Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Coronado SeaRAM Test

Here’s another of those seemingly innocuous news items that contain a bit more information than intended.

ASEAN Military Defense Review website has a brief article on a SeaRAM test conducted by the USS Coronado, LCS-4, on 14-Aug.

Coronado's Combat Systems Team shot down a BQM-74E utilizing the RIM-116 Blk1A/SeaRAM missile off Pt. Mugu. This test validates the LCS-2 Variant's Core self-defense capability and further demonstrates the ship's effectiveness against high-end missile threats.” (1)

This prompts a couple of thoughts.  First, given that the BQM-74E is a subsonic drone (around 515 kts at sea level according to the Northrup Grumman data sheet), this hardly demonstrates effectiveness against “high-end missile threats”.  High end threats in my book are the large warhead, supersonic, terminal maneuvering missiles (SS-N-22, BrahMos, etc.) that everyone but the US Navy seems to have.

Further, demonstrating effectiveness would have to involve realistic conditions like poor weather, unknown location and approach time, and enemy electronic countermeasures as well as multiple, nearly simultaneous incoming targets.  None of that was part of this staged test.

Thus, this test proved only that under perfect conditions a SeaRAM could shoot down a subsonic, non-maneuvering target drone.  Such a test is better than no test but not by much.

The second, related thought, is why hasn’t the Navy tested its Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAM) against supersonic targets?  Perhaps they have and I’ve missed it but given the fact that they loudly trumpet every other test, I’m reasonably sure they haven’t.  Is it because the results are predictable and disappointing?  Well, who cares?  Isn’t that the point of testing – to find out what works and what doesn’t?  If RAM is ineffective against supersonic threats, let’s find out and then fix it or build a better system.  If RAM is effective, let’s hear about it! 

Let me be clear about this.  I have no information that RAM is ineffective against supersonic threats other than the lack of testing.  I’m speculating but in a logical manner.  I strongly suspect that this is like the Navy’s refusal to conduct shock testing on the LCS – they know it will fail and, therefore, why do it?

So, how did the test turn out?  From Defense Media Network website,

“This test success marks a major milestone toward full operation and employment of the SeaRAM system on U.S. Navy ships,” said Rick Nelson, vice president of Naval Area and Mission Defense product line at Raytheon Missile Systems.  “SeaRAM demonstrated that it is a vital weapon for defending navies against anti-ship cruise missiles, and provides warfighters with a capability found nowhere else.” (2)

“… capability found nowhere else”?  Ahh, you want to dial the hyperbole down just a smidge, there, Rick?  I think there are plenty of short range AAW missiles out there.

BQM-74 Target Drone - A Poor Threat Surrogate


This is the kind of testing that is so disappointing.  A test that demonstrates almost nothing of combat relevance is passed off as some big achievement.  As a result, we send our sailors in harm’s way with little knowledge of their ship’s realistic capabilities.  This is how you lose battles and lives.

(1)ASEAN Military Defense Review, “Littoral Combat Ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) Conducts Live Fire Test of Guns and SeaRAM”, Maki Catama,

(2)Defense Media Review, “First Raytheon SeaRAM Missile Fired from USS Coronado (LCS 4)”, Chuck Oldham, Sep 17, 2015,


  1. So from 2009 (Navy acceptance of LCS-2) to now for the Navy to test this system? WTF over? A ship was accepted without a key weapon system installed and tested? Would you buy a car or house this way? Or even a Volkswagon Diesel (well maybe unknowingly).

    I also search for when the LCS-1 subclass was tested with the SeaRam. I can't find anything. Did the Navy install and test the SeaRam on LCS-1?

    1. The article is a bit unclear to me. It may have meant that it was the first test of SeaRAM on an LCS rather than that it had never been tested before. On the other hand, it's quite possible that it had never been tested aboard any ship before.

      I'm unaware of a live fire test of the SeaRAM on the LCS-1 variant although it may have happened.

      Just don't know.

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  2. Hey, lets be fair to VW. It looks like their emissions defeating systems were designed deliberately, and testing had to have been done because they worked flawlessly for several years. German Engineering! (I find it ironic that one of Audi's taglines is 'truth in engineering').

    As to the LCS:

    " If RAM is ineffective against supersonic threats, let’s find out and then fix it or build a better system. If RAM is effective, let’s hear about it! "

    I remember going back a loooonnnnggg time ago to the sci.military.naval usenet group that RAM was billed as the solution to high speed supersonic missiles. The idea was that gun based CIWS systems just didn't have the kinetic energy to defeat the supersonic missiles. Sure, you might wreck the air frame, but a several thousand lbs missile, now tumbling, with all of its fuel will still slam into your vessel.

    You're right, CNO. I'd love to see a test on this. And while we don't have anything like Brahmos, isn't the Coyote at least supersonic? It would be a step in the right direction.

    While we're at it... I'd love to see AEGIS and Standard tested as well, if they aren't. It would be really expensive, and I'm sure you'd want to classify the results, but the data would be invaluable. Load the systems on a supertanker hulk thats unlikely to sink and shoot at them while they are in automatic mode.

    1. Yes, Coyote is supersonic. I'm aware of very few live fire tests using Coyote. I'm not sure why the Navy refuses to conduct more realistic tests of its weapon systems.

    2. My hope is that its been done, did well, and the results are classified because we don't want to tip our hand.

      My fear is that its been done, failed miserably, and the results are classified because we don't want to tip our hand.

      My "Most Likely" scenario is that for bureaucratic/political reasons (Too expensive! Too many delays in deployment! The Vendor asked Senator Smith not to have it done, and just bought him a condo in Boca) it hasn't been done, and they just do the quicky, stage crafted tests to certify it.

    3. Also, I wonder, is this a new thing for the Navy? How well tested was the Mk 14 Torpedo?

    4. "How well tested was the Mk 14 Torpedo? "

      IIRC, it was fired a grand total of TWICE by Dec 7th 1941, yet it was brought into service, what - 4 to 6 years before that?
      You're right, this is a long running thing with the US Navy - when we get complacent, we get downright stupid.
      Of course, do I need to bring up how the Navy of back then staged the Battleship testing during the inner-war years to get better results? Shameful.

      - Ray D.

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    6. Smitty, thanks for the link. I've found several references to RAM tests but this is the only one I've found that claims to have tested against supersonic targets. Unfortunately, there were no details about the engagement other than "maneuvering", whatever that might mean. Let me know if you find any additional detail or supersonic tests.

    7. FFS, try to keep current; RAM Block 1 was successfully intercepting Mach 2.5 Vandals 16 years ago! RAM Block II has done the same against Coyote. FYI, the Navy consumes about four Coyotes per year in intercept tests or more depending on the number of stream raids they wish to conduct. In terms of details what do want? Combined Gs? SS-L-S? Countermeasures? Conditions?

    8. Marauder, thanks for the info and please keep it polite and respectful!

      Where do you get the four Coyotes per year figure? I'd love to know the tests/scenarios they're used in.

  3. I know this equips German F125 Frigates at 7200 tonnes as their only discernible AA missile system. I find it difficult to believe they haven’t tested it with supersonic targets.

    Certainly British, French and Italian are.

    RAM is now becoming fairly common place. So I think we can assume this works to some extent. The specifics of the Phalanx weakness was that it can hit and disable a supersonic threat, but at that short range the kinetics will still carry the remanence of the inert residue \ shrapnel into the hull, doing some potential damage. So range should be extended.

    However having spotted this article myself, it does read like this is the first test of the overall anti air \ missile defence test of an LCS full stop. Which is worrying isn’t it.

    Ram like Phalanx, I think still works best when queued from the ship main systems ? So an overall test for every class of ship would be required really.

  4. The angle of attack is vital. Flying directly at the ship the missile body shields the small IR signature of the drone. Then RAM must hit head on. But if flying by the ship RAM can lock on to its rear. I also think that if you fire four RAM at four incoming missiles the RAMs will chase each other while Phalanx guns them down.

  5. What is the range of SeaRAM? I'm wondering if you could have both Phalanx and SeaRAM as a layered defense. The trick would be getting Phalanx not to shoot down the RAM, I'd think.

    I also think SeaRAM is a horrible name. We have Aegis; and Phalanx. We should have named this Hoplon or Aspis. :-)

    1. You pre program Phalanx with "profiles" for attack, generally it wont shoot anything down this isn't headed for the ship.

      Certainly it doesn't shoot things down headed away from the ship.

      Obviously with a manouvering target \ ship this get a bit more complex, but your Phalanx with happily work as a layered defence. That is after all its primary purpose.

      ( UK was working on a Hoplite missile, see vid here its going nowhere but its a fancy idea tech from Meteor and Sea Ceptor missiles )

    2. With the Royal Navy being the senior service, I think that they should use the Greek names and we could use the Roman names... ;-)

    3. It seems like it would make sense to have both then, if there is a range differential. (Again, I"m not sure if SeaRAM can shoot farther than Phalanx).

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    5. Yes there is a range difference. And its more than the official figures say. At the extremes of Phalanx range, the unreliability of shooting for the intercept point makes a kill less likely. SeaRam will manoeuvre, and has equal probability of hit far out as near, it also has a much better kill mechanism. BUT you can’t fire a steam of missiles, not least because you only have 10 to 20 per launcher.

      On the other hand the inaccuracy of Phalanx coupled with the constant steam of bullets effectively places a wide “wall of lead” in the path of the missile.


      The Anti-Air Tier system is more about defined methods of defence, than simply range. Each utilised different techniques and technologies suited to that zone, and not suited to others.
      Phalanx and Sea RAM are the last line of defence, as much because they are self-contained, self-powered autonomous entities that will operate even as your powerless ship is sinking, they are point defence in that they are for defence against something already coming to a known location, i.e. YOU, and have no minimum engagement ranges, they are fast acquiring, locking and firing, and they don’t interfere with your other weapons. It’s a concept not simply a range.

      Unfortunately they are not complementary, as a phalanx shooting at the intercept point for an incoming missile will have to shoot through a slower sea ram missile to get there, and a sea ram explosion chaffs the precision radar of phalanx.

      In summary, stick with the Greek, the Romans were B*stards ;)

    6. Having just written that. The issuing of just this system as the primary ( if not only (realistic) ) air defence for the LCS, is making a pretty big statement !?

      Never really thought about it in those terms,


    7. Okay. I was thinking more of a range difference where the miss or explosion of the missile wouldn't matter to Phalanx. I'm guessing I'm thinking more of ESSM.

      Which does bring in another question for me. Sea Sparrow, at least initially, came in its own launcher that in some cases had its own radar. It almost seemed like a medium range CIWS (MIWS?)

      Now they only talk about using it for VLS cells; which makes it much harder to install it on smaller ships.

      Would the Coronado and the Freedom accept the smaller Mk. 56 VLS in their NLOS space?

      If could do that, and combine it with SeaRAM, you'd have a decent air defence system. One that could cover up to 27nm, and the other to 5nm in for leakers. Assuming ESSM is up to dealing with modern missiles semi-effectively.

      At that point, assuming margins, you might have room for a deck launcher for Harpoons/NSM/LRASM.

      Of course, then you just turned the LCS into an Adelaide Frigate, but without the same ASW ability.

      And Hey! I liked the Romans! Yes, they were B*stards, but, C'mon, its not like the Spartans were warm and cuddly. ;-)

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  6. It seems the navy has "fired" searam from an actual LCS.

    "September 21/15: The Navy has test fired a Rolling Airframe Missile Block 1A from an Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship, the USS Coronado (LCS-4). The trimaran’s SeaRAM external link air defense system fired the missile as part of a risk-reduction and certification trial. The SeaRAM system incorporates the Rolling Airframe Missile and the Block 1B Phalanx Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) as a more flexible air defense system, trading bolt-on versatility for a REDUCED missile load compared with the RAM system on its own.-

    The Ram missile uses components from other missiles, rocket motor of Chaparral ( Sidewinder type), the warhead from Sidewinder and seeker from Stinger

    1. Um, that's what the post was - the Navy's test of SeaRAM from LCS-4.

    2. Opps, I didnt read it properly, I thought it was land based test.

      Not sure what the advantage of having the FCS collocated with with the launcher ? For Phalanx it supplies a corrected cannon shell path based on tracking both target and shells. For ram missile its a fire and forget ? Unless it can re-launch another missile once it knows its missed first time ?

    3. Ztev, you ask a great question. The selling point of SeaRAM is that it's a self-contained system. It can be mounted and operate independently from the ships combat system. RAM, in contrast, must be integrated into the ship's combat system - not a simple, quick, or easy task. Heck, we're still struggling with the SSDS that was supposed to tie all the legacy sensors and weapons into one package.

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    5. That's a reasonable and plausible explanation. However, I've not read anything official that states that there is a significant difference in track quality between a high speed rotating radar and the SeaRAM. Do you know of any info on this?

      I suspect that the main reasons for its selection are related to the independent nature of the system. It can operate even if the ship's sensors and fire control have been damaged. Also, the ability to function as a "bolt-on" unit that does not have to be integrated into the ship's combat system has to be appealing given the enormous cost and difficulty of adding weapons to an existing combat software system. As mentioned, consider the difficulties we're still having trying to get SSDS to work after all this time.

  7. Was this intended to prove anything or just a PR exercise then?

    The direction many tests seem to go leans towards the PR.

    1. Honestly, I don't know and I don't understand Navy thinking concerning weapon system tests.

      There are two broad types of tests: function tests and combat effectiveness tests. Function tests simply demonstrate the system is mechanically functional. It may be worthless but it works. Combat effectiveness tests are just that - they test the value and effectiveness of the system under actual combat conditions.

      Given the cost of even simple functional tests, I'd think the Navy would want to squeeze every bit of value out of a test that they could. For example, if you're going to use up a target drone and fire a missile, why not go the small extra step of providing a challenging ECM environment and maybe wait and conduct the test during bad weather. The additional cost would be minimal and the value would increase enormously.

      The Navy baffles me.

    2. To be fair to them, I could see why they'd want to split it up. Make sure basic functionality works and is reliable, so that you can rule it out, or nearly so, in a combat effectiveness test.

    3. Why else hold the test though but PR?

      If you want combat performance, it's gotta be done under realistic conditions.

      If you are testing an early weapon, that may be understandable, but this is not an R&D-type test.

      If you are training, perhaps a case could be made that "green" sailors should have a test under perfect conditions, but again, this is not really a test for new sailors or it would not be hyped up.

      PR is the only answer I can think of.

    4. I is hardly a PR excises, This test is a full up test of the SEARAM launcher and control to prove the engineers who design this system did their job right. It absolutely necessary for very system designed by humans. I know most of your are paranoid about how the LCS has be managed, but this is obviously a required real life test.

    5. GLof, the kind of test you're describing is needed but should occur during the design phase of the weapon, itself, and during the initial integration phase of the weapon system on the first of class ship. Thereafter, this kind of simplistic test accomplishes little. What's needed after proof of performance and integration testing is actual combat training for the ship and crew. Standing around and watching a highly scripted test conducted under ideal conditions does little for the combat readiness of the crew.

    6. "during the initial integration phase of the weapon system on the first of class ship."

      CNO, what type of test did you think this was? This was obviously the first of the full up integrated system tests. The engineers have completed their basic system tests, are now ready to test the system as a whole. To do this you start with a simple problem, followed by test of increasing complexity. the final test are intended to SEARAM able to function as you expected it to do. But that will have to wait for proper testing to happen.

    7. GLof, first, I assume that LCS-2 had this testing done as part of its aborted and never completed trials. If not, what on earth were they waiting for given that it's been 5-1/2 years since LCS-2 was commissioned? What if LCS-2 had been called on to engage in combat during that period?

      Second, my point was to maximize testing and try to get the most out of every test situation.


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