Thursday, December 20, 2012

LCS, Griffin, and the Swarm

From almost day-one of the LCS saga, the turrets-like response to any criticism to the capabilities of this sub-optimal platform has been, “Swarm attack, swarm attack, swarm attack, boobies, pee pee” – or something like that.

When the never-was-has-been that was NLOS was deleted from the PPT, about the only reasonable thing that could fill the literal gaping holes was the Griffin missile. After all, we all know in hushed tones the limitations of sensor to shooter of the single … yes single .. 57-mm “main” gun and they had to get something. An OK something now is always better than a perfect thing that may never arrive. The key is to know you just have an OK and act accordingly.

Thank goodness that we have the 30-mm and .50-cal onboard, as that really is the best response against swarms as it stands going in to 2013. We also know that history tells us that when actually faced with such attacks, like the Royal Navy did in San Carlos Water (but from the air), you will have Sailors with small arms shooting as well – all the while cursing that you are on a ship that, simply, does not have enough easily added medium caliber general purpose guns.

Every war starts with ships getting additional small/medium caliber weapons added; so it will be with the next. But … let’s move on to the Griffin.

Something is better than nothing, but we need to be clear that Griffin is simply not the answer. It is useful, but as sub-optimal for its needed purpose as LCS is.

From a well known expert in weaponeering, I got the nod to share his thoughts and observations on Griffin. The balance of the below is a paraphrase with a few modifications and additions from his email.

Assuming that Griffin is the Navy's answer to swarming tactics, there's a drawback. Griffin uses semi-active laser homing. That means the target has to remain painted by the laser so that the Griffin's seeker can home on the reflected laser light (visible or invisible to the human eye). Meanwhile, what about multiple bogeys? Unless you have multiple laser designators for the other bogeys, a swarming attack can overwhelm this kind of system. That's what the Iranians and others are training to do.

Weather also affects laser targeting. Water droplets in the air (low cloud, rain, fog, mist) or smoke particles will scatter the laser beam to the point the missile cannot identify its target (unless it has some kind of "home on last good fix"). Those who have had to fly in the Arabian/Persian Gulf know what a nightmare the atmospherics can be in that place.  The problem with the "last good fix" is the target is moving so it will be gone when the missile gets there.

What is needed is a missile that has its own guidance system that's fire and forget once target lock is established. Once you get "tone", fire and switch to a new target. The Israeli Spike MR or ER is a fire and forget type of missile that's perfect for swarming attacks. Comparing Griffin to Spike, the better missile is the Israeli Spike MR or ER. The Spike guidance uses both imaging infrared and charge coupled device sensors for guidance. Countermeasures that work against lasers don't work against this kind of guidance.

The above is the Executive Summary of the sub-optimal missile we play on putting on our sub-optimal platform.

More work needed, and LCS are still in production ... and will be filled with Sailors who will be put in harm's way. We need to do the best we can with what we have.

Still ... in many ways the LCS drama kind of reminds me of  ....

UPDATE: Our weaponeer has a few more thoughts. I re-read the article, one thing seemed to jump out at me and I thought it worth commenting upon.

The demise of Raytheon's NLOS-LS PAM with a range of 21 miles resulted in the Griffin-B with a 3.5 mile range and is semi-active laser guided.

I discussed the limitations of the SALG method of targeting on CDR Salamander's blog, but then I banged into this range issue. "3 Griffin missiles were fired from a sea-based launcher at 3 separate speeding-boat targets more than ... 1.2 miles away." This is TOO close! We are talking .50 caliber machine gun range here. What happened to the 3.5 miles?

Both Rafael's Spike MR and ER are fire and forget missiles with ranges of 1.5 miles and 5 miles respectively. Given my choice, I'd like to engage at 5 miles rather than 3.5 or 1.5 or 1.2 miles. Since the USN is already testing Spike MR, why don't we upgrade to the longer range bird? When engagements happen under real world scenarios, ranges typically get closer. I'd rather start out with a longer range missile to engage at a shorter range, rather than a shorter range missile with an even shorter range. If I could really have Santa give me my wish list, I'd opt for Spike NLOS with a range of 16 miles.

Why are we spending our hard earned money on these short range birds? Longer stand-off distances are our friend. Why not longer range?"


Unknown said...

Who did you pi$$ off now? US Cyber Command has blocked your site from my government computer for "operational reasons". Could it be the diagram of the Griffin or the sub-optimal explanation?

MIDN Fess said...

What about Javelins? IR seeker with plenty of range, and I imagine the warhead to do plenty of damage to a boat. Work would probably be needed to make them stand up to the sea, but its a proven system.

Anonymous said...

Sal, I'm a veteran weaponeer myself, so I'll provide my anonymous response to your anonymous commenter. Because he's only giving you the missileer point of view. You must add to that the ship/combat systems view to get the rest.

You must consider how combat system requirements flow down to the weapons themselves. In a layered defense situation like this, the combat systems people would have taken a hypothetical raid and allocated it to different weapons. Note that the 30mms, 57mm, and the missiles would all be on there together. The fact that NLOS would have been an adequate first step to helping the overall combat system meet the raid requirement tells me that they either 1) screwed up big time, or 2) can do most of the job already using a combination of guns, speed, and wake. Hard to say without access to the actual requirements.

A typical allocation would go like this: allocate A targets at B nm to the missiles, then C targets at D nm to the 57mm, and E targets at F nm to the 30mms. You would not allocate all your targets to one weapon system. That's for blue water IAMD.

Also, you missed one big fact. There was a request for information put out this summer for a successor missile. You should still be able to find in on fedbizopps. My company took a look. It talks about a high-volume follow-on to the Griffin system that is agnostic as to the seeker type. Griffin is clearly a placeholder.

WireguidedMarine said...

NLOS, Griffin, and other small missiles are fine, but shouldn't LCS have more than that for ASuW? Against a boghammar swarm small missiles and 57mm/30mm guns work well, but what if an old DD or FF with Exocets or silkworms is in the mix?

China's newest FAC the Type 022 have eight large missiles that can out range a LCS.

Does a DDG or CG need to be right behind a LCS to use Harpoon or Tomahawk for anything bigger than a boghammar? If so should we finally be placing Harpoon quad packs on Flight IIA Burkes and developing an ASuW variant of the Tomahawk Block IV?

Or am I taking the LCS ASuW ConOps too seriously?

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