A little more on Offensive Surface Warfare

LT Rusty raised a valid point in the comments on our earlier post.

Only one minor quibble here – Flt IIA Burkes didn’t give up the Harpoon launchers to get the helo hangar. The launchers on a Burke are located at the midships QD, between the fore and aft superstructures, where they would not interfere in any way with the addition of the hangar. The IIA’s also – or at least the early ones – were still wired for Harpoon, and even have the brackets in CIC to install the console. It would be a matter of an afternoon’s work to put Harpoon back onboard.

The reason that it was left off is because the Navy doesn’t (or at least didn’t in 1999-2000) want a BVR SUW capability. The stated reason for this back then was that, based on rules of engagement, we needed to have VID on all tracks before shooting at them in anything other than a RED / FREE environment, and since we were never going to get an ROE like that, what was the point of buying the launchers and the birds for it?

That’s the real challenge in long range missile engagements- targeting.

You’re familiar with the Tomahawk cruise missile, which has been the favored weapon for first day strikes on enemy shore based assets. Originally there were three variants of the Tomahawk. The land attack missile in use today, a nuclear armed land attack variant, and a anti-ship version armed with a 1000 lb warhead.

The Tomahawk Anti Ship Missile, or TASM, used the active radar seeker of a Harpoon missile coupled with recycled 1000lb Bullpup missile warheads. It had a range of about 250 miles.

The radar aboard a ship such as a Burke simply cannot detect a target at that range. Passive sensors, such as Classic Outboard, can, but only with somewhat limited accuracy. The other option for targeting is using offboard sensors, such as the ship’s MH-60 helicopter, P-3 or P-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, or any other ships that the shooter is datalinked with.

Further, the TASM flies at a fairly sedate 500 knots or so. That means about a half hour time of flight out to maximum range. The seeker head of a TASM has a limited range. Coupled with aimpoint errors at launch, the target might well be outside the seekers field of view when it reaches the target area. The TASM can conduct a search pattern, however. But the risk is that the missile will acquire and attack neutral third party shipping. Blowing up allied or neutral ships is frowned upon.

While the Harpoon has a shorter range (and smaller warhead) than the TASM, many of the same challenges to Over The Horizon (OTH) targeting still apply.

Many modern anti-ship missiles address these challenges through mid-course update. That is, they send updated targeting information to the missile after it has been launched. Any future US Navy long range anti ship missile will definitely have this capability.

What’s interesting about LT Rusty’s mention of the Navy’s assumption that a Visual ID is required before shooting is that it is completely reversed from the assumptions behind the entire architecture of the surface fleet’s assumptions for anti-air warfare. The entire Aegis/Standard Missile program is designed for long range engagements of targets, long, long before any visual ID can be made.

5 thoughts on “A little more on Offensive Surface Warfare”

  1. It’s also interesting to run a count on what anti-shipping weapon systems we have in the inventory that have a hard-kill capability against anything bigger than a Boston Whaler.

  2. Oh, and re: AEGIS / Standard – “Badgers and Backfires and Bears, Oh My!” The same basic hardware works well for a variety of other threat environments as well (TBMD, for instance), even though we’re unlikely to face 200+ AS-6’s coming at our convoys working to reinforce NATO against the menace from the east.

    Or … umm … wait.

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