Monday, July 17, 2006

ASM strike on Israeli corvette: Quicklook Report

After I recovered from my Zen yesterday, I got up to speed with the early reports by Eagle1 and Bubblehead and then threw what I could dig up yesterday into a first-look prior to dinner yesterday at MilBlogs. With a night to chew on it, let’s sweep up what we know:

Facts as known now:
- Israeli Saar 5 Corvette, INS Hait, on patrol ~10NM off Beirut is hit by a shore launched C-802.
- Four Israeli Sailors killed.
- Warhead did not explode.
- No active counter measures we know of were deployed (we don’t know about passive and active might have been, we just don’t know right now.
- Ship returns to port under own power (see photo above) (UPDATE: Bravo Zulu to Sid. That picture looks pre-strike. I'll see if I can find better one).

- Saar 5 is Israel’s most advanced warship. She is optimized for Anti-Surface Warfare with Harpoon and Gabriel Anti-Ship Missiles (ASM). Very good self-defense anti-air/anti-ASM with her Barak and Phalanx. Some ASW. She has no main gun. She does not perform Naval Fire Support Missions. She was on blockade patrol.
- Without getting into a weaponeering geek-fest, the C-802 is in the same class oas the Exocet and Harpoon, one generation past the SS-N-2 Styx, Silkworm, and others. The C-802 class of weapons is almost 30 years old technology wise, (the other generation almost 50 years old) though modified over the years, this is the type of missile that we all train against and use ourselves. There is little to nothing that is not known about the missiles and how to counter them.

This attack was not a bolt out of the blue. Israel has a great background in anti-ASM dating from the loss in ’67 of their destroyer to Styx missiles, to the smackdown of the Egyptian and Syrian missiles (defeated 50+) in the ’73 war. From the Sheffield to the Stark, through countless exercises countering a C-802 class missile – this engagement is about as bread and butter as you get. On the easy-to-hard scale; the C-802 is on the easy side. You want hard? Try the SS-N-22.

Operational/Tactical Chain-of-Events:
Two paragraphs tell the story from ynet and Harretz:
Brigadier-General Noam Page of the Navy said in a press conference Saturday that the Navy was unaware that a missile threat existed in the sector, and that the boat's crew had acted accordingly
The Saar-5 class is equipped with very advanced defensive systems. However, these were not in operation at the time of attack, partly because of the number of IAF aircraft operating in the area. It was feared that if the system was in operation, it would mistakenly identify friendly aircraft as enemy targets and engage them.
Sounds like someone made a call. Take a small risk of and ASM strike against the more likely risk of shooting down your own aircraft. Here is what it looks like from here. Someone up the chain decided that the thread of an ASM was much less than the chance of a Blue-on-Blue from the Hait to the Israeli Air Force via the Barak and SeaWiz. A C-802 will travel about ~9nm a minute. Once feet wet, the missile was probably less than 1 minute from impact. Depending on the guidance chosen at launch, the seeker head would turn on much closer to the target, giving even the best ESM operator seconds to report, and the Skipper even less time to decide to engage. What readiness state were the Barak and SeaWiz in? How long will it take to go from that dictated from on high state to weapon away or SeaWiz wizz’n? We don’t know. Most likely, there was nothing that could be done.

Even with the background shore clutter, 10 nm out the radar system on the Hait should be able to detect and defeat a C-802 – if the Skipper has them at his disposal. That being said, if you are ordered to stand-down your anti-ASM systems, you are alone and unarmed. A shore based Patriot battery cannot protect you. An aircraft overhead cannot help you. In the best of cases, this is tactically challenging. It can be argued, I will, that if you have Indications and Warnings of a ASM shot and you have the right Rules of Engagement (ROE), 1 minute is a lot of time to defeat a C-802. 20 second tight, but doable. If you handicap yourself, you are asking to be hit. They were.

A side story here is the fact that the Israeli Navy is the red-headed stepchild of the Israeli military. The Commanders of the Lebanon campaign most likely do not fully understand naval warfare, though I am sure they are getting a crash course now. I won’t beat them up though. They made a call. Based on what they knew and were briefed, they did a little Operational Risk Management and decided, based on Intel (sound familiar) that the ASM threat was very small and they would rather micro-manage the ships off shore than take the chance of getting a F-15I shot down by one of their own. Tough call.

As always, as a professional, you should look at this and see what written in the blood of Israeli Shipmates you should take away. Ask yourself a few questions. Here are four broad areas.
- Through ROE limitations or systems casualty, how do you fight your ship when your main systems go down but you have to stay and complete the mission?
- Do your ROE and orders make sense? If not, have you let your superiors know your concerns?
- How are your Damage Control teams doing? Are they the best they can be? If your half your DC personnel are killed in a strike, can the others step up and save the ship?
- What are your Top 3 threats that can sink your ship? Are you ready for them? Does your immediate superior agree? Have you discussed this with them?

My money is on the fact that, in the end, we will find out that the Skipper did the best he could with the ship and ROE he had, and the ROE he had was the best given the intel they had. But……(you know this was coming)… Never assume your threats away. The missiles were in Lebanon; they were/are a threat. I hear echoes of, "Our torpedoes will work just fine.." or "There are no enemy submarines in this sector..." or "Their fighter aircraft do not operate this far from shore..."

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