Monday, November 9, 2015

Iranian Swarm Craft and Weapons

We've discussed swarm attacks so it might be fun to see what some of the swarm craft look like and what kind of weapons they carry.  I'm not even remotely an expert on Iranian weapons so forgive me if I misidentify some equipment.

Here's a picture of several small craft presumably training as a swarm.  

Next, we see a nasty little craft, the Zolfaghar class, that carries two small Nasr-1 anti-ship missiles in cannisters and two torpedoes in the small bulges on either side of the cabin.

Here's a picture of a boat with what might be a ZU-23-2, twin cannon 23 mm gun.

Here is a boat firing a 107 mm rocket from a launcher atop the cabin and mounting a machine gun on the bow.  The rocket reportedly has a range of around 5 miles although in unguided mode against a relatively small target like a warship (compared to trying to hit somewhere in a city), the effective range is presumably much less.

Next we see an RPG being fired from a small boat.

For a bit more variety, small craft can also be used to lay mines.

Here's a Seraj class boat.  Note the rocket launcher atop the cabin.

Here's a nicely armed boat with rocket launcher, bow cannon, and stern machine gun.

Here's the same boat type shown launching a rocket from the launcher atop the cabin.

Here's a British made, very fast Bladerunner reportedly being reverse engineered for swarm attacks.

And, lastly, here's a Ya Mahdi high speed, unmanned boat.  Iran claims that it's radar evading due to its high speed.  I'm not sure they understand how radar works.

That gives you a feel for the variety of swarm craft and their weapons.  This is not meant to be comprehensive and I'm quite likely wrong about some of the identifications.  Feel free to jump in and correct me.

Bear in mind that these are the smaller swarm craft.  Iran, and other countries, also operate somewhat larger missile boats that would attack from much longer distances.  As one might expect, there is some overlap between the two broad categories of boats.  Of course, the problem with missile boats is that the missiles generally outrange the boat's sensors, requiring the boat to approach much closer than strictly necessary.  

Still, the variety of boats and weapons coupled with the purported numbers has to give a naval force pause for thought especially in the confined waters of the Gulf.


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    1. I don't know that we can get a US Navy ship to fight well in this environment. We either make a ship that is a little of everything (rigged out for blue water engagement; ASW, littoral warfare, etc.) which is prohibitively expensive; we make small street fighter type ships to deal with the swarms; or we stay out unless and until we are willing to sanitize the coastlines with big, heavy weapons.

      I don't think the LCS, even as originally designed, has a hope of dealing with the threats above.

      Ironically, the cyclones might do a good deal better.

      As a guy who's played on 12-30 foot boats on the Great Lakes, I know one thing that might work: yards and yards of seaweed or nylon strung in front of the swarmers to foul props or jet intakes. ;-)

    2. Smitty, yeah, I saw those. I just don't know whether they are serious combat vehicles or just propaganda toys. Something to keep an eye on, at the least.

    3. "... or we stay out unless and until we are willing to sanitize the coastlines with big, heavy weapons. "

      Well, there's the issue. Swarms are not that much of a threat IF we commit to combat with the attendant free fire zones, attacks on bases, aerial sweeps against boats, etc. Under those conditions, I would classify the swarm threat as a minor nuisance.

      On the other hand, if we get suckered into a limited conflict with our usual focus on avoidance of collateral damage and over-concern with world opinion, then swarms are a major threat because we won't be able to engage until too late.

  2. Precisely.

    That's what I'm wondering about in terms of limited conflict. I honestly would prefer that we just didn't do those sorts of things. I also realize that my worldview can be maybe simplistic.

    So a cheap (CHEAP) type of ship like a cyclone might be able to help. With a weapons load out like this:

    Armament: 2 × MK 38 25 mm autocannon
    5 × .50 caliber machine guns
    2 × MK 19 40 mm automatic grenade launchers
    2 × M240B machine guns
    6 × FIM-92 Stinger SAMs
    2 × MK-60 quadruple BGM-176B Griffin B missile launchers[1]

    gives them alot of versatility, and alot of firepower in a limited type fight. You could tweak the design, but overall keep it simple, and realize that in that type of conflict you're going to get your nose bloodied, but you can fight them on their own turf without giving them a 'burke sized prize to blow up.

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    2. Well yeah. And you'd need tenders, and basing... which might blow up the cost too. This would have to be a new build type cyclone. Be ruthless about scope creep and build enough of them and I think you have something you can use.

      It would kind of tie in with the idea of a Hi/Lo Navy. You have the 'Burkes and the CVN's get the lions share of the money, and train to do particularly nasty things to our enemies.

      Then you have small escort carriers with Super Tucanos (or whatever), flotilla's of cyclones based where you need them, and maybe an up gunned Ingalls frigate doing what the Navy does 90% of the time.

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    4. Mixed armaments have been viewed as a bad idea for quite a long time.
      Infantry machine guns are ok if they're retrofitted and all you can fit, but if you are building a bespoke ship, they just waste space.

      Maybe the stingers make a bit of sense, but the rest, pick a calibre cannon and mass that, much of the rest is just a distraction, a 40mm grenade is never going to hit anything going fast, a 40mm slug fired at high speed is going to hit and blow a bloody great chunk off a boat.

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  3. CNO,

    The 107mm is an area effect weapon (HE-FRAG): it can be fired individually, but more typically they are fired out of a MLRS like the Type 63 with 12 tubes.

    The implications are ominous for exposed topside personnel on the target - sure the individual rockets are inaccurate, but 40 boghammers equipped with type 63s = 480 rockets all but guarantees the target will be subjected to fragmentation from at least a half dozen shells. The effect on exposed people is clear, but consider the effect on exposed antenna, radar, and optics.


  4. A defense against swarm attacks? Helicopters armed with Sea Skuas and/or Longbow Hellfires. Those will out range the AA guns and SAMS. Once those boats are gone, move in with the 30mm cannon.

    1. Seal, I fear you may be a bit too casual about the issue and the effectiveness of helos. Helos would be effective IF they happen to be aloft, in the right location, and properly armed at the moment of attack. Unfortunately, in the most likely swarm scenarios the odds on having helos availabe would be poor.

      Also, Hellfires have the same nominal range as the rockets.

      The reason we're discussing alternate defensive weapons is because helos will likely not be available in the likely scenarios.

      Maybe rethink this?

    2. Hellfire range is 8km, Penguin is 34km, and Sea Skua is 20km
      ZU-23-2 is 2.5km

      If you're operating in waters like you showing and you don't have helos ready then you deserve all that you get.

    3. A helicopter costs about $40k per hour to operate
      24 hours a day, just shy of a million
      $365 million per year, per helicopter

      They aren't persistent

    4. The DoD Comptroller lists the O&M cost per hour for the MH-60R and MH-60S as $4,255 and $3,332 respectively. Per Published Sikorski data,MH-60R average fuel burn during ASW missions is 1194 pounds per hour or 175.6 gallons per hour; considering average non-government contracted average jet fuel price is appx. $4.00, that's $702.35 in fuel cost per hour. It's highly unlikely that the remaining maintenance and servicing will reach $39,297.56 for an average flight.

      A helo can be on alert 24 hours a day, if required.

      For persistence, an 85 foot MK VI patrol boat, possibly equipped with Griffin quad packs and small tactical UAVs, should be able to fill the role. They are less than $15M per copy. The Navy has contracted 6, but at one time wanted up to 48.

      V/r TA

    5. TA, I think those may be reimbursable rates rather than true O&M costs. Not sure.

    6. TA
      Airframe hours
      I'm not sure as to the flying hours of a helicopter but a Eurofighter will in theory get 5000 flying hours (in practice its much lower at the moment), to buy, it costs about $100mn
      Just in airframe life, it costs $50k to fly a eurofighter, fuel, wages, gubbins ect are more.

  5. The US if it wants to fight in contested waters will be forced to use its own fast attack craft back.

    Large ships like the ABC, Ticos, etc are simply not optimal for this environment. Sure many of these Iranian boats are no doubt "paper tigers", but in numbers, there is the very real danger that they could destroy an American ship.

    For all the talk, the LCS is poorly suited for this type of attack. It would be even more vulnerable than the existing stock of ships.

    The only real option is for the US to build its own fast attack craft. Bear in mind the logistics involved behind sending them to a place like Iran.

  6. I'd rather be in a late-WWII Fletcher than any of our modern ships against swarm attacks.

    1. Better yet would be a post-WWII Gearing with eight radar controlled 3in/50s firing VT fused AA rounds along with six 5in/38. The WWII Fletcher only had 40mm Bofors for close work that did not have VT fused, those were available only on the five 5in/38s.

      For modern day weapons, the best weapon available to kill small boat will likely be a semi-active radar homing missile like the Hellfire LongBow as you can automate the targeting system radar. Better yet you can then load into box launchers that can cover numerous approaches.

      Finally, I know this may sound heretical, but have anyone ever thought about AC-130s to deal with a swam boats,, especially ones with Griffins.

    2. GLof, an AC-130 would be awesome for dealing with a swarm! So would A-10s or MLRS or B-2 bombers or battleships - none of which will be available.

      The crux of the swarm issue is that in any likely scenario, it will happen quickly and relatively unexpectedly. Chances are very good that the available helos will be on deck, not in the air. There won't be an AC-130 or B-2 or whatever hanging around. The targeted ship will have only its own weapons to respond with.

    3. I think you don't understand the advantages of using a AC-130 to provide an escort for surface ships. It appears to me you think of them as providing carpet fire, saturating an area with cannon fire, and hoping it would hit a boat. That is not how I intended the gunship to operate.

      The main advantage of the AC-130 is their sensor systems and aided fire from its cannons and missiles. While covering a convoys the AC-130 can monitor many hundreds of square miles using their FLIRs, side search radars, and other classified sensors. Using this intelligent, they can then use they cannons to attack multiple targets during a gun pass, , long before the swam can reach a range to attack.

      Now only a battleship might have this ability of the weapon you suggest, as the others don't special sensors and systems require to fly this mission.

      An alternative might be a gunship version of the Osprey.

    4. GLof, as I said, an AC-130 would be awesome. I think you don't understand the reality of asset allocation. It would require several AC-130s to provide constant overhead protection for a group - and that only accounts for one group. What about the other convoys and groups that are sailing at any given moment? You'd need a small air force of AC-130s to provide constant cover over all of them. Unless you have perfect knowledge of where and when an attack will occur it just isn't practical to attempt to cover all ships/groups with aircraft, regardless of type.

      AC-130s are far more valuable providing ground support where we know combat is occurring then hanging around overhead on the off chance that a swarm attack might occur. And, unfortunately, if they aren't overhead at the moment of attack, the attack will be over before they could arrive from wherever.

    5. CNO, what is to prevent the air force, or even the USN from building more AC-130s, or even a gunship based on some other platform? It is not like they are all that costly, and the technology and mechanical design work is already done. All we need is to get Lockheed's pet congressman to slip in a few extra word in the next defense appropriation.

      As to why I wanted to make clear why the AC-130 was my choice, I had to make sure that other understood what was the important reason for my choice. I never know when one of my pebbles might finally set off a landslide, and I did not want it heading down the wrong mountain.

    6. "... what is to prevent the air force, or even the USN from building more AC-130s ..."

      You follow the budget issues, right? The AF is trying desperately to retire the A-10s just to free up some more money. They've got the new bomber that they're trying to build and have no idea where they will get that kind of money. They're had to cut back on UAVs in order to fund what they they currently want. The F-35 buy is almost certainly going to be reduced due to budget.

      What's to stop the AF from building more AC-130s??? They have no money! The F-35, among other questionable acquisitions, has sucked the AF's budget dry.

      Not all that costly??? Wiki lists the unit cost of AC-130s as $190M (2002). That would be over $200M today. People are upset about the F-35 costing $150M and the F-35 is death spiralling itself due to the cost.

      Build more AC-130s? Not unless the AF wants to give up the F-35 or new bomber. Do you really think the AF would give up the F-35 and/or bomber in order to build an aircraft to protect Navy ships?

    7. Drone surveillance with helicopters, AC-130s, etc. on standby will be a lot cheaper than keeping helo and AC-130s in the air all the time.

      The question is distance, which equates to time. Exactly how close to a port with a potential swarm of small boats are we going to get during tense times in which a war might break out? I don't know the answer. We would have to analyze what we actually think we are going to do in the Persian Gulf in tense pre-war times.

      It seems that half the solution to these swarm threats is, when Iran drops some mines in the Gulf, we don't move in with ships. Instead, we devastate all of their naval facilities and air bases with cruise missiles and air strikes, even while they are implausibly denying that they had anything to do with the mines. If we are too wimpy to do that, weapon design will not be able to make up for it.

  7. You’re going to hate me for this. But …

    Check out 38 mins forward, for manoeuvre dynamic.

    Then 1:25 for the shooty bit.

    You can’t really knock the speed and manoeuvrability of the LCS regardless of what else you might say about it.


    1. Ben, I'm going to have to rip you a bit for this. What did that video demonstrate? The LCS is fast (well, it was before the speed kept getting downgraded) but no one has yet come up with a tactical use for the speed - and after doing the speed bit, every sub for hundred miles around knows exactly where the LCS is. C'mon, analyze what you're seeing!

      Were you impressed by the weapons exercise? The edited footage weapons exercise where there were clearly more shots fired than shown (how many more?)? The targets cooperatively sailing back and forth about two hundred yards away? If a real target was that close we'd be eating RPGs, machine gun fire, and rockets. Did you note that the targets kept going after being hit (remember dwell time?)? This was a typical Navy staged exercise that proves nothing and accomplishes little.

      You really need to look at these videos a bit more analytically.

      By the way, during the weapons exercise did you note the LCS being controlled from outside the bridge (the guy yelling back in through the hatch?)? How's that going to work in combat when the ship is taking return fire and shrapnel is spraying around outside? If this is actually how the LCS will be fought, that's another major problem. If this isn't how the LCS will be fought then why were they training differently from the way they'll fight?

      I've seen this video a few times and if you look at it analytically it shows a ship that is ill-suited to its professed role.

      I want my readers to be better than simply accepting PR film at face value. If this was football, I'd say watch the game as a coach would, not as a fan would.

    2. LOL, what a surprise.

      My point was really on the power of speed and manoeuvrability in naval warfare.

      So many times it really has been the deciding factor.

      If you can bring enough speed relative to your opponents, their ability to swarm is limited.

      [ After all we really don’t care if “Iran” lines all his boats up behind, one after another you in your unstable wake. They can shoot you easily because of their live friends in front, and find it difficult to navigate due the smoking bodies of their dead friends in their path. ]

      This obviously is simplistic, but the LCS is bringing an element of control into what you rightly identify as a situation that is a very dangerous uncontrolled mess.

      The 100% absolute worst situation you can be in here is 360 encirclement. Speed, acceleration, situational awareness and manoeuvre is your primary method of ensuring this does not happen, or rectifying the situation if it occurs.

      You’ll also notice my point about sea keeping in the earlier post, when several boats became swamped in the LCS wake. This is an important factor. Small boats aren’t some kind of mega weapon, they have significant drawbacks.

      P.S. I'm not silly enough to debate all the other elements of the LCS, I think we both know about its short commings.

    3. Also, I know I occasionally come across a bit glib. That’s just me.

      But contrary to my very attractive picture, I’m not a 17 year old boy stuck in my bedroom.

      I’m a 43 year old British Engineering Graduate, who’s first job when he was 22 was to help design the aircraft lift upgrade on Invincible class aircraft carriers.

      If I am to get over excited to naval videos ( and it does happen occasionally ) its going to take a bit more than that I’m afraid.


    4. Again, I emphasize, think analytically. Consider the LCS and its vaunted speed. In theory, the LCS could "run" before the enemy, thus maintaining range, and kill the enemy at leisure. Ah, with what? How many rear facing weapons does the LCS have? The Navy placed the main gun on the bow. You can't run and shoot backward from the bow - the gun is masked. Did anyone think through that tactic? The 30 mm guns may be able to shoot to the rear (not sure) but they are not very accurate. You saw the number of misses for each hit in the video (in a staged scenario at very, very, very, very, short range). Thus, speed is not a useful tactic unless your only goal is to retreat without inflicting damage. Also, if the LCS is tasked with protecting another vessel then running is not really an option.

      Consider a realistic engagement rather than a staged Navy demonstration. As I described in the post, our gunnery would be degraded due to obscurants (you know the guns are not radar controlled, right? - they're optically laid). The LCS is subject to extreme vibration at high speed which will, again, degrade accuracy (degraded accuracy = increased dwell time). And so on.

      I'm just trying to encourage you to develop the habit of thinking analytically, tactically, and realistically versus accepting a simplistic, unrealistic, tactically idiotic Navy PR film. That kind of thinking is a skill that, like any other, needs to be practiced to become proficient at. Look for chances to analyze rather than "view". Practice. Your comments are good - you just need a bit more critical analysis to rise to the next level. :)

    5. I think your misreading my intention. The LCS is awful, really. it is.

      Sorry if I'm offending anyone but it is.

      My point really was totally about positioning.

      If your looking for offencive resolution to the issue, 2 of these

      positioned to give good arcs.

      + 2 Phalanx 2B positioned similarly. To give the possibility of intersecting fields of fire.

      with say 48 ( fire and forget anti swarm missile attack ) of these ;
      with their surface attack mode.

      2 ASuW helo's maybe ready to go. Say Wildcat carrying 4 Sea Venom anti ship each or 20 LMM

      say in an arrangement like this.

      Should do it ?

      Certainly make a nasty dent.

    6. OK, now you really lost me. If you're suggesting a new small ship design, that's fine. I have no problem with that. I do it all the time. Even so, think tactically. Ranges of your weapons versus enemy weapons (107 mm rocket, the most common boat weapon, has a nominal range of 5 miles). Number of your weapons that can be brought to bear versus number of swarm boats and approach speeds. And so on.

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    8. All true. Did I say otherwise?

      Just as we envision a layered defense, so, too, I would assume, the Iranians would utilize a layered offense. The Nasr anti-ship missile launched from 10-15 miles, rockets from 5 miles in, torpedoes (don't know the range), RPGs and cannon for very close in. If they do their job correctly, we'll already be hurting to some degree before the engagement enters the closest ranges.

      Would it be very difficult or expensive to add a very simple gyro stabilizer to a rocket launcher to hold it at a given elevation appropriate for a shot? I wouldn't think so but I have no idea.

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    10. They have that on somewhat larger vessels. I've limited this discussion (at least my portion of it) to the smaller boats which are the more typical swarm that people think of.

  8. Nasr-1, with a range of 35km (wiki), would worry me since it is well outside of the range of the Hellfire Longbow. A well planned attack would have the swarm engage from multiple directions and arrive at their launch points simultaneously. That would put the LCS in a bad spot. Something needs to be able to engage before the swarm gets to their launch points. Is that an AH=64 Longbow, a Harpoon or similar long range ASuW missile, or something else??? I think relying on very short range ASuW missiles like Griffin B or Longbow, or a gun, is just burying your head in the sand to a threat that is well beyond defending with those weapons.

    1. You are quite right. The variety of weapons and their ranges presents a challenge, to say the least.


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