS-N-21, dubbed Tomahawkski by the US Navy, a 1 600-nautical miles Mach 0.7 air-breathing missile, but so far this 65-cm diameter weapon is only deployed aboard submarines. The large inventory of long range anti-ship missiles presumably makes a SLCM equivalent less important. However, nearly two years ago the East German Navy's latest fast attack craft, designated Balcom-10, was seen at sea with eight new canisters containing what some commentators believe to be SS-NX-25s.

The Age of the Sea-Skimmer

After the sinking of the "Eilat" in 1967 all navies started to take the anti-ship missile seriously. In France Aerospatiale (SNIAS) moved rapidly to turn a paper project into reality, and by 1970 the first firing of the Exocet had taken place. Its criteria were simplicity, comparative cheapness and light weight. It was only intended to disable a target and range was short, but the designers wanted a missile small enough to be fitted into fast attack craft and argued that a longer range and a bigger warhead would result in an unacceptable increase in weight and volume.

In practice the Exocet has proved very successful, sinking the British destroyer "Sheffield" and Ro-Rotransport "Atlantic Conveyor" in the Falklands and crippling the frigate USS "Stark" and a number of tankers in the Gulf War. It exists in air-launched and submarine-launched versions; the ship-launched MM-40 version has the longer range. Its successor is intended to be the Anti-Navires Supersonique (ANS). As its name suggests it adopts a faster flight-time as a counter to the growing array of hard kill anti-missile systems. A Franco-German Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 1983, and first test flights took place at the Centre d'Essais de la Mediterranee (CEM) in 1987, but current political developments in Eastern Europe and a general lack of funds may result in the project being deferred.

The Israelis developed the Gabriel missile as a direct counter to the Styx threat, and Gabriel I entered service in 1972. It was battle-tested in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and various improvements were incorporated in Gabriel II, including an improved seeker and longer range. Work is currently in hand on Gabriel IV, a swept-wing missile powered by a turbojet to give 200 km range. Although some reports suggest that it came into service in 1987 other sources claim that development is still under way and that South Africa has pulled out of joint funding. What is definite is that the Israeli Navy still uses a mix of Harpoons and Gabriel IIs.

To meet local needs, Norway developed its own Penguin, an infrared (IR) homing weapon reaching out to 20 km. The Penguin Mk.2 has a longer range, and has been sold to overseas navies.

Another short-range missile is the Taiwanese Hsiung Feng, based on Gabriel II but using a locally developed seeker.

The US Navy followed a different route when it developed the Harpoon as a counter to Soviet strike craft. Intended as an air-to-surface missile, it was adapted successfully as a ship-launched weapon. An air-breathing turbojet gives it a range of 75-80 nautical miles and its small dimensions allow it to be fired from launchers as well as canisters. It is used by over 19 navies, making it the most widely deployed anti-ship missile in the West. The latest version in service is the RGM-84 Block IC, but the Block ID will have a range of 120 nautical miles and improved resistance to jamming.

France and Italy collaborated successfully to produce the Otomat, OTO-Melara and Matra marketing separate versions. It is a large missile, based on the airframe of the defunct Anglo-French Martel missile and ranging out to 180 km at a speed of Mach 0.9. A supersonic successor, Otomach, is on the drawing board but is unlikely to achieve full funding in the present economic climate.

Among other seagoing nations Japan has its own SSM-1B under development as a successor to Harpoon, while Sweden developed the RBS 15 as an alternative to Harpoon for its fast attack craft. The People's Republic of China has a large inventory of missiles, most of which are based on elderly Soviet technology, but in 1988 CPMIEC exhibited an upgraded version of its C. 801 Yingji, capable of 40-km range at Mach 0.9. Looking very similar to the Exocet, the C. 801 and C. 802 are, according to Chinese sources, only "influenced" by the French missile. Brazil's MM-70 Barracuda was intended to replace the Exocet but is at present stalled for lack of funding.

Naval Artillery

Today the heavy calibre gun has all but disappeared from the naval inventory, but the US Navy retains its four battleships of the Iowa class. Their Mk. 7 16-inch 50 cal. guns date from the Second World War although much has been done to improve their munitions. The Mk. 143 HE shell has a US Army pattern proximity fuze, the Mk. 144 contains 400 M43A1 anti-personnel grenades, the Mk. 145 HE shell has a variable time (VT) fuze and the Mk. 146 contains 666 shaped-charge SADARM bomblets. Another development, a 13-inch sub-calibre round containing SADARM sub-munitions, was to have started trials this year but may be dropped as part of defence funding cuts.

The only medium-calibre guns of similar vintage are 8-inch in a few old US Navy cruisers, 6-inch (152 mm) guns in the Soviet Navy's Sverdlov class and a handful of old cruisers in the Third World.

Most navies have a requirement for guns in the 100-130 mm range for use against soft targets, for limited air defence and for gunfire support (shore bombardment). The trend in recent years has been to reduce weight and to cut the rate of fire, while improving reliability and reducing manpower. The French Creusot-Loire 100 mm Compact is typical, but others include FMC's 5-inch 54 cal. Mk. 45, OTO-Melara's 127 mm 54 cal. Compact and VSEL's 4.5-inch Mk. 8. As with the US Navy's big guns, attention is turning to improvements in munitions to take advantage of modern fire-control techniques.

The US Navy's attempt to develop a semi-active laser-guided projectile (SALGP) and an Infrared Guided Project (IRGP) for the 5-inch Mk. 45 was terminated in the 1980s, but Creusot-Loire, Raytheon, British Aerospace, OTO-Melara and Bofors are all known to be looking at "smart" munitions. Both the US Navy and the Royal Navy are looking in the longer term at lightweight 155 mm gun mountings to enable ships to fire Copperhead-type laser-guided shells. The greater accuracy of "smart" munitions brings them back into contention as air defence weapons, where rate of fire no longer matters if terminal accuracy can be guaranteed.

For many years gun designers were constrained by the fact that variable time (proximity) fuzes could not be fitted in shells smaller than 76 mm calibre, and so NATO adopted the calibre for its standard light/medium gun. Out of this came the OTO-Melara 76 mm L/62 Compact, now virtually in world-wide service either as a secondary weapon in large warships or as main armament in fast attack craft. The mounting has now been developed into the Super Rapid, with a rate of fire increased from 80 to 120 rounds per minute to enhance its air defence capability. BAe and OTO-Melara are collaborating on the development of course-corrected munitions, due to be available before the end of the decade.

Bofors preferred a higher rate of fire (225 rounds per minute) and developed a 57 mm L/70 gun for fast attack craft. It has been adopted by the Canadians for their new City class frigates. The earlier Mk. 1 was the first to use pre-fragmented, proximity-fuzed munitions to enhance lethality against missiles and aircraft, an improvement adopted widely by other weapon designers and producers.

Defensive Weaponry

Clearly it is useless to pack a warship full of offensive weaponry while leaving her vulnerable to attack. But the word "defensive" must be used carefully; anti-air warfare (AAW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) are intended to secure the survival of the whole formation, and must not be confused with pure self-defence.

The most complex systems are area defence missiles, designed to protect a formation of ships from air attack. Initially the targets were bombers flying at medium altitude but with the evolution of the air threat, systems have been designed to deal with missiles as well as aircraft "leaking" through the outer defensive layers.

These "point-defence" systems are now giving way to provide "local area defence" at an intermediate range. Extra long range is technically very difficult to achieve, and in practice it is best done by air-to-air missiles launched by aircraft, either land- or carrier-based. Because modern aircraft are so expensive they cannot be deployed in large numbers, and so missiles can help to achieve air superiority by inflicting unacceptable attrition on attackers. Pilots do not like being attacked by missiles, and so missile systems create "killing zones" in which attacking aircraft tactics are severely constrained.

The first generation of missile-launchers were very bulky and needed as much maintenance as a gun mounting. Now vertical launching is becoming widespread, easing the burden on the ship designer as well as the maintenance team. The main problem with vertical launch systems is disposing of the efflux, but their advantages are so great that we are unlikely to see future systems using large trainable launchers. Warhead technology is changing too, continuous rod warheads giving way to blast and fragmentation warheads as the smaller strike aircraft and the missile replace the bomber as the main threat.

Air defence missiles employ a variety of guidance systems, from self-guidance by infrared or active radar to semi-active homing on a signature imposed on the target by an external radar, and command guidance from an external source. All have advantages in specific circumstances and against particular targets.

The US Navy has always given priority to anti-air warfare and so became the trendsetter in air defence missiles. The 1950s programme produced Talos, Terrier and Tartar, but now the Standard only survives in Extended Range (ER) and Medium Range (MR) variants. The Standard uses the original Tartar/Terrier airframes but with vastly improved electronics. The Standard Missile-1 (SM-1) RIM-66A/B has a boost-sustain motor in its MR version, while the SMI-1 RIM-67A has a separate booster and sustainer in the ER version.

The RIM-66A was an interim weapon and was replaced by the RIM-66B with a new motor and other improvements. The RIM-66C became the Standard Missile-2 (SM-2) in its MR version, the RGM-66D was an anti-ship anti-radiation weapon, and the RGM-66E was an anti-radiation missile (ARM) fired from an ASROC launcher. The RGM-66F was an active homing anti-ship version.

The SM-1 (ER) RIM-67A is the successor to Terrier, similar to the SM-1 (MR) but with a different motor which in the later RIM-2F version extends the range to 40 nautical miles. These missiles have all been supplied to friendly navies, including those of Australia, France, West Germany, Italy, Japan and the Netherlands. The associated radars include 3-D sets to give height as well as range and bearing, and a variety of trackers.

The SM-2 series have an added programmable autopilot, allowing the missile to be command-guided into a homing "basket" near the predicted position of the target. Semi-active illumination is therefore needed only at the end of the missile's flight. The SM-2 exists in the MR and ER versions, RIM-66C and RIM-67B. The MR version is designed for the early Aegis cruisers, whose Mk.26 launchers cannot accommodate the manually finned RIM-67B, whereas modified Mk.10 launchers can fire it.

The French Navy procured its own area defence surface-to-air missile, the Masurca, which is similar to the Terrier or Standard SM-1 (ER). Only three Mod 3 systems are in service, in the air defence cruiser "Colbert" and the Suffren class missile-carrying destroyers. At the end of this decade it will be replaced by the Aster, under development to meet the French Navy's SAAM (Systeme de defense surface-air anti-missile) requirement. The Aster is a local area defence system with a maximum range of 15 km, and has sufficient acceleration and manoeuvrability to function as an anti-missile system.

The British also developed their own series of missiles. The beam-riding Sea Slug (GWS.1) was succeeded by the Sea Dart GWS.30, a ramjet-powered system with a comparatively modest range of 40 km but credited with excellent low-level performance. During the Falklands conflict HMS "Exeter" is credited with "splashing" two A-4 Skyhawks in quick succession at only 10 metres above sea level. A much improved GWS.31 Sea Dart Mk.2 system was cancelled in 1981, but incremental improvements have been fed into the GWS.30 system, including a new Type 996 target-indicating radar, a new Type 9091 tracker, a new Mk.39A1 blast and fragmentation warhead and improved ECCM capabilities.

Soviet developments were a reaction to American advances but typically followed a pattern of their own. The beam-riding SA-N-1 Goa (M1 Volga-M in Soviet parlance) gave way to the command-guided SA-N-3 Goblet with a range of some 33 km. In recent years Soviet Navy ships have appeared armed with the SA-N-6 Grumble and the SA-N-7 Gadfly.

For point-defence as opposed to area defence the US Navy adapted a British proposal to use air-to-air missiles as a short-range air defence system. Out of this came the Sea Sparrow, an extremely long-lived system. It has undergone several modifications, from Basic Point Defence Missile System (BPDMS) to Improved Point Defence Missile System (IPDMS), which became the NATO Sea Sparrow. A one-off version was produced for the Canadian Navy and now there is the VL Sea Sparrow. The missile has benefited from all the improvements in air-to-air missiles, progressing from the original RIM-7 to RIM-7H-5 (AIM-7E) in Block I, and the monopulse RIM-7M in Block II. The RIM-7P version is planned to come into service this year.

The Italians developed their own multi-role Aspide system using the Sparrow airframe, and the naval version uses the same 8-cell launcher. A small modification permits the launcher to fire standard Sea Sparrow rounds if required.

The British Sea Cat system was an excellent, cost-effective short-range missile in the 1960s but the Falklands conflict showed that it was quite out-classed against fast targets. Its successor Sea Wolf is an altogether more potent weapon, and the first with an anti-missile capability. Only two frigates armed with Sea Wolf fought in the Falklands but the system proved very effective. A lightweight system with improved radars is replacing the earlier version, and the latest Duke class frigates are armed with the VL GWS.26. A longer range version, GWS.27, was cancelled in 1987.

The Soviet Navy produced its SA-N-4 (Soviet designation Osa-M, on a ZIF-122 launcher) in the 1970s. Derived from the land-mobile SA-8 Gecko, it differed from US point-defence surface-to-air missiles in having a twin-arm "pop-up" launcher and integral drum magazine. It has been succeeded by the SA-N-9 system, using the SA-15 land missile; it is vertically launched and is credited with a range of 15 km.

France has developed its own point-defence surface-to-air missile, the Crotale Naval version of the land-mobile Cactus, designed for South Africa. The latest version, Crotale EDIR (Ecartometrie Differentielle Infrarouge) has an anti-sea-skimmer capability and, like Sea Wolf, has been fired successfully against Exocet missiles. It has been developed into a lightweight system for deployment aboard smaller warships.

Brief mention must also be made of very short-range systems. These take the form of light missile systems adapted from man-portable land systems such as the Soviet SA-N-5 Grail, the Swedish RBS-70 and the French SADRAL series, or highly complex Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS). The latter are extremely expensive, and usually have an integral fire-control system to direct a dense volume of fire against an incoming missile. As the name suggests they are "last-ditch" weapons designed to catch "leakers" which have evaded the outer layers of defence.

Defence against Submarines

The most important means of attacking submarines is the helicopter, which can take ASW weapons, lightweight torpedoes or depth-charges (nuclear as well as conventional) out to the detection ranges achieved by modern sonars. However the need for powerful shipboard ASW weapons remains.

There are two targets for shipboard ASW weapons - the submarine which has penetrated the defensive screen, and the distant submarine which must be attacked before it gets within range of a target. To deal with the first requires launchers for lightweight torpedoes, and all major navies have devised such systems. The US Navy produced the Mk. 32 triple launcher, which has since been copied by the British as STWS (Ship's Torpedo Weapon System) and the Italians as the ILAS-3. The US Navy used the Mk. 46 acoustic homing torpedo for many years but is now replacing it with the Mk. 50 Barracuda. The British similarly replaced the Mk. 46 with the more advanced Stingray while the Italians have produced the A-244 and will replace that with the A-290.

France has its own range of ASW torpedoes, but its older weapons are being replaced by the Murene, a lightweight torpedo closer to the American Mk. 50 and the British Stingray.

The Russians developed a 400 mm torpedo (designated SET-40 by Western sources) for small warships such as corvettes, but continued to rely on heavyweights (533 mm) long after the West had discarded them for ASW missions.

For attacking distant submarines the US Navy developed the ASROC RUR-5A, a ballistic rocket weapon armed with a nuclear depth charge or a Mk. 46 torpedo. The nuclear option was reported to be coming out of service rapidly in 1989; it was only fired live once, in 1962. A proposal to develop a shipboard version of the submarine weapon Sea Lance as an ASROC successor died in 1989 when Sea Lance was cancelled.

The British and Australians collaborated on the development of the Ikara, using a small delta-wing pilotless aircraft to lift a Mk. 46 torpedo, while France had its Malafon carrying a French L-4 torpedo. These systems were believed to have outlived their usefulness as they could not lift the later, heavier torpedoes, but renewed interest has been shown in uprated versions of the Ikara as well as ASROC. France and Italy are collaborating on the development of MILAS using the Otomat missile airframe as a carrier. Similar proposals have been made for Harpoon.

The Soviet equivalents of ASROC are the SS-N-14 Silex missile and the SUW-N-1 nuclear-tipped rocket. Silex lifts an acoustic torpedo and has a range reported to be 30 nautical miles, whereas the SUW-N-1 (formerly designated FRAS-1 by Western Intelligence) fires a nuclear depth charge an estimated 75 km on a ballistic trajectory.

More widely deployed is a series of multiple rocket-launchers known as RBU-600, RBU-1000, RBU-1200 and RBU-6000. These fire salvos of unguided rockets similar in function to the 375 mm rockets developed by Bofors in the 1950s.


This survey must of necessity leave out some systems but it reflects the current trends in surface combatant armaments. The heavyweight torpedo is still mounted in some major ships but is generally confined to fast attack craft. In fact the torpedo as a surface anti-ship weapon went into decline, and has only recently been rehabilitated. Similarly the gun is being re-assessed as a complement to missile systems. However, in the lean years ahead we cannot expect to see any major changes - until the next limited conflict forces a change of thinking.

PHOTO : Modern US Navy carriers such as the "Abraham Lincoln" (CVN-72) rely solely on CIWS for

PHOTO : defence against missiles. Her aircraft are her main weapon systems.

PHOTO : The Soviet nuclear-powered battle cruiser "Frunze", shadowed in the China Seas by the RAN

PHOTO : frigate HMAS "Canberra", is armed with VL missile systems.

PHOTO : craft are her main weapon systems.

PHOTO : Dowty-SEMA and Racal won a major contract last year to supply the Royal Navy frigate

PHOTO : Type 23 with a new Surface Ship Command System (SSCS).

PHOTO : Not something to get in the way of: the forward 16-inch Mk. 7 main armament of the

PHOTO : battleship USS "Iowa" (one of which blew up catastrophically last year).

PHOTO : BEAB has won the contract to develop the 9LV 453 Mk. 3 command & control system for the

PHOTO : ANZAC frigate project.

PHOTO : OTO-Melara's 127 mm L/54 Compatto fires standard US Navy 5-inch ammunition and arms

PHOTO : Italian Navy surface combatants.

PHOTO : The Mk. 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) was designed by FMC Corp. for the USN's

PHOTO : Ticonderoga class Aegis cruisers. Production is shared with Martin Marietta.

PHOTO : Signaal's new smart 3-D F-band surveillance radar was installed on board the Royal

PHOTO : Netherlands Navy frigate "Jan van Brakel" in January for trials.

PHOTO : Armed with Harpoon SSMs, Sea Wolf SAMs, a Goalkeeper CIWS and a 114 mm Mk. 8 gun HMS

PHOTO : "Campeltown" is the last of four RN Type 22 Batch 3 frigates.

PHOTO : The Harpoon is the most widely used SSM in the West. A quad launcher is the standard

PHOTO : installation.

PHOTO : An impressive view of the tracking and illumination module of the Contraves Seaguard

PHOTO : close-in weapon system.

PHOTO : Matra's SADRAL (Systeme d'Autodefense Rapprochee Antiaerien Leger) equips the French

PHOTO : Navy's ships.
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Author:Preston, Antony
Publication:Armada International
Date:Aug 1, 1990
Previous Article:Glasnost and the glass cockpit.
Next Article:A look at surface-to-air missilery worldwide: covering both shipborne and land-based systems.

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