One of the four major rules of gun safety is to be sure of your target and what’s behind it.
In WWII, we frequently caused friendly fire damage and casualties by firing at attacking aircraft within the task force and hitting friendly ships behind and beyond the target aircraft. It was almost unavoidable and considered an acceptable and necessary unfortunate consequence of trying to prevent a ship from being hit and sunk.
The same problems and concerns occur during infantry firefights and urban streetfights as well as during tank battles.
The same problem has occurred with Phalanx CIWS. Here’s an example from Wiki,
October 1989, USS El Paso was conducting a
live-fire exercise off the East Coast of the using the Phalanx against a target
drone. The drone was successfully engaged, but as the drone fell to the sea,
the CIWS re-engaged it as a continued threat to United
States . Rounds
from the Phalanx struck the bridge of USS Iwo Jima, killing one officer and
injuring a petty officer.” El Paso
And another from Wiki,
“On 25 February 1991, during the first Gulf War, the Phalanx equipped frigate USS Jarrett was a few miles from the US battleship USS Missouri and the British destroyer HMS Exeter. The ships were thought to be under attack by an IraqiSilkworm missile (often referred to as the Seersucker), at which time
its SRBOC chaff. The Phalanx system onJarrett,
operating in the automatic target-acquisition mode, fixed on Missouri 's chaff,
releasing a burst of rounds. From this burst, four rounds hit Missouri which
was 2–3 miles (3.2–4.8 km) from Jarrett at the time. There were
no injuries.” Missouri
Note that we’re not discussing the closely related issue of identification/misidentification. This post is concerned with the issue of stray rounds impacting friendly forces behind and beyond the target. The distinction is critical for the discussion. With this issue, identification is not a problem. The friendly forces are well known and their location is clearly observed. The problem is rounds that don’t hit the target and continue on to strike a friendly unit.
Okay, this is a tragic but almost unavoidable consequence of close combat, especially in naval scenarios where friendly ships may be spread out over many miles and enemy aircraft, ships, and missiles can penetrate the force and intermingle with friendly forces but what’s the point? The point is that with the advent of rail guns, lasers, and hyper velocity projectiles (HVP) that we’re all so excited about, the behind and beyond issue becomes immensely larger and more deadly. For example, CIWS rounds have a range of couple miles. A friendly ship that is in the line of fire but five or 10 miles beyond is perfectly safe. However, with rail guns, lasers, and HVP’s, the behind and beyond range borders on unlimited. We could miss a target that’s one mile away and inadvertently hit a friendly task force 50 miles beyond!
Consider the case of an enemy missile that has penetrated the perimeter of a naval task force spread out over many miles. What might have been an adequate safety margin in WWII is now non-existent with lasers, rail guns, and HVPs. Potentially, this means that far fewer, possible no, ships can fire on the incoming missile out of fear of hitting a friendly unit many miles beyond and behind the target.
Consider the case of a naval task force 50-100 miles from land and trying to defend itself using lasers, rail guns, and HVPs. Misses in the direction of the land may see the land showered with projectiles and lasers.
Could we be hobbling our defensive fires by moving to lasers, rail guns, and HVPs? At the very least, our zone of awareness will have to increase from a couple of miles to dozens or hundreds of miles. In a situation like the
Middle East or the first island chain, there may not be a safe
direction in which we can fire!
|Basic Gun Safety On A Grand Scale|
I’m not suggesting that we don’t adopt lasers, rail guns, and HVPs but I do hope that someone is looking very carefully at the implications and impact on our defensive doctrine and tactics rather than just blindly pursuing the technology “just because we can”. Sadly, like the Navy that forgot to check whether the LCS helo could safely tow the mine countermeasures equipment and then found out the hard way that it couldn’t, I’m fearful that we aren’t looking at the “behind and beyond” issue and won’t recognize it until it’s too late. I just see a bunch of future laser and rail gun armed escorts paralyzed and unable to fire defensively because of friendly units and land dozens or hundreds of miles away.