Monday, November 21, 2016

Assault Support Ship

The most vulnerable phase of an amphibious assault is the landing of the initial waves and the subsequent initial defense until follow on troops and equipment can land.  This vulnerability is due to the initial waves being mainly infantry with little or no armor or heavy weapons support. 

During this initial beachhead and buildup period, the assault force will be trying to get more troops, heavy weapons and equipment, and supplies ashore.  This will, inevitably, result in the proverbial mountain of supplies, much as everyone wants to avoid it.  Conversely, the enemy defending force will be raining artillery, mortars, rockets, and cruise/ballistic missiles on the beach area.  Enemy helos and fixed wing aircraft will be attempting to hit the area, as well.  The stacked up supplies will be a prime target as will the LCACs and whatever other logistics landing craft we use –take out the logistics landing craft and the assault withers.  The enemy knows this.  Really, the presence of Marines on the ground is almost irrelevant to the enemy.  I would expect most enemy defensive efforts to be focused on the amphibious fleet (the MLP is an exceptionally critical target) and the supply shuttle to the beach.

Naval gunfire support is lacking, to put it mildly and, against a peer, aerial support will be lacking or non-existent as the available aircraft are tied up trying to defend the fleet and establish local air superiority.  

So, who’s going to defend the ground forces from aircraft, helos, mortars, artillery, and cruise/ballistic missiles since they won’t have any significant weapons of their own?

Specific support needs for the ground forces during the initial phase includes:

  • Cruise missile defense
  • Ballistic missile defense
  • AAW against enemy strike aircraft
  • Counterbattery
  • C-RAM (Counter Rocket, Artillery, Mortar)
  • Heavy gun support

None of these capabilities will be available initially and most are simply not Marine capabilities at all.

How do we defend the beach, initially, until sufficient heavy weapons can be brought ashore?

A few of you will, undoubtedly, suggest that surprise will compensate for the lack of these capabilities – the enemy will be unable to muster a significant response before we get sufficient follow on forces ashore.  This is just wishful thinking against a peer.  Today’s plethora of cyber surveillance, satellites, UAVs, submarines, and all manner of land, sea, and airborne radars preclude the element of surprise.

So, who will provide these initial capabilities and how will they do it?  The “who” is easy.  There is, of course, only one conceivable answer and that is the Navy.  The “how” is the challenge. 

For example, the Navy has no useful gunfire support.  A handful of 5” guns are woefully insufficient and the Navy has stated that they will not risk major ships such as Burkes and Ticos within 50+ miles of an enemy beach.  Thus, the 5” guns with a range of 15 miles or so are useless as they can’t even reach the shoreline.

The Navy has no counterbattery capability.  Aegis is theoretically capable of performing the function but it is not a currently supported capability.  Major Hammond discusses the subject, poorly, in a Proceedings article (1).

Aerial support against a peer will be severely lacking and is only marginally useful as a protective, defensive capability anyway.  Assault force fixed wing aircraft will be fully occupied attempting to establish and maintain local air superiority and will not be available for close air support or local air defense.  Even if available, aircraft are not effective at anti-cruise or anti-ballistic missile defense and have no C-RAM capability.

What’s needed is a two-tier capability consisting of longer range anti-missile defense and a very short range AAW, counterbattery, and C-RAM defense.

We need the ability to reach out and intercept incoming cruise/ballistic missiles, preferably far from the beach.  Fortunately, we have that capability.  Aegis ships can stand off 50+ miles from the beach and still provide cruise/ballistic missile protection although the closer they are to the target area, the easier the geometry of the intercept and, thus, the higher the kill probability.

With long range missile protection available, that leaves the need for short range defensive fires (C-RAM, counterbattery, AAW) and offensive firepower.  As stated, none of this is available in the initial assault.  What’s needed is a specialized Assault Support Ship (ASS – an unfortunate acronym but I’m sure the Navy can come up with something better) that encompasses all these capabilities on an inexpensive hull. 

An LCS sized ship with two dual 8” gun mounts, two dual 5” gun mounts, 64 quad packed ESSM in two 8-cell VLS modules, and two SeaRAM mounts would provide the needed capability along with a yet-to-be-developed C-RAM gun or missile mount.  In addition, a counterbattery radar and a medium range AAW radar would provide the needed sensors.  Helos, flight decks, and hangars are specifically not needed for this ship type.  The Ship would have only a minimal superstructure (think WWII style/size superstructures) in order to reduce costs and radar signature.

  • The 8”/5” guns would provide both the offensive firepower support for the ground forces and the counterbattery fire.  A navalized version of the Army’s TPQ-37 Firefinder radar ought to suffice to provide the counterbattery fire control.

  • The ESSM would provide ship self-defense, beach cruise missile defense, and beach/inland AAW coverage.

  • SeaRAM would provide ship self-defense.

  • C-RAM is the missing capability.  Existing C-RAM weapons, like the Phalanx (2), are too short ranged to be based off the beach and still provide effective inland coverage.  The Phalanx C-RAM, for example, is reported to be able to defend a 0.5 sq. mile area which is nowhere near enough range.  What’s needed is a C-RAM with around a 10 mile range.  If an assault force has managed to establish a 10 mile deep beachhead, then we can probably safely bring land based C-RAM units ashore.

CONOPS.  The concept of operations for this vessel is simple.  It would accompany the initial assault wave and take station as close to the beach as feasible so as to extend its C-RAM coverage as far inshore as possible.  An assault would require one to two dozen or so vessels, depending on the size of the assault, to allow for the expected attrition and to be able to mass enough firepower to have a significant impact on the ground combat.

An Assault Support Ship is needed to provide the initial firepower and defense that an amphibious assault lacks due to equipment gaps and doctrinal limitations.  All the components for such a ship already exist except the extended range C-RAM so developmental costs should be minimal.  Due to expected attrition rates, the ship must be as cheap as possible which means no functions beyond those stated.  If we’re serious about amphibious assaults – and I have severe doubts that we are – we need to provide the assets to enable and support them.



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(1)USNI Proceedings, “Counterbattery From The Sea”, Maj. James W. Hammond, III, Apr, 1998,




36 comments:

  1. CNO, for this proposed design, what purpose do the 5in guns serve that can't be done equally well by the dual 8in mounts? Just wanted to pick your brain and flesh out the concept.

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    1. Good question. I asked myself the same thing. I was looking at the 5" as a anti-small craft or close-in shore bombardment weapon. I also considered a smaller 30 mm or 76 mm gun as the secondary weapon. Those, however, would have no role in shore bombardment which a 5" would and that's the intended role of the ship. Honestly, I could change this one without much concern if someone offers a decent rationale.

      What do you think? Secondary gun? If so, what size and purpose relative to the intended main function of the ship?

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    2. If the secondary gun was Oto melara Strales 76mm it could also provide extended range C-RAM? Or possibly strales ammunition up sized for the 5 inch gun.
      My only other comment is maybe a larger platform so you could have bigger magazines, as you have stated many times wartime ammunition usage is always higher than peacetime predictions.
      MA

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    3. Manufacturer's make all kinds of exaggerated claims about their weapons. I've seen no evidence that a 76 mm gun can effectively perform the C-RAM function. If you have some data, cite a reference!

      As far as ship size, the bigger the ship, the bigger the target it makes. This ship should be as small as possible consistent with the demands of its function. Rather than building a bigger ship, my preference would be to keep it smaller and build more of them. This also helps with the expected attrition.

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    4. This ship's intended role seems to me to suggest that a secondary gun battery is of lesser utility, especially since space is at a premium. I think I would leave it out entirely and use the deck space for additional CIWS, and the internal space for additional magazine capacity. I'll see what some research digs up, however, on aspects like minimum ranges and fire rates. Maybe it's worth it.

      On a related note, can a vessel that size stand up to the recoil of 4 8in rifles? I don't know enough naval architecture to say, but this was the other major question your proposal brought to mind.

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    5. The only data I could find was Wikipedia I'm afraid, 6k against subsonic antiship missiles. Better than 0.5 miles but far short of your 10 mile requirement.
      I agree with your comment about more smaller platforms against one larger platform.
      I also agree about claimed vs real world performance of weapons.
      MA

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    6. "On a related note, can a vessel that size stand up to the recoil of 4 8in rifles?"

      That is a question. If designed from the outset for it, I would think so. The Spruance (admittedly a larger ship) was designed for the Mk71 8". WWII Fletchers could handle the stress of five 5" guns. If the hull has to be bigger, then so be it. The needs of the role will dictate the size of the ship - it just needs to be the smallest possible size.

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  2. Don't limit your requirements by linking to the LCS size. You have not mentioned magazine size for both calibers and we shot ALOT or rounds in previous beach assaults.

    These hulls are overweight already.

    So fire effectiveness and number of rounds is the biggest shortfall I see in your proposal so far.

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    1. The ship size will be dictated by the needs of the mission. That may require a ship bigger than an LCS or smaller than an LCS. My initial conceptual starting point is an LCS size ship. Consider a few pieces of relevant information:

      1. A WWII Fletcher mounted five 5" guns and a host of 20/40 mm guns, all with plenty of magazine space, on a hull the same length as an LCS and a thousand tons lighter.

      2. The LCS is an anomaly in ship design. It has very little draft and lots of top weight, hence the non-existent weight margins and stability issues. I'm not proposing using the LCS hull - just suggesting a hull about the size of the LCS as a starting point for design.

      So, an LCS length hull, with a coventional hull draft, no flight deck, no hangar, and hugely reduced superstructure should have plenty of space for the guns and magazines, I would think.

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  3. I've always been interested in how amphibious assaults would play out in modern scenarios.

    Would it be best for them to go in ahead and form a picket line of sorts, rather than waiting for the first wave of landing craft?

    Also, would it be worth adding things like mortars and/or MLRS for stuff the guns can't engage?

    - Lofty.

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    1. A navalized MLRS has often been considered and I would fully support such a weapon.

      The assault support ship would go in with the initial wave and stand and deliver fire support and defensive fires.

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  4. In fantasyland the Navy would acquire some of the 100's very capable Offshore Vessels laid up due to the oil price crash. Purely guessing but for the price of one LCS sea frame Navy could purchase sixteen OV hulls each with a payload 10+ of the LCS. The major expense would be in outfitting them with the guns, missiles and systems.

    The offensive firepower support for the ground forces and the counter battery fire would require the production of the 78 mt Mk71 8"/55 gun with its 260 lbs shell which was trialled on the USS Hull in 1975 and terminated in 1978. In comparison the Mk45 5" is a peashooter with its 70 lbs shell. Another option may be a navalized version M270 MLRS (Multi Launch Rocket System) which ended production in 2003.
    A suitable radar would be the NG AN/TPS-80 G/ATOR which after nine years in development is going into production.

    http://gcaptain.com/north-sea-lay-ups-closing-in-on-100-vessels/

    Nick

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    1. I've always been intrigued by a navalized version of the MLRS and would fully support it.

      A navalized GATOR would be suitable.

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  5. For C-RAM, what about Israel's Iron Dome with its 70km range?
    For NGF, the 8 inchers are much preferred to the 5" inch paint chippers. The effects of 5 inch guns are similar to 105mm which has been proven insufficient on even IFV armor.

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    1. A navalized version of Iron Dome could work. However, it was designed, primarily, as a rocket interceptor rather than an all-purpose C-RAM. I don't know whether it can effectively intercept mortar shells or artillery shells. It also seems like a pretty expensive way to intercept incredibly cheap mortar or artillery shells, if it even can.

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    2. According to Wikipedia, Iron Dome can defeat rockets and 155mm artillery rounds. But, to defeat a rocket or artillary round at 10 miles requires a guided projectile. Apparently, each Iron Dome missile costs $20K to $50K.

      If the Navy could field a similar, but shorter range, system with rounds costing in the $20K range, then it becomes viable. It might not make sense using a $20K round to defeat a $500 artillary round, but if stopping that rounds saves a life, it is well worth the cost.

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    3. I have read that claim about defeating artillery but I have not read of a single documented instance of it occurring. As I said, I believe the system is strictly an anti-rocket one.

      Do the math. Consider a system with $20K rounds, to use your numbers. Now, consider a defense against, say, artillery barrages where you may face a thousand rounds in a short period. Throw in another thousand rounds of mortar and rockets in that same period. Go ahead and assume a perfect, 100% intercept rate. What's the defensive cost? Now, multiply that by several days worth of combat. You'll find that your "well worth the cost" statement is simply unaffordable regardless of the value we place on our soldier's lives.

      After all that, factor in a realistic 20%-50% hit rate on the cost calculation.

      Finally, consider where the required thousands of missiles are going to be stored and launched from. In an artillery barrage, you can't fire off a dozen missiles and stop to reload. How are we going to fire off hundreds of missiles almost simultaneously to stop a barrage? How are we going to fire off many hundreds of missiles to stop a sustained artillery barrage without doing lengthy reloads?

      This is the kind of comment that I'm trying to educate readers to consider before they post. Think the comment through. If you make a cost claim, consider the scenario and do the math. Then decide whether the statement still holds up. We need to put more thought into comments.

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    4. If it's accepted that a gun based system will be needed to intercept artillery barrages and mortars, mostly unguided munitions, a lot of ammunition is going to be used. How about building into the design of the ship lots of simple chaff/ decoys to help protect the landing area from guided wepons, cruise missiles etc?
      MA

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    5. "How about building into the design of the ship lots of simple chaff/ decoys to help protect the landing area from guided wepons"

      That's a double edged sword. While it might protect the area, to some extent, from guided weapons, a beach is a fixed, known geographical area and GPS/INS weapons would be unaffected by chaff/decoys. Also, that same chaff/decoys would obscure incoming artillery and mortar rounds. The net effect would probably be more harmful than helpful.

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    6. And make it impossible for any of our own guns to shoot down any incoming rounds. I'm slowly learning.
      MA

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    7. Comparing the cost of the incoming target versus the cost of the munition to destroy the target is only part of the equation. You have to factor in the potential loss of life and equipment too. If a $20K round saves a $3 million tank, the tradeoff is in your favor. And, even if you expend 3 or 4 munitions to destroy the same target, you still come out ahead.

      But, your requirement was to defeat a C-RAM projectile 10 miles out. Because of the natural despersions in accuracy from using unguided rounds (e. g., winds, air density, etc.), only a guided round would work at that distance.

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    8. The issue is less about worth and more about affordability. We may all agree that a $100K automobile is worth the cost but how many of us have $100K to spend on a car?

      Similarly, no one said the F-22 wasn't worth the cost back in the day but we simply didn't have the money to keep buying them (little did we know what the "cheaper" F-35 would cost us!).

      The F-35, even if it's worth the cost, has gutted the rest of the military in terms of other projects and weapon systems that have been cancelled in order to pay for the F-35.

      So, while you may make the argument for a $20K missile to destroy a single mortar round, thereby possible saving a tank, the cumulative cost is unaffordable.

      Also, remember, while your argument may hold up in theory, the reality is that most artillery and mortar rounds, being unguided, if not intercepted, wouldn't hit anything, anyway. It's a lot harder to make the argument that tossing away $20K (and let's be honest, it will cost way more then that - it always does!) missiles at a profligate rate to destroy rounds that weren't going to hit anything anyway, is a lot harder case to make.

      Unfortunately, I don't have the answer to this aspect of the support ship. There does not seem to exist a good solution, at present.

      I also invited you to address the issue of launchers, inventory, and launch rate needed for effective coverage. Again, missiles are inherently limited compared to guns in terms of launcher space and rate.

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  6. " I would expect most enemy defensive efforts to be focused on the amphibious fleet (the MLP is an exceptionally critical target) and the supply shuttle to the beach."

    Why? I mean, to the defender (assumed near peer, who hasn't been getting creamed by weeks and months of pre-landing bombardment), the nearest target will be the Marines infantry/armor which, in itself, is a "~1 mile range weapon platform". If the defender can bring down its land force (which you didn't mention as a threat) to the beach and mix it up, that will negate all kind of amphibious fire support, and basically reduce it to a modern 'hand-to-hand combat'

    (my pov: if Taiwan armor brigades, with temporary/local superiority, can't destroy PLA at the beach, it will be game over. During the battle of Quemoy in 1949, the hitherto collapsing KMT troops were able to stop ChiCom right at/near the beachhead and preserved that toehold, less than 5 miles from mainland on three sides, until this day.)

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    1. Think about it. Why would you want to engage in a close combat where you hope for a 1:1 exchange rate when you can fairly easily sink (diesel sub, for example) an amphibious ship with potentially hundreds of troops and thousands of tons of cargo? Or, kill a sea base and the assault stops.

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    2. 1:1 looks pretty good if one side has more of it.. but I think my question is: I'm not quite sure what type of scenario is this invasion under: Normandy, Iwo Jima, Inchon, Gulf War? (I mean, in almost all these cases, if the boots were needed on the ground, USN/AF already did all the homework). The only scenario, right now, I can think of is NK nuke grab (where US/ROK has to land near PY to decapitate NK's capital and grab its Nuke/missile assets.) That's the nearest bloodbath scenario I can think of where US boots must be needed, yet with guaranteed overall air/surface superiority. My lord! It will be unconscionable (for the US commanders) not to use tact nuke in that case, IMO.

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  7. Why not a modernized Des Moines-class with the 5" guns replaced by 155mm guns. Lots of room on the deck aft of the rear 8" turret for VLS cells. Use ESSM and SeaRAM in place of the 3" AA guns and 4 or 5 CIWS with at least two laser mounts. Use the 8" turrets for counter-battery fire and the 155's for fire support. And you can use Army and Marine 155mm rounds so you don't need to develop your own. Power it with the same reactors in a Trident class (two or three) and free up the deck space for more weapons and sensors. Small and cheap is good but survivable is better, especially if you're on the ship.

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    1. My goodness that would be an incredibly expensive ship and a very large target!

      There is no 155mm naval gun that can use Army rounds. One could, of course, be developed.

      Unless you armor the ship like a battleship, it would not be much more survivable than an LCS - less so, if you factor in the catastrophic nature of a reactor hit.

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  8. What is needed are 100 small, cheap armored LSTs with a CWIS on the bow and a 5-inch atop. Most will get hit before they hit the beach, but they will stay there providing fire support, and water and medical support. This eliminates the need for a new AAAVs, eliminates LCACs, and billion dollar well-deck amphibs.

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    1. While I agree with the need for LST's, that's not the subject of the post and LST's do not meet the need for C-RAM, naval gun support, counterbattery, or AAW.

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    2. CWIS and C-RAM are the same. A 5-inch gun provides naval gunfire up to 13 miles from the shoreline. Perhaps a data link with an Aegis ship far offshore will allow counterbattery and AAW. Or the Marines can put their radar on an LST or two.

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    3. No, CIWS and C-RAM are two different, though related, functions. The Centurion C-RAM is the land modified C-RAM version of Phalanx CIWS. Phalanx does not have C-RAM capability (mainly a software issue but also munition type).

      A data link may be too slow to allow effective counterbattery especially in an ECM enviorment. I'm unsure but dubious. I think the counterbattery radar and software need to be local to the gun. This also ensures redundancy and combat resilience.

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  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  10. If the USN has shown any efforts at fighting a well equipped and trained opponent, they have yet to show it.

    @CNO
    I'm not sure about a conventional draft - you will need your bombardment ship to be close to land in order to rain fire on the enemy, unless you've got long range guns (high muzzle velocity).

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    1. Barring a highly unusual shore, any ship can get within several hundred yards of any shore. That gives the ship essentially its complete gun range.

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    2. I see what you are saying.

      The reason why I felt shallow draft might be an advantage is because it could go further inland (perhaps in enemy rivers, although of course mines would be a danger).

      There have been cases where small destroyers have turned the tide. Perhaps the most noteworthy is Omaha beach during the DDay landings. They were very close to the shore (within a few hundred meters).

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  11. Unfortunately the Navy and Marines don't think this is a problem since under STOM there is not supposed to be a beachhead to defend. They'll just keep driving inland or fly overhead to the objectives. And since there will be no beach head there is no need for something to support it.

    Randall Rapp

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