Category Archives: navy

Sea Skua

Elizzar mentioned the Sea Skua missile’s use in the Falklands war in the comments of an earlier post. And it’s one of my favorite little missiles.

Developed in the late 1970s to give Royal Navy helicopters an Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) capability against smaller ships such as patrol boats, the Sea Skua had a remarkably fast development time from the first test firings, on the order of about three years, and was fielded and operational in time for the Falklands in 1982.

The helicopter it was designed for, the Westland Sea Lynx, is a fairly small helicopter, so the Sea Skua was designed to be fairly small itself, with an all up round weighing in at around 300 pounds. Each Sea Lynx could carry up to four missiles.

Most anti-ship missiles use either active radar homing (that is, they carry their own radar to search for a target) or infra-red homing, seeking the heat of the target. The Sea Skua, somewhat unusually, uses semi-active radar homing. That is, the launching Sea Lynx shines its radar on the target, and a radar receiver in the missile homes in on the reflected radar energy. This has a significant drawback in that the launching helicopter has to keep its radar locked on the target for the entire time of flight of the missile. But the choice of guidance systems also has some advantages. First, it was likely cheaper and faster to develop. Second, with the decent range of Sea Skua (roughly 15 miles) the launching helicopter is out of range of most small ship defenses, so tracking the target isn’t an unduly risky proposition. Third, semi-active homing means that the launching helicopter can be sure the missile attacks the correct target, and will not be spoofed to attack either a neutral or lower value target. As a contrast, the Argentine Exocet that destroyed the MV Atlantic Conveyor was (probably) targeted as HMS Illustrious, but was spoofed by chaff, and stumbled upon Atlantic Conveyor afterwards.

The Sea Skua has a small warhead, by anti-ship missile standards, just 62 pounds. And given that it strikes above the waterline, it’s highly unlikely for one missile to sink any but the smallest of targets. But the warhead is sufficient to render most small vessels incapable of continuing the fight. That’s called a “mission kill.” For the most part, simply taking a ship out of the fight is sufficient.

In its introduction to combat in the Falklands, Sea Skua was used to damage an Argentinian patrol boat. Its next foray into combat was during Desert Storm, where considerable numbers were expended against the Iraqi navy with good effect, sinking or badly damaging about a dozen ships.

Just as the Westland Lynx has enjoyed considerable export success, so naturally has the Sea Skua. Users beside the Royal Navy include Germany, Brazil, Malaysia, India, Kuwait, Pakistan, and Korea.

The Sea Skua can also be installed and launched from small surface ships too small to accommodate other larger anti-ship missiles.

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The US Navy, finding itself in need of a missile system to equip its own SH-60 Seahawk helicopters, opted instead for the Norwegian designed Penguin missile. Unlike Sea Skua, Penguin uses an infra-red seeker. In addition, for even smaller threats, most Seahawks can now carry four or eight Hellfire semi-active laser guided missiles, with a range of about 5 miles. The much smaller Hellfire is quite sufficient for attacking the very small fast boats that would constitute a swarm type attack.

Sea Skua itself, after an admirable career over three decades long, is slated to be replace by a newer missile, Sea Venom, sometime around 2020.

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Lay Aloft! Climbing the foremast of USS Constitution

Which, wow, that’s a fair bit of cordage involved.

The caption from YouTube:

CHARLESTOWN, Mass. (Oct. 29, 2014) Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Pablo Solano climbs to the top of USS Constitution’s foremast during the crew’s final climbing evolution prior to Constitution being de-rigged in preparation for her entry into dry dock 1 in Charlestown Navy Yard scheduled for spring 2015.

I always get a tad queasy and dizzy watching stuff like this. Do note that our cameraman climbs the foremast, and the foretopmast, up to the crosstrees, but doesn’t climb the next segment, up the foretopgallant. Which, when making sail in the old days, not only would our sailor climb that, he’d be accompanied by quite a few others. And no safety harnesses back then. And while the weather this day in Charlestown was just about perfect, many a time sailors laid aloft in less than pleasant conditions. At night.

Yo ho, no wonder a bottle of rum was needed for the sailor’s life!

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Offensive ASuW- Range and the Kill Chain

So, the surface navy side of the US Navy is starting to get serious about reestablishing a credible offensive capability against enemy surface forces. ‘bout damn time.

It should be noted that offensive ASuW is currently, and will continue to be, primarily the province of  tactical airpower and submarines. One great strength of our way of war is our ability to fight asymmetrically, using our system of systems against enemy platforms. Why get into a toe-to-toe slugfest with enemy surface ships if you have better ways of doing business?

But that approach presumes that an individual ship or small task force has immediate access to either airpower or a submarine. If that’s not the case, our notional force must be able to defend itself, and take the offense. The goal of a military force, after all, is to make his life miserable, not to make yours safe.

Jon Solomon, who’s been doing some great stuff at Information Dissemination, writes about one aspect that has been getting a lot of press, but not so much deep thought- the range discrepancy between most US anti-ship missiles, and those of potential enemies

The U.S. Navy is clearly at a deficit relative to its competitors regarding anti-ship missile range. This is thankfully changing regardless of whether we’re talking about LRASM, a Tomahawk-derived system, or other possible solutions.

It should be noted, though, that a weapon’s range on its own is not a sufficient measure of its utility. This is especially important when comparing our arsenal to those possessed by potential adversaries. A weapon cannot be evaluated outside the context of the surveillance and reconnaissance apparatus that supports its employment and the overall size of its inventory.

One of the original variants of the Tomahawk missile was the TASM, or Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile. It could deliver a 1000lb warhead to a range of about 250 nautical miles at about 500 miles per hour. We fielded this capability in the early 1980s, but by the early 1990s, the TASM was withdrawn from service.

Why?

Because even though we had a missile that could fly 250nm, what we didn’t have was a reliable way to detect, localize, classify, identify, and track a target at that range. Oh, sometimes, use of SH-60B LAMPS III helicopters could make it theoretically feasible. But for the most part, it wasn’t practical. Most of the time when a potential target was found at 250nm, it was found by tactical air. And that brings us right back to tactical air being a preferred ASuW system.

Mr. Solomon uses some math in his post to illustrate some of the challenges that mean the maximum range of a missile isn’t the same as the maximum effective range, yet less the optimum engagement range.

Suffice it to say, the side that generally has the better ability to leverage Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets to line up its targets is likely to prevail in any missile duel.

We’re reminded of an early criticism of the Spruance class destroyers- that they looked very lightly armed compared to their Soviet counterparts bristling with missiles and guns. What that overlooked was that the SpruCans were instead heavily laden with sensors, such as onboard helicopters, that gave them a better ability to see the battlespace, while still carrying sufficient weapons to dominate that battlespace. The Soviet counterpart, by contrast, was a deadly threat if, and only if, it could find the enemy.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union (and its fleet) the Navy has stressed the sensor side of the sensor to shooter relationship. With the resurgence of a potential blue water foe, the Navy is again attempting to balance that relationship with a boost to the shooter side.

Good.

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So Let’s Let ‘Em Have Nukes!

…what a great idea.

After all, just because they conduct naval maneuvers to practice sinking US warships is no reason to think they are hostile toward the United States.

Just like threatening to wipe Israel off the map is no indicator of any latent dislike of our ally.  More diplomatic success for our anti-American President.

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Suribachi

Four days after the bloody struggle to come ashore on Iwo Jima’s fire-swept black volcanic sand beaches, a patrol from 28th Marines was ordered to the top of the sullen volcanic lump that dominated the six square miles of sulphur and rock.  The seven-man patrol under the Executive Officer of Easy Company, 28th Marines raised a small flag.  The flag, difficult to see from the beach, was replaced by a larger one retrieved from one of the LSTs offshore supporting the landing.  Five Marines and one Navy Corpsman labored under fire to plant the larger colors into the rocky ground. The raising of the second, larger flag was captured by Joe Rosenthal, and became the most iconic and reproduced image in the history of photography.

Iwo

Many commonly believe that the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi signaled the end of the fight for Iwo Jima.  In reality, twenty-two more days of relentless and ferocious savagery lay ahead.  It was not until 26 March 1945 that Iwo Jima was declared secured.  Of the six men who raised the flag on Suribachi, three, Sgt Mike Strank, Cpl Harlan Block, and PFC Franklin Sousley, would die on the island, along with more than 6,800 others, mostly Marines.  A fourth flag raiser, Second Class Hospital Corpsman John Bradley, was among the more than 19,000 wounded.   The man who took the motion picture footage from the same vantage as Rosenthal, Marine Combat Cameraman Bill Genaust, was later killed in one of Suribachi’s hundreds of caves.

Bradley received a Navy Cross for his actions in combat on 21 February, and Strank a Bronze Star.  Bill Genaust also received a Bronze Star.

The above movie is the approximately 20 minute production called “To the Shores of Iwo Jima”.  Well worth the time, as it is a grim and unvarnished look at the titanic struggle for Iwo.  Seldom have the words of a senior officer been so accurate, or heartfelt, as when Admiral Chester Nimitz described the fight for the island.

Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue

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The Buck Stops Anywhere But Here

The Washington Free Beacon, via Fox News:

Shame on everyone that voted for this empty-suit charlatan.  Especially the second time, when it was clear what he was.

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Carrier Think Pieces Today

We first saw this looooong piece at USNI from Professor Moore.

Just four days ahead of the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy announced its intention to award Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc (HII). approximately $4 billion to construct the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) super carrier, the second vessel of the new Gerald R. Ford-class of carriers. The cost has raised eyebrows, as the Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) experienced cost overruns of 22 percent.

Additionally, debate is raging over the utility of the aircraft carrier and whether it’s even relevant anymore in the face of China’s new, lethal anti-ship missiles. It’s a debate worth having, but it needs to be rooted in realistic naval principles and war precedents, not politics and hype.

And addressing that piece is none other than Bull Halsey! We suspect that might be a nom de plume.

“The New Strategic Realities of U.S. Carrier Operations.”  As much of the East Coast naval establishment sits at home with their Snuggies and bottles of craft beer (or for some, sitting in a tree stand freezing your keester off), this is sure to be heavily forwarded around the web (thanks, Al Gore).

Moore’s piece touches a particular nerve with me:  the American aircraft carrier and how Americans use her.  It is no longer self-evident and requires a generation of both young and old aviators and ship-drivers to safeguard.

First, our ability to justify the existence of the aircraft carrier beyond the battles of WWII is essential.  It’s great to talk about Coral Sea and Midway, but those events took place more than seven decades ago, and for a force that pegs itself as an innovative one, able to counter the threats of today and tomorrow, it strikes as unimaginative.  There are at least hundreds of examples of CVNs providing critical support or comprising the sole option for offensive or defensive American military operations in the many decades that have followed WWII.  Let’s talk about them candidly.

For the most part, US aircraft carriers have been used as supplemental airfields for power projection in our nation’s wars since World War II. What they haven’t much been called to do is act in the sea control role. Or, if you will, fighting a war at sea. Some, but not much.

The primary reason for that is not that carriers are bad at war at sea. Instead, they’re so good no one has realistically been able to challenge our fleet for many years. The Soviet Union was the only nation to come close to mounting a credible threat of parity, and that was through a sea control fleet that couldn’t realistically project power to our shores, whereas the whole point of the Lehman/Watkins Maritime Strategy was to project power against the Soviet Union itself.

Moore spends a good deal of time discussing the threats to modern carrier operations, and not surprisingly, Halsey adds a rebuttal:

Second, the author paraphrases Robert Haddick’s dire swarm supposition of hundreds of Chinese ASCMs descending upon an unsuspecting aircraft carrier.  The problem with Haddick’s logic–and Moore’s, by association–is that it presupposes a sort of inevitable willingness on the part of the People’s Republic to launch such costly attacks that would result in unquestionable war.  Though we all remember Pearl Harbor, we also remember the children’s tale of the “boogeyman” in the closet.  We must not allow the fear of a missile whose very use would be loaded in incredible geopolitical meaning to be the tail that wags the dog.

Of course, that’s a political consideration, a subject that Halsey spends a fair bit of time on, rightly.

What isn’t sufficiently addressed, to my lights, is the actual difficulty China (or anyone else) would have massing missile attacks on a fleet. Probably no other organization in the world has as robust a maritime ISR capability for targeting a surface fleet than the US Navy, and even we can have trouble finding our own carriers.

Alfred Thayer Mahan would find this debate about the threat of shore based ASCMs and missile armed fast attack craft little different than the Jeffersonian vision of gunboats and coast artillery defending the shores from the line of battle of the Royal Navy. The technology has changed much, and the ranges are greater, but the fundamental concept of a fleet in being able to sail to the enemy shore at the time and place of his choosing to impose his will is very much still the case.

And while our skills seemed to have diminished somewhat from lack of practice, it’s not like we didn’t used to know how to place entire carrier task forces well within the range of an opponent shore without them even knowing it.

Control of the air is a prerequisite for success in battle today, and only the carrier can provide that for substantial naval forces far from our shores. Further, the carrier remains the centerpiece of our ability to execute both sea control and power projection in the maritime space. Carriers alone are not sufficient to successfully challenge the Chinese or any other near peer power at sea, but absent the carrier, the any challenge is simply impossible.

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