Category Archives: navy

Lynx-Yikes!

We’ve mentioned operating helicopters from smaller ships. In the US Navy, this mostly means destroyers and frigates. Which, at anywhere from 3000 tons to 9000 tons, that’s a goodly sized ship.

Other navies, like the Royal Danish Navy, often operate helicopters from much smaller ships, such as this Offshore Patrol Vessel. And in heavy seas, it can get downright sporty.

Notice immediately after touchdown, a probe extends from the belly of the Lynx. It engages a grate on the landing deck, to keep the helicopter from sliding off the deck, in spite of the pitching and rolling.

The US Navy uses a somewhat different system, RAST, developed from the Canadian Beartrap device.

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The Death of HMS Vanguard

Look at Life was  a popular British film series, short 8-10 minute documentaries shown in British theaters before a main attraction. Most were upbeat and interesting, if somewhat overly chipper.

But the short on the end of HMS Vanguard, in spite of the relentless optimism of the of the narrator, is poignant and sad.

HMS Vanguard was the last battleship completed anywhere. Laid down during World War II, competing shipbuilding needs meant she wasn’t completed until after the end of the war. A modified Lion class, she bore King George VI on a Royal Visit to South Africa. Other than that, she mostly spent her time in routine training, and serving as the flagship for various fleets and stations. And in 1960, she was decommissioned, and sent to the Clyde for scrapping.

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The Iranian Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile

There have been a lot of pixels spilled worrying about the Chinese DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (AShBM). Now comes news that the Iranians have developed and fielded their own AShBM. Hit the panic button!

Or not.

Iran’s Khalij Fars anti-ship ballistic missile (AShBM) – a weapon that could shift the military balance in the Gulf region – is being delivered to operational units, according to the US Department of Defense’s annual report to Congress on the Islamic Republic’s military capabilities.

“Tehran is quietly fielding increasingly lethal symmetric and asymmetric weapon systems, including more advanced naval mines, small but capable submarines, coastal defence cruise missile batteries, attack craft, and anti-ship ballistic missiles,” the report’s declassified executive summary said.

This is the first corroboration of Iranian claims that the AShBM is in service. US officials declined to comment further on the report, which was submitted to Congress in January.

The Khalij Fars is a version of the Fateh-110 tactical ballistic missile with an electro-optical (EO) seeker that enables it to home in on a ship’s infrared signature in its terminal phase. The Iranian media has reported that the missile has the same 300 km range and 650 kg warhead as the more recent versions of the Fateh-110.

Vice Admiral James Syring, the director of the US Missile Defense Agency, submitted a statement to a Congressional subcommittee in June saying: “This ballistic missile has a range of 300 km, which means it is capable of threatening maritime activity throughout the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz.” Vice Adm Syring confirmed the AShBM had been flight tested, but did not comment on whether it was operational.

Let us assume for the moment that the Khalij Fars (KF)  is indeed operational with the Iranian Forces. 

The biggest challenge with any long range anti-ship missile system isn’t building the missile, nor yet even the seeker. It’s building the targeting. Detection, localization, classification and identification at long ranges is a difficult task. Most generally, you have to have some sensor platform relatively close to the intended target. Most nations use helicopters and aircraft for this role.  If you can get a helicopter or aircraft in close enough to perform the targeting function, why not make them the shooter as well? That’s one reason the US withdrew the Tomahawk anti-ship missile variant and relied instead on the Harpoon missile with its somewhat shorter range.

But let us again assume for the moment that the Iranians have addressed the long range targeting issue to their satisfaction.  How dangerous is this Khalij Fars missile?

Well, it’s not to be ignored. With a reported range of 300km, it’s got more than enough range to hold all of the Strait of Hormuz at risk, as well as significant portions of the rest of the Arabian Gulf.  And a 650kg warhead is fairly powerful. Further, the angle of impact of a ballistic warhead would tend to mean the blast will more likely do greater damage below the waterline than a conventional anti-ship missile that impacts above the waterline. And the passive Electro/Optical guidance system means that ships won’t be able to use their electronic support measures for warning of incoming missiles, nor able to jam their radars or use chaff to decoy them.

As the article notes, the Iranians are working with a spectrum of systems to hold at risk shipping, both merchant and naval, in the Gulf, and this is one more arrow in the quiver.

But all is not lost.

First, the range of a ballistic missile is a function of its speed. The shorter the range, the lower the speed of the missile. The KF has a speed of about Mach 3.5. That’s far, far less than the speed of the much longer range Chinese DF-21D missile. 

The primary difficulty in intercepting a ballistic target is the speed of an engagement. There’s nothing magical about a parabolic trajectory that creates difficulty in interception. Indeed, the parabolic trajectory makes for simpler tracking. Today’s SPY-1D radar and Aegis computer system have no difficulty tracking such a target from launch to impact. Sea skimming supersonic cruise missiles keep surface warriors up at night because their speed, coupled with the short distance to the radar horizon for surface mounted radars, means that a target has very, very little reaction time. A ballistic missile, however, actually becomes somewhat easier to see on radar as it rises along its trajectory, away from the clutter of the sea surface, or the shore its fired from.

And the Mach 3.5 isn’t terribly excessive for the Standard Missile family to engage. Any Aegis equipped ship should have multiple opportunities to engage any KF missile, from mid-course through the terminal phase, with an excellent chance of defeating it.

And while the KF’s E/O sensor is invulnerable to jamming, it’s not invulnerable to decoying via flares and other infrared techniques.

So while the KF missile might add a new capability to the Iranian forces, it alone certainly won’t fundamentally change the ability of the US Navy to transit and operate in the Arabian Gulf.

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Fox 2!

“Fox 2” is the radio brevity code for the launch of an infrared homing missile… like the AIM-9 Sidewinder.

And the fine folks at Detail&Scale just reminded me that today is the anniversary of the first successful launch of the Sidewinder. Clear back in 1952, the Navy was well on its way to developing a missile that is still in production and use today.

From this:

Photo: Knox posts: for reasons known only to the FB Genie, it didn't post the referenced picture so here it is again....

 

To this:

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Prowler In Action

With the last Navy EA-6B Prowler deployment underway, it seems a fitting time to share this propaganda video about the Prowler. The hairstyles and the paint job tells me its from the late 70s. Indeed, I remember “Prowler University” of VAQ-129 in the old WWII temporary building.

Actually, further research reminds me Charlie Hunter was COMMATVAQWINGPAC from 80-82. Charlie Hunter was a renowned A-6 Intruder pilot, and a recipient of the Navy Cross, the second highest award for valor our nation can bestow.

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X-47B Video

As promised, here’s some video of the X-47B unmanned technology demonstrator at sea.

Mind you, this is just a technology demonstrator. It’s primarlily a tool to learn lessons. One thing they know is that they’ll have to be a lot quicker getting the bird out of the landing area. You can see it takes a moment for the hook to disengage from the wire. It looks like they had to jerk the wire a bit to get it disengaged. It also took quite  a while to taxi out of the landing area and fold the wings. A typical manned jet like a Hornet would be out and folded in just a few seconds. From yesterday’s press release, that’s one thing they’re working on.

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A Lesson in Information Humiliation

Seems the vaunted cyber-warriors at US CYBERCOM were matched up recently against some US military reservists whose civilian jobs centered around IT security.   The outcome, the UK’s Register reports, was decidedly grim for the DoD’s concept of a “cyber” command.

“The active-duty team didn’t even know how they’d been attacked. They were pretty much obliterated,” said one Capitol Hill staffer who attended, Navy Times reports.

Bear in mind that the opposing force to CYBERCOM did not consist of true hackers, but IT security people.  The best of those IT security professionals will readily admit that the bad guys, the black hats and hackers, are way ahead of them in the ability to penetrate networks, exploit operating systems, and do so with very little chance of detection and virtually none of attribution.

DoD and the respective services are quick to point to someone or some group and label them “cyber experts”, when in reality those people may merely have some insights into network operations or limited experience with network security.  In actuality, while those people may know considerably more than the average person, their depth and breadth of knowledge is woefully inadequate for even the very basics of what DoD claims it can do in what it euphemistically calls the “cyber domain”.

Retired Marine General Arnie Punaro, commenting as a member of the Reserve Policy Board, had a salient observation:

“It defies common sense to think that industry, in particular our high-tech industries, are not moving at light speed compared to the way government works.”

While Punaro was commenting about the 80/20 active duty/reserve mix in these “cyber” units, he is also seemingly laboring under some illusions about the ability of the US Military to recruit “cyber warriors”.  The kinds of people who will stay up all night eating pizza and smoking grass, pulling apart this or that operating code just for the fun of it, are largely not the types of people whose sense of patriotic duty will put them on the yellow footprints at Parris Island, or have them running PT with a shaved head at 0600 while drawing meager pay and having to field day the barracks every Thursday.  They are a free-spirited counterculture which often operates on both sides of the line of legality.

And those are just the “script kiddies”, whose motivations are often driven by some sense of social cause and are far less sinister than some.  From those groups come those who are hired by some very bad people, nation-state and non-state actors, who mix the technical knowledge of the kiddies they hire (or develop indigenously) with a considerable knowledge of the targeted network(s) and their importance to critical infrastructure which is central to America’s industrialized and automated society. It is  among that latter mix from which our most serious security threats emerge.

The concept of “information dominance”, so cavalierly and arrogantly thrown about, is a thoroughly bankrupt one.  The whispered assurances that “Fort Meade knows all” when it comes to network security and the ability to conduct what we used to call “offensive cyber” are so much wishful thinking.  The adversaries, the dangerous ones, are way ahead of them.   Read any report written by McAfee or other security firm in the last five years and the tale is always the same.  Network exploits and the hemorrhaging of sensitive information have often been ongoing for YEARS before a breach is even detected.  And, without exception, attribution in any meaningful way has proven impossible.

DoD is way behind the eight-ball in all things “cyber”, including a realistic understanding of the problem set.  Some F-16 pilot does not become a “cyber expert” in a ten-month IT course.  He becomes just dangerous enough to overplay his hand.  The depth of technical knowledge required for such expertise is years and decades in the making.  We would be off to a good start in recognizing such.

I will finish with a football analogy.  When you have just scrimmaged a freshman team and lost 63-0, you have a very long way to go before you are ready to play your conference schedule.

Oh, and you FOGOs who might vehemently disagree with what I wrote above?   You may be doing so on a computer that is jump number 384,262 in a 600,000-machine bot-net that will shortly be bombarding the US State Department with hostile packets, or displaying “Free Julian Assange” on a Pentagon website.

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