We’ve seen that the Marines are trying to create a poor man’s gunship out of their KC-130J Super Hercules tankers using the Harvest Hawk add-on kit. The Marines are also toying around with turning the MV-22 into a mini-gunship. So, can the Navy get in on this? Maybe an E-2C/D Hawkeye gunship? That probably wouldn’t be any sillier than what the Marines are doing but, just for fun, let’s take a look at a study that was done many years ago about turning an S-3 Viking into a gunship. Taylor Emanuel did the study for his
thesis (1). Naval Posgraduate School
To begin with, the author notes that organic fire support capability was being steadily reduced.
“This study provides analysis that shows a huge reduction in expeditionary fire support capability. The Marine Corps has experienced a 45 percent reduction in cannon artillery, the loss of self-propelled artillery capability, and reductions in tactical aircraft. The Navy has decommissioned all battleship NSFS 16-inch gun platforms and mine threats coupled with limited littoral water depths will probably make NSFS 5-inch guns a non-factor.”
So, even back in the early 1990’s the trend of steadily shrinking fire support was obvious and this trend provides the foundation and justification for his examination of gunship options. Interesting, isn’t it, that the author saw the inadequacy of the 5” gun for fire support long before the Navy opted to retreat to 25-50 miles offshore? Those artillery reductions have only gotten worse and have been joined, now, by tank reductions. The organic fire support situation has only gotten worse - far worse.
The author’s solution is to increase Close Air Support (CAS).
“To offset reductions in organic fire support, more frequent and sustained application of CAS and CAS/TIC [TIC = Troops in Contact] will be required by joint expeditionary forces.”
He uses four measures of CAS to determine merit:
- target detection/recognition
- combat persistence.
That’s not a bad group of measures for CAS. Of course, just as important, or more so, is the direction of the battle – the ability of the pilot (or observer) to see, assess, and direct the battle. However, that’s a function of training and doctrine and the author is focused on the platform so he can be forgiven this omission.
Here is the author’s summary of desired characteristics.
“The sensor suite consists of a turret mounted forward looking infrared and low-light-level television to provide 360 degree battlefield coverage and to cover the entire electromagnetic spectrum. The weapons suite consists of one 25-MM Bushmaster chain gun for area suppression of personnel and use against light armor, one 30-MM Bushmaster II gun for destruction of vehicles and armored vehicles, and eight Hellfire missiles for hard-target kill and forward-firing, non-orbit firing capability. In addition, the platform will be survivable. It will have state-of-the-art self-defense capability coupled with armor plating and redundant systems. Finally, combat persistence will be good. The CBG [carrier based gunship] will be carrier-capable and have at least a 1,500 nautical mile range.”
The platforms that the author examines for CAS suitability are the E-2C, S-3, and V-22. The specific relevant characteristics of the S-3 Viking in the gunship role are:
- High wing – minimize interference with weaponry
- Good range/endurance
- High speed
- Cabin height over 7 ft – allows full installation and operation of weapons
- Crew of 4 – would result in task saturation according to the author; four is the minimum viable CAS crew size, according to the author
- Comprehensive sensor suite – FLIR and ISAR already part of the airframe
- High IR signature – means the aircraft would be susceptible to heat seeking weapons
- Low Radar signature – low on a relative basis, not compared to full stealth aircraft
- Good munitions load capacity
- Full weapons load
- 1x 25mm
- 2x 30mm
- 8x Hellfire
As the author points out, the Navy, and carrier groups, lack any real close air support. As ComNavOps has pointed out, in a peer level assault the carrier's aircraft will be fully occupied trying to establish and maintain air control and protecting the carrier/amphib groups. They will only sporadically be available for CAS, at best.
The author’s thesis demonstrated that the S-3 offers the possibility of a dedicated CAS platform though it would not, of course, be as effective as a purpose designed, new aircraft. Still it’s an interesting concept to think about and once again emphasizes the versatility of the S-3 which has operated in the ASW, ISR, maritime strike, ESM, tanker, and COD roles. That’s a pretty impressive and versatile aircraft!
(1)Taylor C. Emanuel, “Gunship Diplomacy: Carrier-Based Close Air Support For Joint Expeditionary Forces”, Naval
Thesis, Dec 1994 Postgraduate School