Monday, October 03, 2016

The Near Death Nature of Near Shore Operations

History, on large scale and small, will give you hints what should concern you when the next war comes.

On operating near shore, the history can be mixed in the messages it sends if you don't look at the details. In the last real big war, you had successful defenses such as the approaches to Oslo and even the sporty use of field artillery against ships by the few Marines defending Wake in the early days of WWII.  Shore based defenses - immobile and a frustration at most - are seen as ineffective as those we faced in our last gunfight outside of Haiphong during the Vietnam War.

It is this history that can be misleading in the second decade of the 21st Century. The edges of living memory is good to understand, but you need to look closer.

Don't look too far. Are we worried so much about the sexy but rare and unproven Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) right now, as well as other exotic items you only see in a PPT, to the point we are ignoring a larger, legacy threat of a proven and effective threat scattered around the world by the hundreds to thousands? They may be old to oldish - but so are our ways to defend against them.

They are the cost effective answer to those who do not have the luxury of having a navy to throw up against an overpowering USN at sea - but want to have the ability to bloody the nose of those who would assume they own the sea. Of course, we are talking about what we believe took out the SWIFT, the shore based anti-ship cruise missile. Harpoon, Exocet, Styx/Silkworm, C801, C802, etc ... they are out there and waiting. They aren't fixed. They can be in any garage or "lorry" seen on the road. They would even fit in the parking bay of a MSF hospital.

The first practical big hint about the dangers of going close ashore in the modern era was the HMS Glamorgan attack in the closing days of the 1982 Falklands War. The 2012's strike on the INS HANIT is the most germane to what we saw over the weekend to the former (JHSV 2) SWIFT;
AN Incat catamaran has been sunk in the Red Sea by the Yemeni Army, say Arab news agencies.

Al-Masirah Television and Tasnim News Agency report that the 98m wave-piercing HSV-2 Swift, built at the Prince of Wales Bay Incat shipyard in 2003, was destroyed in a rocket attack off the shores of the Red Sea port city of Mokha early on Saturday.

Al-Masirah reports that the Swift was carrying aid and equipment for the United Arab Emirates Army when it was targeted by an anti-ship missile. There have been no reports of casualties but Yemini Houthi fighters claim to have sunk the ship.
The aluminium-hulled catamaran had a helicopter flight deck, vehicle deck, small boat and unmanned vehicle launch and recovery capability, and a communications suite.

It was capable of carrying 350 personnel and military vehicles and had a 2600 sq m mission deck.

Swift returned to Incat at Hobart in July 2013 for a refit and in July 2015 was reported to be operated by the UAE’s National Marine Dredging Company.

Most who served in the last few decades know the Bab-el-Mandeb area at the southern end of the Red Sea well. It is a classic choke point and "near shore" operating environment. How do you define "near short?" In the modern era, I wouldn't judge near shore by distance, but by time. Here's why.

Almost any poorly resourced military or non-state actor have the ability to do over the horizon targeting using over-the-counter communications equipment, using fishing boats as intel collection nodes, commercial radars for targeting, or even recreational drones (you should see some of the scouting by drone some of my duck hunting acquaintances are doing. For the record, I hinted how great an idea that is, but Mrs. Salamander shot that down pronto. Not a drone, just the idea of me buying one to, "Save time scouting." I failed on the sale).

Let's put the latest generation of supersonic ASCM to the side and go with the affordable previous generation of sub-sonic cruise missiles. They go +/-9 NM a minute. From launch to impact, a 2-minute flight time from the parking lot of KFC to your ship 18-NM out at sea. How long does it take for your watch to go from detect to engage (that assumes you have a good radar designed for such, have ES gear, have an awake & well trained crew, are expecting an attack, and nothing is CASREP'd)? Depending on the missile, these can be shot in "line of sight" mode where the targeting radar comes on right after launch (easiest to counter), they can have the radar come on at the last minute, or some can even be IR guided.

Ponder that threat a bit and ask yourself - how close to you want to get? Yes, you are a bit frustrated at all those glossy advertisements for DDG-1000 that showed them happily firing away a thousand yards or so from a nice white beach and green shore with nary a village in sight ... but that was marketing, this is war where you have hundreds of thousands of possible hiding places for shore based, mobile ASCM. How close are you comfortable with the risk vs. how close you have to do to accomplish your mission? That overlap is the rub.

Once you get your head around that legacy threat, then ponder the latest ASCM that in the next decade will probably be sold like Hilux trucks, the BrahMos and their fellow travelers. 

How do you defeat that threat? Dowe have the right defensive measures to fight through the envelope? Are we properly taking in to account this threat in how we design our fleet? How we man, train, and equip it?

As for this instance, I would expect a lot more to come out in the next 48-hrs, but here's the video we have of the attack.

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