Sunday, September 13, 2015

LCS Hellfire

As we all know, the current plan to beef up the anemic ASuW capability of the LCS is to incorporate the AGM-114L Longbow (Apache helo) Hellfire missile.  The Hellfire replaces the Griffon missile that the Navy briefly considered.  Here’s a few Hellfire specs.

Range:            500 yds – 5 miles (likely less with a sea level vertical launch)
Seeker:          millimeter wave radar
Speed:           Mach 1.3
Warhead:       20 lb, high explosive anti-tank (HEAT)

The missile’s active radar seeker gives it a fire-and-forget capability which, in turn, gives it the ability to engage multiple targets in a short time frame.  This is ideal for the small boat swarm scenario.  Hellfire is proven, lethal to small boats, and cheap enough ($100K+ per missile) to justify using for the intended purpose.

On the other hand, the Hellfire’s target set is extremely limited.  The target is strictly small boats that must close to a few miles or less to attack.  Presumably, this means small boats armed with RPGs and machine guns.  Larger missile carrying boats and fast attack craft (FAC) armed with small anti-ship missiles far outrange the LCS’ Hellfire and, thus, are not an applicable target set.

Still, assuming the Hellfire launch system does not wind up taking up too much deck space or internal ship’s volume, the missile is easily justified despite its limited target set.

The other question is whether the Hellfire will become part of the core seaframe capability or will be present only as part of the ASuW module.  Again, assuming the space and weight requirement is minimal, the missiles ought to be part of the seaframe although this is somewhat at odds with the Navy’s original intention of modular outfitting.  Of course, even the Navy has essentially admitted that the modular concept won’t work for the LCS.


Hellfire Missile



All in all, the Hellfire represents a good choice for the intended target set and can’t help but improve the LCS’ overall capability, at least to some small extent.  A small step in the right direction for the LCS!

31 comments:

  1. To begin with, if there is a module, then what else is the ship giving up in the other "modules"?

    Another question is, will this system "work"? I have limited faith in the USN's ability to deliver.

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    1. My assumption (based on no facts whatsoever!) is that the Hellfire launcher will be placed in the NLOS pit.

      Will it work? Well, the Hellfire is proven so that's okay. The vertical launch is causing some problems with target acquisition, according to reports I hear, but is not expected to be a major problem. So, yes, there's no reason to think it won't work other than the entire history of failure associated with the LCS, as you point out!

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    2. If it does have problems with target acquisition, will it hit the intended targets?

      Or will large volleys have to be used in the hopes that 1 missile hits?

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    3. If Hellfire can acquire the target, it's pretty reliable and effective. As I understand it, the problem is getting the missile to tip over from the vertical to the horizontal and very quickly find the target. Hellfire is fine for air-to-ground work where the target is clearly and continuously visible but it has problems trying to find a target that is masked in waves, may only be intermittently visible to radar, and is obscured in general wave clutter. Further, there are only a few seconds during which target acquisition can occur. If the target is not quickly acquired, the missile is lost.

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    4. What if I put the sorts of active defense systems currently in use and proposed for helicopters and land-vehicles, to *hopefully* defeat missiles like the Hellfire, on my speed boats.

      Then you are left with only the primary cannon, which in the case of the US LCS ships are very poor cannons...

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    5. All I will say is I'll wait for the DO&TE report.

      On that note, they, DO&TE, will be testing the A-10 vs the F-35.
      http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/2015/08/27/weapons-testers-pit-f-35-against--10/71279564/

      Speaking of the F-35B, CNO, you may want to give this report a read, assuming you have not seen it already:
      http://www.pogoarchives.org/straus/2015-9-1-DoD-FOIA-ocr.pdf


      @Anonymous

      That's why I advocate for volleys. So that even if most are destroyed, one or two missiles might get through. That doesn't work as well for multiple targets unless you have enough missiles though.

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  2. I understood the hellfire can be used from a Seahawk helicopter as well as a deck launcher. Vertical launch would require a lot of changes,such as a booster, so Im not sure that is part of the plans

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    1. Ztev, yes, the Hellfire is the replacement for the Griffon missile which was the replacement for the failed NLOS.

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  3. Supposedly, the Hellfires would come standard with the last 20 or so designated FF. At least per this article and a couple others I've seen. http://news.usni.org/2014/12/11/gunned-lcs-hulls-picked-navys-next-small-surface-combatant

    Those are suppose to get added 25mm auto cannons too. Which seems redundant with the 30's already there.

    Now, how they relate to Flight 1 LCSs, I don't know. It's also up in the air if the added 25mm auto cannons would get back fitted too. To me if I was playing weights vs capabilities, I'd trade the 30mm guns for the 25's if it got me some Hellfires too.

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    1. There have been some vague comments from Navy spokesmen about back-fitting some of the new capabilities as budgets permit. I suspect that means it won't happen. In any event, there is not formal plan to back fit, as far as I know.

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  4. Why not just use a 76MM cannon, seems to make sense to me, I would even consider up-gunning typhoon mounts to 40mm (i.e. CTA40) and sticking laser guided rounds on them (which is much cheaper than the cost of going radar guided), that would push their effective range out much further.

    And insulate the sensitive areas of the ship (sensor arrays for instance) with systems like AMAP-ADS (which being cheape enough to protect vehicles with, should be cheap enough to protect sensor and communication arrays), that should keep the problems away. You never know when your ship could be attacked, during routine operations, or at neutral ports/

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    1. The Hellfire is intended specifically for the anti-swarm scenario. There is no gun that is effective in that scenario. Do the math on target approach speeds and dwell time and you'll see the problem. Unless one makes ridiculous assumptions like one-shot-one-catastrophic-kill, the calculations pretty clearly show that guns can't stop a swarm attack.

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    2. I am not sure why you say this, when the 76mm/3" Oto melara is a very respectable cannon, it fires 'dart' rounds which have a speed of upto 1.2Km/s and can handle upto 30 course corrections on it's way to the target. The cannon can traverse 60deg/s, and fires upto 120 rounds/min.

      It's manufacturers claim it can easily handle upto 3 anti-ship cruise missiles at a time, and its physically possible, (if not in practice with the existing systems and training) to traverse fully a firing arc of 270 degrees and shoot of enough rounds to kill 5 targets upto the horizon, in 7 seconds.

      The question is, how much is the increase in time required for such a cannon to dispatch it's targets worth, over the space and cost that these hellfires use. You could replace that with something like EAPs for instance which is a SHORAD CRAM system.

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    3. As with all weapons, the claims sound nice. As with all weapons, the actual performance is often much less. Witness the claims for the LCS' Mk110 57mm gun. It was supposed to be able to handle any threat. In reality, it's quite limited.

      The DART round appears to be a fragmentation warhead? I didn't find much info from a cursory initial search. Fragmentation weapons are ineffective in the small boat scenario as has been often discussed in this blog. Again, do the math with realistic assumptions and you'll quickly see the problem.

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    4. AGM-114 variants deliver ~a 20lb explosive warhead, the 76mm gun delivers at most a 1.6lb of high explosives: ergo the 76mm gun is inadequate for a single shot kill.

      The optimal solution is to have an layer of weapons, ranging from:

      1. Small anti-ship missiles for use against corvettes and large FAC.

      2. A VLS or direct fire missile like Hellfire/Brimstone.

      3. A unguided rocket like the 70mm Hydra firing flechette or HE-frag (also comes in guided versions DAGR and APKWS).

      4. A automatic cannon in the 35-57mm range.

      5. Someone suggested a 120mm mortar as an area weapon.

      The point of this is to have multiple weapons that can engage multiple targets with blast, fragmentation, and a large unitary warhead.

      I agree with CNO's assessment that a credible anti-SWARM defense must be able to deliver multiple one-shot kills nearly simultaneously. However, I also believe that blast fragmentation warheads are needed to deal with suicide jet ski and motorized canoes and the like. I also note that blast fragmentation will shred exposed sensors, communications and crew making it also of lessor, but useful utility against boghammers and larger craft.

      GAB

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    5. GAB, quite right! I'm not suggesting that guns have no place on a ship. Just that they are not the primary answer to the swarm scenario. Guns (and frag munitions) are quite generally useful for a variety of purposes. Sorry about not being clearer on that!

      You're quite right about layered defense, too.

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  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmYqq3qehDE

    Very good video of Sea-Brimstone.

    7.5 mile, version 2 now testing 25mile.

    Fire and forget , tested to spreads of 12 simultaneous launches.

    Good target discrimination in populated waters, tested for manouvering targets @ 60kts

    No VL launch though.

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    1. As with any staged test and developmental weapon, the specs and filmed performance look good. I note that the test involved a fixed launch platform (oil platform?), short range (half to one mile? hard to tell from the video), calm seas, and only one moving target. Even the moving target was not realistic in that it was moving perpendicular (sideways) to the launcher rather than full speed straight ahead at the launcher as an attacking boat would. All in all, a typical staged test that demonstrates little.

      That said, the specs seem nice.

      I note that the video was from 2013 and I can't find anything more recent. Maybe the Sea Spear version was cancelled?

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    2. The development went back into Brimstone 2 at some point they will rename to SPEAR initiative ( Selective Precision Effects At Range ).

      The idea which seems to actually be working is one missile for air land and sea launch, fixed or rotary wing.

      As I think you noted the Millimetre Wave length radar effectively see's through waves, and you will notice the attack profile is high for a better track. The missiles are naturally lock on after launch, capable of designating their own target set and coordinating their attack from list of valid target profiles loaded before launch.

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  6. hellfire II range is 18 km , based on information from FAS , for rotor launch (helicopter launch)

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    1. It is but the Navy is planning to use the AIM-114L Longbow version which has a range of 8km.

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  7. Why VLS? It seems in the past when the Navy needed some small missile/rocket launcher they used box launchers (ASROC pepper box, Sea Sparrow). These seemed (relatively) light and easy to install when compared to VLS. I'd like to keep that VLS pit open for something that's worth it.

    Also, at this point the biggest issue for me for the LCS seems to be weight margins. We can talk left right and center about what could make it better (and we should) but we're starting the service life of a ship bumping awfully close to the margins. In 10 years I bet we're over and all that vaunted speed will have gone away.

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    1. Jim, good question. I don't know why the Navy opted for a VL Hellfire. Bear in mind that the LCS-2 version can't take a standard Mk41 VLS, as I understand it. The LCS-1 version can but it would cause severe weight problems. The Navy really boxed themselves in with the absolutely minimal weight limits that were designed into the LCS and which were compounded by being overweight in practice.

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    2. Is there any way to get some more margin on these guys? Bulges?
      I know its weird but IIRC the old Standards got increased margins from their refit torpedo blisters.

      I'm stunned they are close at all when you look at their load out. The powertrain must be massive.

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    3. Jim, you'll recall that LCS-1 had water wings (stern tanks) welded on to increase buoyancy and that all subsequent LCS-1 versions were lengthened to incorporate that addition. Of course, every pound of steel (or aluminum, as the case may be) adds weight and decreases speed which was the LCS' defining (though tactically irrelevant) characteristic.

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    4. At one time Lockheed proposed a larger version of th LCS 1 to a frigate standard with VLS.

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  8. didnt the army have NLOS missile program ? why not use them ?

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    1. The Army initiated the NLOS program and the Navy joined in. Eventually, the Army deemed the program a failure and cancelled it. The Navy picked up the program but, like the Army, eventually declared it a failure and cancelled it.

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    2. I saw a cable TV show, probably FutureWeapons on the Military Channel, that included the Army NLOS as one of the future gee-whiz weapons that would transform the future of warfare, etc. That is a good cautionary tale about believing hype.

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  9. Hey ComNavOps,

    I came across this blog recently, and I just wanted to say that I'm really enjoying all of your posts about the LCS.

    I'm a bit of a naval history fan, but I have no real experience in actual naval matters so it can be hard at times to know what to believe about the LCS. I've seen people call it an aluminum death trap that doesn't work, and I've seen people respond by saying that it just has some issues to work out, like many different military vehicles do when they are first introduced.

    I must say, now that I've researched more into it, it really does seem like an entirely disastrous program. The Hellfire will make the ships more potent, as at least it should be able to hit what it's aiming for (unlike the 57mm gun), but it's still pretty sad that a warship is going to be relying on a missile that small as it's most effective anti-ship weapon.

    Are there no plans to put Harpoons or Kongsberg's Naval Strike Missile on the LCS? I read that it was proposed a while back, but I don't know if anything came of it. I mean, you don't need Harpoons to deal with pirates or whatnot, but now that we're going to be making frigates on the LCS design, I imagine that they might face rivals more dangerous than pirates.

    In any case, I just wanted to say that this is a superb blog and I'm definitely enjoying going through all of these posts.

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    1. Welcome! I'm glad you opted to comment. Comments are half the value of the blog. Intimate naval knowledge is not a requirement to participate. All you need is common sense, a willingness to learn, and an open mind. History, by the way, is the best source of lessons for all of us. You may be able to contribute more than you think!

      You seem to understand that the next batch of LCS are going to be built with some upgrades. One of those will be the addition of a legitimate anti-ship weapon like the Kongsberg NSM or something similar. That will definitely increase the value of the LCS though not as much as one might think. There are still some serious structural flaws inherent in the LCS that impact survivability, aviation, gunnery, etc. The mere addition of anti-ship missiles, though helpful, will not magically transform this ship into a bonafide frigate.

      The inherent structural issues are also why the LCS' problems are more than simply the growing pains of a new class. They are inherent and, from a combat perspective, fatal flaws.

      I encourage you to read through the archives. They'll probably contain most of the answers to any question you might have. Most people print and bind the posts into a book that they carry around with them so that the accumulated wisdom of the blog is always at hand!

      Again, welcome aboard!

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