Thursday, May 30, 2013

Counterbattery Fire

We previously discussed the conceptual origins of the LCS as presented in a Proceedings article (1).  Read the post, here.  The Proceedings article is one of the best naval writings I’ve read in recent years.  I urge you to find a copy of the magazine and read the article in its entirety.  One of the aspects of the original LCS concept that we mentioned but did not dwell on was the ability to conduct counterbattery fire.  I’d like to examine that concept in more detail.

The article listed several capabilities that a littoral vessel should have and one of them was the ability to conduct counterbattery fire.  The article had this to say about the conceptual vessel,

          “It should have some kind of counterbattery capability to respond in real time to
           a shore-based missile attack.”

The original LCS concept, as we see, was to include the ability to stand in littoral waters and fight back against shore-based attacks on ships.  The key phrase is in the quote is “… respond in real time …”.  Thus, the littoral vessel would identify an attack, backtrack its point of origin, and conduct counterbattery fire before the launch site or platform could relocate.

Think about this capability for a moment.  What is the Navy’s biggest fear (well, one of them at any rate) in conducting amphibious operations?  Why, it’s the land-launched anti-ship missile.  That’s the reason the Navy is now doctrinally refusing to close with shorelines and why the Marines are struggling to figure out how to get ashore from amphibious ships stationed 20-50 miles offshore.  What if the Navy had a ship that could stand inshore and counter land-launched missiles?  That would greatly expand the flexibility and range of options for an amphibious force or, for that matter, for any force operating near shore for whatever reason.

Of course, a counterbattery-capable ship would not prevent the initial launch of a missile but it would limit the enemy to one shot per launch site or launch platform.  It wouldn’t take long before the enemy would become very reluctant to conduct land-based anti-ship attacks if the result was a destroyed launch platform each time.  Aegis ships would, of course, deal with the missiles that did launch.  That’s what Aegis is designed to do.  The combination of an Aegis missile umbrella and a littoral ship with counterbattery capability to limit launch sites to one shot would make for a pretty effective overall shield for amphibious operations.
Counterbattery Fire Needed

Remember the Scud hunts during Desert Storm?  The problem was not locating the launch position;  it was getting ordnance to the position before the mobile launchers could relocate.  An effective counterbattery capability would have greatly changed the conduct of that conflict, though with the same end result.  Inordinate resources were diverted to Scud hunts from other missions with largely ineffective results.

Let’s look at counterbattery fire a bit deeper.  Although not explicitly called for in the article, a reasonable extension of the counterbattery capability would be the application of counterbattery to artillery and mortar attacks as well as anti-ship missiles.  In general terms, ships frequently operate in close proximity to land during passages (canals, straits, and various chokepoints) and other missions.  This creates a vulnerability to artillery and mortar attacks.  Picture a ship trapped in the Panama Canal and having to fight off terrorist mortar attacks.  The ability to conduct counterbattery fire on artillery and mortars would be invaluable.  Further, the ability to actually defeat incoming ballistic ordnance would be very desirable.  In fact, the basis for doing so already exists.  The Phalanx CIWS has been adapted by the Army for land use in exactly that role and is referred to as C-RAM (Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Mortar).  Adding that capability to the Navy’s CIWS would enhance a ship’s ability to operate in near-shore scenarios.

I believe that counterbattery was one of the most important, arguably the most important, of the capabilities in the original littoral ship concept.  Unfortunately, it was never pursued.  Even the aborted NLOS was not a counterbattery weapon but, rather, just a general land attack capability.

While I remain dubious about the actual need for a littoral vessel, if the Navy is determined to pursue such a ship, counterbattery fire should be one of the first requirements.  Counterbattery would also make a reasonable addition to the Zumwalt which is intended to fight moderately near-shore.

 (1) United States Naval Institute Proceedings, “Birth of the Littoral Combat Ship”, Captain Robert Powers (Ret), Sep 2012, p.42


  1. IMHO ASW and MIW are still far more important than counter-battery for the LCS. You can't get close to shore if there are subs or mines in the way. Plus Burkes can perform counter-battery with their 5" gun.

    1. B.Smitty, I'm not for a moment minimizing the threat posed by ASW or MCM nor suggesting that they be dropped as requirements. Further, I am NOT suggesting that the LCS is suitable for counterbattery fire (or any other task, for that matter!). I'm suggesting that a new littoral vessel optimized for counterbattery fire would be highly useful. The original littoral concept vessel was envisioned as performing counterbattery work with some overhead protection from a larger ship. The concept is that the smaller, cheaper littoral vessel would perform the more dangerous counterbattery work before the "big" ships show up. It's a cost-benefit balance. ASW and MCM can be performed by other ships (or mayber the notional littoral vessel, if so desired).

      Unless you know differently, my understanding is that the Burkes do not have the capability to perform counterbattery fire. Even if they did, it does not make sense to have them perform that role given the risk and the cost of the ships. Further, the 5" gun is very limited in range for counterbattery work against shore-launched anti-ship missiles. The conceptual littoral vessel had a notional counterbattery capability which, I assume, would have included medium range rockets/missiles to provide range well beyond the 5" gun. Such capability does not, of course, currently exist, however, there are several candidate systems around which could be adapted to the task (navalized versions of the Army ATACMS and MLRS, for instance).

    2. SPY-1D has shown ability to track artillery and mortar projectiles, but I don't know if the capability was fully developed.,d.dmQ

      Agreed. 5" without ERGM isn't the answer.

      The 57mm Mk110 could be useful in the counter-mortar role, but that's about it.

      I too would like to see Naval MLRS/ATACMs, POLAR or something like them, but NSFS is fairly far down the priority list these days.

  2. Zumwalt should already be the perfect platform for this, no? the guns *should* be the equivalent of 10 howitzers, while providing a cheaper alternative to missiles when using non-LRLAP rounds. Provided they could survive the initial missile attack (no true ciws is installed) its *advanced computing systems of the future* ought to be able to track down and destroy the launch site quickly and easily. I agree with B.Smitty, leave LCS out of counter-battery and focus on MCM etc. Or, better yet baby steps. Lets get them to a point where they sail under their own power first.

    1. Anon, see my reply to BSmitty. LCS is not part of my discussion, at all.

      Zumwalt has no non-LRLAP munitions, as far as I know. Setting that aside, it has no counterbattery capability, either since it does not have the radar or software necessary. Could it be adapted to that role in the future? Possibly, however, you're missing the point that a ship standing close inshore and conducting highly risky counterbattery work should not be a $4B ship. It should be a $200M small, expendable vessel.

      Your concern about the Zumwalt surviving inshore work is a legitimate one. For a ship designed to operate near land, it seems woefully inadequate to deal with land based weapons or littoral threats.

    2. Zumwalts are not the equivalent of "10-howitzers."

      At 10 rpm, the AGS is roughly the equivalent of one moder SPG like the PZH2000, AS-90 or Archer.

      The problem for the navy of course is that land artillery is made up of batterys of 4-6 guns or up to 9 MLRS rocket launchers.

      Also, counter battery fire requires a counter battery radar and computer system. Aegis does show promise in tracking, but not computing the origin of the weapon. As ComNavOps pointed out, Aegis ships have better things to do than this, as Aegis systems set up to track incoming rockets and artillery rounds are degraded in their ability to defend against cruise and ballistic missiles.

      Bottom line, the Navy is going to get spanked hard going after a modern artillery (including rocket) battery with a single ship. For counter battery work, the Navy needs to be shooting in batteries of 4-6 guns minimum, with counter battery radar, and preferably with an MRLS capability, and almost certainly with a C-RAM like rocket Tamir.


  3. I had a thought on what a real littoral combat ship should be like.
    Its sweary, so I was probably drunk, but I think it stands

    I dont think the LCS needs to be small, I think it needs to be big, HUGE, battleship sized.
    The Iowa started life with 300mm of armour.
    Make it an even meter.
    The Iowa started life with 49x20mm cannons and 80x40mm cannons for SHORAD.
    Give it 50 Phalanx CIWS
    The Iowa started life with 20x5" guns, Keep them on ten dual cannon mounts, 1 gun fires canister / shotgun / beehive / flechette at launch sites to nail incoming missiles, the other fires HE to kill the launch site.
    On top of that, keep the 16" guns, maybe develop a sub-munitions round?

    1. TrT, well that is the other school of thought. You can either perform the mission with several small expendable vessels or with one enormously expensive but capable vessel. It's a big risk to put all the capabilities and cost in one platform but it also offers tremendous performance.

      One of the differences between the two approaches is what happens during peacetime which, of course, makes up 99% of the ship's life. With several smaller vessels they can each be sent to several locations to perform several missions. The single vessel can only be sent to a single location on a single mission. Not that peacetime should dictate a ship's design, but it is a factor. To a lesser extent, the same holds true in war.

    2. The salvo model favors quantity over quality (to some degree).

      Now that being said, IMHO, there is a case to be made for large, inexpensive littoral vessels. "Steel is cheap and air is free" as they say. You don't need huge amounts of armor to add staying power to a vessel. Compartmentalization, reserve buoyancy and sheer size by themselves can allow a ship to take hits and continue to fight.

      Of course "littorals" also implies operating in shallow areas, where large, deep draft ships can't go.

    3. B.Smitty, that's an interesting approach. Setting aside the fact that the Navy can't even make a small, inexpensive vessel let alone a large, inexpensive one, I still have some questions.

      What does the large size offer for the mission beyond survivability (and perhaps that's enough!)?

      Do you see the larger size as being counter to stealthiness? In other words, the larger size makes for a bigger target and, hence, lowers survivability?

      You're describing a large cargo ship or tanker, essentially, aren't you, fitted out with the requisite weapons?

      Tell me more. Thanks!

    4. It's actually easier to apply radar reduction techniques to large ships than it is to small ones. This is one reason why DDG-1000 is as large as it is. Same goes for acoustic quieting. There's just more space between machinery and water to absorb vibrations.

      Obviously a larger ship is easier to spot visually.

      Large size has a number of other advantages:

      1. Range and endurance
      2. Seakeeping - Bigger is better in rough seas.
      3. Payload/Growth margin - Obviously a big ship has a lot of unused space. It could house mission modules or future weapon systems or sensors.

      You could use a container ship as a starting point. Some have a service speed of up to 25kts. However civilian construction standards may be less than ideal.

      You could also design a ship from scratch.

      There is considerable tradespace to examine.

    5. I get the various advantages offered by a larger ship but you're going to have to explain the comment about it being easier apply radar reduction to a large ship. You're contending that it would be easier to "stealth" a battleship than a rowboat??? Help me understand what you mean here!

      I've never heard a word about the Zumwalt's size being a factor of stealth. Again, explain that one!

      While you are correct that civilian construction standards may be less than ideal, I wonder if there's a place for lesser standards in some scenarios. For instance, the use of barges or cargo ships built to commercial standards for staging helos, temporary offshore basing of smaller strike forces or helo aviation strike units, short term stockpiling of supplies, etc. in lower threat environments may make sense, especially in a time of severely constrained budgets. Whether a littoral counterbattery ship is such a case is debatable. On the other hand, the LCS which will make up a quarter of our combat fleet is built to commercial standards. As long as the vessel is cheap enough to be considered expendable, commercial standards may be OK.

    6. It's the same reason a B-2 has a far lower RCS than, say, a Cessna. The four most important factors in stealth are shape, shape, shape, and materials. It's easier to apply stealth shaping rules to larger structures.

      Agreed on commercial standards but the LCS was eventually built to NVRs (to some extent).

    7. B.Smitty, I understand that shape and coatings determine stealth but so does size. A full size B-2 has a larger radar signature than a half size B-2 which has a larger signature than a quarter size B-2, and so on. Shape and materials may be why a B-2 has a smaller signature than a Cessna but its not because of any inherent quality of size.

      The LCS was eventually built to a very small portion of the NVRs and the most important characteristics remain primarily commercial. LCS, even in its current versions meets none of the Navy standard survivability criteria (it was never 1+ as the Navy claimed - it was 0). I know the Navy actually made up new survivability standards so that they wouldn't have to continue trying to explain why the ship didn't meet the standards but that doesn't change the fact that the LCS is built to commercial standards.

    8. Yes and no.

      Given the need to slope surfaces and hide antennas and other fittings, you'll find a smaller stealth ship becomes volume constrained very quickly. Also, it can be easier to "hide" openings such as intakes and exhausts within a larger structure.

      Lastly, radar absorbing structures (as opposed to simple coatings) under the skin of the ship or aircraft also take space.

      Maybe I'm splitting hairs here, but it's more accurate, IMHO, to say the LCS is built to naval standards (or a hybrid of commercial and naval) but only "Level 1+" survivability standards.

    9. B.Smitty, small ships have a harder time accomodating all the equipment a designer would like to put on it. Sure. But that has nothing to do with stealth, per se. That's just a construction/packaging issue.

      Do not repeat the Level 1+ myth. Go back and reread the post on the LCS survivability (here). The LCS wasn't even built to Level 1, let alone some mythical Level 1+. That's pure nonsense (fraud) put out by the Navy.

    10. Small ships have an even harder time when you have to factor in stealth.

      In any case, I originally said it's "easier to apply radar reduction techniques to large ships than it is to small ones." That's still true. However, with stealth the devil is most certainly in the details. The resulting RCS may still be larger than a smaller vessel.

      I hear you on the LCS survivability. My point was to distinguish between survivability standards and NVR build standards.

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  5. I get what B.Smitty means.
    A 10% RCS reduction compromises fewer areas on a big ship than a small one
    The Skjolds and the B2s are very very small on a radar screen, but the platforms are flawed in almost every other respect.

  6. During the Lybian crisis the French Navy performed counterbattery for the first time since Indo-China. They used corvettes and frigates for it as they where..of course the unknown french 100mm turret with a rate of fire of 68 rpm! did marvels. They used ship sensors, helicopters and drones for targetting, so what's the problem? Royal Navy idem, superb Naval fire support from 30 year old destroyers...we seem to create problems where there are any.

    1. If memory serves, the Libyans managed to fire three Anti ship missiles during the entire war.
      If he located the incoming MEB, any competent general would fire every missile he had at it.
      Not three.
      Three hundred.

    2. As you correctly mention, they only were able to fire three missiles. This means that allied forces did their job....French light aviation destroyed many artillery and missile batteries and they flew from a MISTRAL class LHA. They used the full spectrum of information,tracking and targetting. (also with good help from US forces), modern warfare is a integrated affair, all Arms and Services need to work on one target, victory over the foe.Lybians were not so dum as one might think but, fortunately, no match against Western forces.

  7. Check-out the new Italian FREMM"s. Firepower galore...and stealth...