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13 Dec 18. Germany, US haggle over access to secret missile-performance data. The United States and Germany continue to negotiate behind the scenes over access to a highly classified computer model that Berlin needs so it can build its next-generation anti-missile system, according to sources and documents.
The spat, which is only partially resolved, is mentioned briefly in the German Defence Ministry’s newest report to parliament on the status of big-ticket weapon programs, released late last week. Without mentioning the missile model by name, the document laments a “very restrictive” stance by the U.S. government on the question of making the sensitive algorithm available for Germany’s TLVS program, short for Taktisches Luftverteidigungssystem.
At issue is a “six degree of freedom” simulation for the interceptor missile in that weapon, known as the PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement, or MSE. In its most sophisticated form, the model can predict precisely how the interceptor would fare against the performance characteristics of enemy attack missiles, relying on data often obtained through spy craft.
“If you have the model, you know exactly, ‘Here is what the MSE can do, and here is what it can’t do,’ ” said one source close to the program. Confidence in any interceptor’s hit probability is key in the missile-defense world, where minute performance variations can mean the difference between an incoming missile shot down or a so-called leaker delivering its warhead to Earth.
In the wrong hands, the modeling data could enable adversaries to exploit weaknesses of an entire interceptor class.
Germany is building its TLVS system on the back of the now-defunct, Lockheed Martin-led Medium Extended Air Defense System. That system was once meant as a replacement for rival Raytheon’s Patriot weapon, and the companies have fought tooth and nail over the worldwide market.
Germany owns most of the intellectual property associated with the MEADS components, the result of an explicit objective to field a system completely in the hands of the Bundeswehr, Germany’s armed forces. But the MSE missile-performance model falls outside that purview because the interceptors can also be shot out of existing Patriot fire units. That puts the modeling component under grasp of the U.S. Army’s Lower Tier Project Office, which has a history of making life difficult for any technology other than Patriot, and MEADS in particular.
A talk between German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last summer helped grease the wheels toward Berlin getting at least some of the requested missile-modeling data. Von der Leyen reportedly characterized TLVS as the type of program signifying Berlin’s seriousness in investing more in Europe’s defense, a key Trump administration talking point.
Mattis found the argument convincing, and in early October the U.S. Army’s program executive officer for missiles and space, Brig. Gen. Robert Rasch, offered the Bundeswehr a compromise.
A lower-fidelity version of the PAC-3 interceptor model would be fully transferable to Germany through the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales process, Rasch wrote to Brig. Gen. Christian Leitges, who coordinates information acquisition for the German armed forces. The full model, however, would remain in U.S. hands and on continental American soil, with access granted only under highly scripted conditions.
“For our mutual protection of this critical capability, the simulation must remain controlled at a special access required (SAR) facility to which access will be allowed only to a limited number of cleared U.S. and German government and industry personnel,” Rasch wrote.
Citing a desire for “maximum performance” of the MSE missile in the German anti-missile program, integration of the high-fidelity model into TLVS simulations “must be performed by U.S. personnel,” Rasch added. Further, any threat models to be used in the simulations must be approved by the U.S. government, and all threat model data must remain at the special-access area of the simulation facility, the letter states.
Model results “may be released” from the U.S.-based facility, but only after a Pentagon review. “The goal is to minimize process delays with production and release of missile model data,” states Rasch’s letter.
A spokesman for the German Defence Ministry declined to comment on whether the restrictions are palatable for the German government, citing ongoing “confidential, bilateral negotiations.”
Notably, the TLVS program envisions integrating a “secondary, national” interceptor besides the PAC-3 MSE missile, the Infra-Red Imaging System-Tail/Thrust Vector Controlled Surface Launched, or IRIS-T SL, made by Diehl Defence.
A Lockheed Martin-MBDA Germany team is expected to deliver a final cost proposal in February or March, which would then undergo parliamentary review.
In particular, Germany’s desire for improved radar capabilities of the envisioned TLVS system are expected to drive up the price. For example, Berlin wants the weapon to work against the Russian Iskander missile and threats flying at hypersonic speed.
While the Defence Ministry’s recent report keeps the door open to extending the service life of Germany’s Patriot fleet in case of further delays, officials are still bullish about the new program.
“We remain convinced of the superior capabilities of the selected TLVS technologies, such as 360-degree radar and interceptor coverage,” a Defence Ministry spokesman told Defense News.
Meanwhile, industry and government officials have put a number of measures in place to insulate the program from unexpected turbulence. Those include attempts to warm the FDP and Green parties to the effort, as both parties could play a role in a new government should the SPD-CDU coalition led by outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel break apart before the end of her term in 2021.
And to ensure funding next year, the parliament’s appropriations committee in November approved a request by the Finance Ministry that unspent funds on the Bundeswehr’s STH heavy-lift helicopter program may be used for TLVS development. (Source: Defense News)
13 Dec 18. DARPA selects Aerojet Rocketdyne for OpFires propulsion system. The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded a contract to Aerojet Rocketdyne to design a propulsion system for its Operational Fires (OpFires) programme. The OpFires programme has been designed with an aim to develop a ground-launched system, which would allow for hypersonic boost-glide weapons to penetrate modern enemy air defences, as well as easily and quickly engaging critical time-sensitive targets. Under the $13.4m contract, Aerojet Rocketdyne will focus on the development of design propulsion concepts and technologies for a new ground-launched tactical weapon system.
Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and president Eileen Drake said: “We are very pleased to have been selected by DARPA to develop propulsion technologies to support the OpFires programme. Our innovative team has a tremendous amount of experience developing hypersonic and missile technologies such as solid rocket booster motors, divert and attitude control systems, warheads and scramjet propulsion systems. We look forward to applying our experience to the OpFires programme.”
“Phase II of the OpFires programme will see Aerojet Rocketdyne build and test at least two representative booster test articles.”
The 12-month, $4.6m first phase of the effort is focused on the design and development of an advanced solid rocket motor.
The contract comes with an option for Phase II and is valued at $8.8m over 12 months if exercised. Phase II of the OpFires programme will see Aerojet Rocketdyne build and test at least two representative booster test articles. OpFires also includes a Phase III, which will focus on the integration of different weapon systems and will conclude with the performance of integrated end-to-end flight tests slated for 2022.
Last month, companies Aerojet Rocketdyne, Exquadrum, and Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) were selected to develop and demonstrate a ground-launched system to improve precision engagement of time-sensitive targets. (Source: army-technology.com)
12 Dec 18. US Army seeking APS technology for Bradley vehicles. Once again the US army is looking for new active protection systems (APSs) to equip on its family of M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. Whether this is a positive or negative for IMI Systems’ Iron Fist remains unclear. On 11 December, the service issued a draft request for proposal in the form of a “market survey” for APSs with a technology readiness level (TRL) 6.
“This APS shall have been proven and characterised on the Bradley Family of Vehicles [FOV],” the service wrote in a short notice. “This will be accomplished through the procurement of a B-Kit, consisting of the system and countermeasures.”
Industry has until 18 December to respond.
Recently, the service has been evaluating three APSs: Rafael’s Trophy on the Abrams main battle tank (MBT), IMI Systems’ Iron Fist on the M2 Bradley, and Artis’ Iron Curtain on the Stryker infantry combat vehicle.
In June Leonardo DRS (Rafael’s US-based partner) was awarded USD193 m to integrate the capability on Abrams MBTs. Artis’ Iron Curtain system, however, was cut due to a lack of maturity.
IMI Systems’ Iron Fist is now uncertain, and the company and an army spokeswoman did not immediately respond to Jane’s request for information.
Colonel Glenn Dean, project manager for Stryker Brigade Combat Team and APS acquisition, told reporters in August that IMI’s Iron Fist technology was still participating in Phase I live-fire and automotive characterisation testing due to an eight-month delay caused by funding gaps, inclement weather, and integration challenges. At the time, he noted that the findings would be turned over to the Army Requirements Oversight Council in the first quarter of fiscal year 2019 for a decision on how to proceed. He also explained that the M2 Bradley is a “very difficult platform to install on”. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
12 Dec 18. Rwanda displays previously unseen self-propelled artillery. A Chinese-made wheeled self-propelled artillery system was seen in service with the Rwandan Defence Force (RDF) for the first time in photographs released by President Paul Kagame on 11 December. The Rwandan president was viewing the final day of the annual combined arms exercise held at the Gabiro Combat Training Centre in northeast Rwanda. In Chinese military service, the system is designated the PCL-09 and consists of the Chinese version of the Soviet D-30 gun-howitzer mounted on a Shaanxi 6×6 truck. Poly Technologies has marketed it for export as the CS/SH1, which is different from the SH1, a 155 mm self-propelled howitzer marketed by Norinco. Rwandan media coverage of the exercise showed a single CS/SH1 being used in the direct-fire role alongside a 122mm SH3 tracked self-propelled gun-howitzer, a type first seen in RDF service during the 2017 exercise. Both types use the same ordnance. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
11 Dec 18. Nigerian Air Force to get more AW109 helicopters. The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) is to receive six Leonardo AW109 helicopters, Nigerian Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar said during a visit to Kano Air Base on 8 December. The delivery timeline for the new aircraft was not provided. AM Abubakar referred to the new helicopters as AW109 Power gunships, suggesting they will be the AW109M, the militarised version of the AW109E that can be armed with heavy machine gun pods and 70mm rocket launchers. The NAF already fields the AW109LUH, which appears to have been rebranded as AW109M by Leonardo. This type has been used in combat operations against militants in northeast Nigeria, as well as for tactical training of future NAF helicopter pilots. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
11 Dec 18. The latest evolution of the Aegis Combat System, Baseline 9.B2.0 (BMD 5.1), further advanced engage on remote technologies following a successful U.S. Navy- and Missile Defense Agency-led on-land ballistic missile defense system test event. During the test, the Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT)-built Aegis Weapon System engaged and intercepted an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) target with an interceptor missile based on ground-based radar track and discrimination data provided by Command and Control, Battle Management and Communications (C2BMC). The test, called the Flight Test Integrated-03 (FTI-03), demonstrated the integrated and interoperable capabilities of the Aegis Weapon System to utilize remote sensor data provided by C2BMC to engage a missile from Aegis Ashore in a successful first-ever test event. The networked capability of the engage on remote technology provides an additional layer of defense to warfighters by providing even more time to react to threats.
The test builds on the successful USS John Finn (DDG 113) FTM-45 test in October that demonstrated the integrated capabilities of the Aegis Weapon System and how it has continually evolved to counter advanced threats. It demonstrated the new take down assessment functionality, bi-directional communications and sensor improvement algorithms. This capability is an innovative take down assessment that uses infrared and sensor data correlation to achieve the mission.
“This test authenticates the strengthening global security of the U.S. and its allies as we deepen the defense capabilities with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System,” said Paul Klammer, director, Lockheed Martin Aegis BMD. “This exercise showed that Aegis is the most advanced combat system and the proven choice for a layered defense.”
This test builds upon joint research investments by the United States and Japan and comes on the heels of a successful test with the JS ATAGO (DDG 177) in September. Lockheed Martin is developing a Baseline 9/BMD 5.1 variant computer program, for deployment on Japan’s Aegis destroyers.
As a proven world leader in systems integration and development of air and missile defense systems and technologies, Lockheed Martin delivers high-quality missile defense solutions that protect citizens, critical assets and deployed forces from current and future threats. The company’s experience spans missile design and production, hit-to-kill capabilities, infrared seekers, command and control/battle management, and communications, precision pointing and tracking optics, radar and signal processing, as well as threat-representative targets for missile defense tests.
11 Dec 18. The Missile Defense Agency completed the third successful intercept of a ballistic missile target by a Raytheon Company (NYSE: RTN) SM-3® Block IIA missile, the next-gen variant that defeats missile threats outside the earth’s atmosphere. The test evaluated the system’s overall performance and achieved three milestones for the IIA variant:
- The first successful intercept from a land-based launch.
- The first intercept of an intermediate-range ballistic missile target.
- The first intercept using tracking data from remote sensors, known as “engage on remote.”
Raytheon’s missile defense solutions continue to expand the defended area by protecting against increasingly sophisticated threats with the use of remote sensors. In this test, Raytheon’s AN/TPY-2 radar served as a remote sensor, tracking and providing the missile with data on the incoming threat, instead of using the phased-array connected to the Aegis Ashore system.
“This is a versatile and sophisticated missile,” said Dr. Taylor W. Lawrence, Raytheon Missile Systems president. “Our partnership with the Missile Defense Agency and Japanese industry made these results possible.”
The IIA variant has larger rocket motors and a bigger kinetic warhead, raising its effectiveness against evolving threats. The advanced missile obliterated a medium-range ballistic missile target at sea in October. SM-3 is the only ballistic missile interceptor that can be launched at sea and on land, and has achieved over 30 intercepts in space.
11 Dec 18. USAF conducts CDR of weapon system for B-21 Raider bomber. The US Air Force (USAF) has conducted a weapon system critical design review (CDR) of the next-generation B-21 Raider long-range strike bomber. During the CDR the USAF assessed whether the bomber’s design is stable and mature. It acted as a multi-disciplined technical review. Run by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the B-21 Raider programme entered the engineering and manufacturing development phase nearly three years ago.
US Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said: “The B-21 Raider programme is on the right track to make continued progress over the next few years as it now transitions from the design phase into a robust manufacturing phase that will ultimately produce our first B-21 test aircraft.”
B-21 programme executive officer Randall Walden added: “This critical design event is key to maturing the design of the new bomber and to identifying risks that are consistent with all large acquisition programmes across the DoD.
“We are excited about where the programme is today and we’re looking ahead to actively manage the programme to first flight.”
The bomber aircraft is being developed with the capability to penetrate air defences and carry out a wide range of critical missions.
Northrop Grumman’s facility in Melbourne, Florida, US, is serving as the design and development headquarters for the aircraft.
Capable of carrying mixed conventional and nuclear payloads, the B-21 Raider will replace B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit aircraft starting in the mid-2020s.
In a separate development, the USAF has granted approval to the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center to move the B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb’s new guided tail-kit assembly into the next phase for production.
It is the latest variant of the B61 family of air-launched nuclear gravity bombs and is intended to improve the nuclear capabilities of the USAF and allied nations.
The bomb can be air-launched by B-2A, F-15E, F-16C/D, F-16 MLU, and PA-200, as well as platforms such as F-35 and B-21. (Source: airforce-technology.com)
11 Dec 18. India conducts canister-based test firing of Agni-V ballistic missile. India has conducted the canister-based test firing of the Agni-V long-range surface-to-surface missile at the Dr Abdul Kalam Island off the coast of Odisha. Launched from a canister mounted on a road-mobile launcher from launch pad-4 of the Integrated Test Range (ITR), the nuclear-capable, intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) has a strike range of more than 5,000km. In a statement, the Indian Defence Ministry said: “All the mission objectives were successfully achieved. This launch comes after a series of successful launches of the missile. It further strengthens the country’s deterrence capability, which has been developed indigenously by assiduous efforts of scientists.”
Developed by the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the missile’s user associated trial was conducted and monitored by the Strategic Forces Command (SFC).
DRDO scientists and other associated officials were also present to observe the test firing. The three-stage solid fuelled missile was test launched in January and June this year.
An official source was quoted by The Hindu as saying: “This is the third successful launch of Agni-V this year and the fifth launch of the missile in a canisterised form.”
The first canister-based trial of the Agni-V was carried out in 2015. The missile conducted its first two flights in open configuration in 2012 and 2013. The 17m-long missile is capable of carrying a 1.1t payload and features a ring laser gyro-based inertial navigation system (INS) and modern micro-navigation system (MINS). Reports suggest that the missile will soon be inducted with the Indian Army. (Source: army-technology.com)
11 Dec 18. Poland orders 20,000 pistols and upgrades Grot rifle. Poland ordered 20,000 semi-automatic Vis 100 pistols in 9 × 19 mm NATO calibre for its armed forces on 4 December. The Polish territorial army, the Wojska Obrony Terytorialnej (WOT), is procuring the new handgun in 2019–22 through the JWN (Nil) special forces support unit with a contract signed with Fabryka Broni Łucznik-Radom (FBLR). The new pistol will replace P-64s and P-83s and become the service handgun for the land forces, navy, air force, and WOT. The WOT has also ordered the first phase of the upgrade of the Grot C16 FB-M1 (MSBS-5,56) 5.56mm modular assault rifle to the M2 version to be introduced in 2019. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
10 Dec 18. USAF clears production of nuclear bomb tail-kits. The US Air Force (USAF) is to begin production of a new guided tail-kit assembly (TKA) for the B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb, the service announced on 7 December. The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center (AFNWC) said that this Milestone C decision, which marks the end of the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of the TKA, follows the completion of a 27-month test programme that had been packed into less than 11 months. This testing has resulted in a 100% success rate from 31 bomb drops.
“The accelerated schedule, as well as other risk mitigation strategies, enabled the programme office to save more than USD280 m in development costs”, Colonel Dustin Ziegler, AFNWC director for air-delivered capabilities, said. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
10 Dec 18. Brazilian Army looks to replace its 105mm towed howitzers. The Brazilian Army is looking to replace its inventory of 105mm towed howitzers into a single line of BAE Systems M119 Light Gun 105mm system, it recently told Jane’s. As part of the Field Artillery System subprogramme of the Army Strategic Program for ‘Obtaining Full Operational Capacity’, the effort is designed to restructure the field artillery portfolio and provide ground troops with adequate and precise firepower by 2031. The service currently fields 134 M101s, 67 M101A1s, 60 M56s, and 40 L118 Light Gun howitzers. By fielding a single system, the service is looking to improve training, operation, and logistics, while also providing enhanced mobility and firepower to the service’s field artillery units.
The M119 is a 30-calibre lightweight howitzer featuring L20A1 ordnance. It can be towed by a truck or carried as a helicopter underslung load. It fires standard NATO 105 mm ammunition and includes provision to incorporate digital and automated fire control systems, muzzle velocity radar, sight, and a compact electro-optical sensor. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
06 Dec 18. Next-Gen Mine Warfare to Include Robotic Systems. The future of mine warfare will include a mix of unmanned underwater, aerial and surface vehicles and will require new, out-of-the-box ideas from industry, a Navy official said recently.
“As we move forward, our adversary’s mines are becoming … more complex and sophisticated,” said Stephen Olson, deputy branch head for mine warfare at OPNAV N952. “Their inventories are growing by leaps and bounds.”
The Navy is working hard to counter these systems and is currently in the process of transitioning from its legacy force of dedicated ships and air platforms to a modular mine countermeasure force that will be primarily based off of the littoral combat ship, he said during a panel discussion at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Expeditionary Warfare Conference in Annapolis, Maryland.
“Unmanned surface, underwater [and] airborne platforms are going to play a key role in the future MCM force,” he noted.
Such systems will enable simultaneous operations of multiple sensors for mine detection, localization, identification and neutralization, while reducing clearance timelines and risk to the force, he added.
Unmanned systems that are able to network with each other during battles will be key, Olson said.
“We need to have the ability to have these systems work together across domains and across platforms,” he said. “If I have systems that are now interoperable with our air systems and I’ve got aircraft flying overhead, I want to be able to use that for my [unmanned surface vehicle] navigation as well. I want to be able to use that in a fight.”
Olson envisions technology that is not only lighter, faster and cheaper, but that can even be disposable, such as low-cost robot swarms.
The Navy wants industry to be creative as it thinks about the future of mine warfare platforms, he said.
“We’ve spent a lot of time in developing these systems, and one of the things that I want to … put out to industry and you folks here today is what comes next?” he said. “What comes after this current phase of modular systems? Are there old systems we can reimagine using new technological means?” (Source: glstrade.com/National Defense)
10 Dec 18. Afghanistan to receive final batch of Silvershield units from ADF. The Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces is set to take delivery of the last batch of the Silvershield units, developed under the REDWING programme. Silvershield is a vehicle-mounted counter-improvised explosive device (IED) force protection system. The units were delivered by the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The system has undergone testing in Australia and Afghanistan. L3 Micreo is contracted to support the Australian Defence Science and Technology Group’s development of the enhanced devices. Easy to install and use, the force protection system is designed to be mounted on light vehicles and used by Australia’s Afghan partners operating in hazardous environments.
Australia Defence Minister Christopher Pyne said: “Over 15,000 Silvershield systems have now been delivered to Afghanistan for training and initial rollout with deliveries now complete.
“This is an outstanding investment in Australian capability to deliver life-saving, cutting-edge counter improvised explosive device technology.
“The REDWING programme demonstrates successful collaboration between defence and industry, and Silvershield is proof of Australian industry’s ability to meet the challenge of high-volume and time-critical manufacturing.”
In May, L3 Micreo delivered the first batch of the new Silvershield systems to the Australian Department of Defence (DoD).
L3 Micreo received a $21m contract in March for the delivery of 13,000 Silvershield units. Deliveries of these units under the contract are to be completed this year. More than 200,000 individual and vehicle-mounted REDWING systems have been manufactured and exported by the Australian industry and defence since 2015. These systems are currently supporting various missions with the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, National Directorate of Security, and Afghanistan Parliamentary Security Forces. (Source: army-technology.com)
10 Dec 18. RAF flies Meteor BVRAAM on Typhoon for first time. The MBDA Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) is now operational aboard UK Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced on 10 December. According to the MoD, for the first time Meteor-armed Typhoons were scrambled from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland (QRA North) to intercept an unidentified aircraft that was approaching the UK area of interest. The Typhoons returned to base before the intercept was made. With a speed of more than Mach 4 and a range in excess of 100 km, the Meteor has been described by industry and military officials as providing a step-change in air-to-air combat capabilities. Whereas similar-type missiles have a relatively short boost-phase after launch, after which they glide to the target while bleeding energy, the Meteorʼs ramjet means it is propelled up to the point of impact. This reduces the adversary aircraft’s chances of escaping the missile and gives the pilot more assurance of success when engaging enemy aircraft. The Meteor programme partners include France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. With the missile already integrated aboard the Saab Gripen C/D and Dassault Rafale, the RAF has become the first of the Eurofighter nations to employ it. In July the RAF received back into service the first of its Typhoons to be provisioned for the Project Centurion weapons fit that includes the Meteor missile. The Project Centurion configuration is intended to combine the Typhoon’s already-delivered Raytheon Paveway IV precision-guided bomb capability with the Meteor, Storm Shadow cruise missile, and Brimstone low-yield missile in time for the retirement from RAF service of the Panavia Tornado GR4 in early 2019. In all, 107 Tranche 2 and 3 Typhoons will be equipped to the Project Centurion standard, while the 24 Tranche 1 Typhoons that are to be retained will not. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
06 Dec 18. Rocket-Boosted but Going Nowhere Fast: The Navy’s Failed Munitions Programs. When the Navy retired its last aged battleship in 1992, it pledged to the Marine Corps that it would continue fulfilling one of the warships’ missions: naval gunfire support for troops ashore. More than a quarter of a century later, and after more than a bn dollars spent, the service’s intended replacements — rocket-assisted GPS-guided shells — have yet to materialize. The effort has been marked by a string of technological disappointments. Rocket motors failed to ignite. Guidance fins wouldn’t pop out. Antennas couldn’t acquire satellite signals before shells smashed to the ground. In decades of testing, the Navy has been unable to build replacement weapons that reliably worked, much less at an affordable price. This research-and-development failure has resulted in 36 new warships with advanced deck guns, but not the specialized munitions they were designed to fire. The Navy intends to commission 13 more ships the same way and has no immediate plan or clear option for fulfilling its promise to the corps.
Officials at the Marine Corps’ Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va., where the service sets its weapons requirements, said the Navy’s current gunfire shortfalls pose a “significant risk” to amphibious attacks, which at one time required artillery that can reach an adversary’s shore from 40 nautical miles away to support invading forces. The Navy’s current deck guns can only fire as far as 13 nautical miles.
The Government Accountability Office has periodically raised questions about why the Navy has not fulfilled its commitment. A 2006 G.A.O. report pointed to the Navy and Marine Corps’ inability to agree on what their naval surface fire support requirements should be for more than a decade, and to the Navy setting unrealistically low cost estimates for its proposed rocket-assisted guided shells. Additionally, defense analysts point to the Navy’s prioritization and funding of newer technologies — notably precision-guided munitions from aircraft — over naval gunfire. “Priorities in one space can have a chain effect and drive up costs in another program,” making it untenable, said P.W. Singer, a strategist and senior fellow at the New America Foundation. “The Navy would say it takes naval gunfire seriously, and the Marines would say, ‘Not seriously enough,’ and the two will never agree.”
The effort to develop a modern replacement has had multiple phases, each an expensive disappointment. Battleships, huge armored ships from a bygone era, were once the Pentagon’s most capable gunfire support ship. They carried turrets with 16-inch-diameter guns that fired 2,000-pound shells as far as 21 nautical miles. In the 1990s, the Navy sought to replace all that bulk and hardware with lighter and more precise shells that could fire from comparatively diminutive five-inch-diameter deck guns on Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Those guns fired unguided shells that didn’t reach the distances the Marines required for supporting amphibious assaults. The Navy proposed a conceptual change: a gun firing rocket-boosted GPS-guided shells, dubbed Extended Range Guided Munitions, with warheads initially designed to carry and distribute cluster munitions as far as 50 miles away.
When the program started in 1996, the Navy’s contractor, Raytheon, was to deliver the new shells for ships by 2010. In anticipation, the Navy installed updated guns in 2001 that could fire both the older unguided rounds and the Extended Range Guided Munitions. But after 12 years of development and approximately $350 m spent, the contract failed to produce a reliable shell at an affordable cost — even after the Navy changed the warhead to a simpler high-explosive design. The service shut down the program in 2008. During the same period, the Navy was also experimenting with a similarly designed shell called the Ballistic Trajectory Extended Range Munition, made by Alliant Techsystems. After spending $70m, the program was canceled in 2007.
As the development of new projectiles foundered, the Navy was simultaneously pursuing another concept: a ship with a gun of intermediate size that would fire rocket-boosted shells at targets on land. In the 1990s, it planned to build 32 new destroyers, at the cost of about $1bn per ship, each armed with two 155-millimeter deck guns. These ships, named for Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, were designed for “land attack,” and their deck guns were to fire heavier shells at farther distances than their predecessors’ five-inch guns.
With the ships in production, the Navy then spent $700m to have BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin develop the Long Range Land Attack Projectile for the Zumwalt deck gun. It also came to nothing. The Navy originally intended to build 32 Zumwalt-class destroyers — a number that dwindled over time. In 2016, the Navy cut the number of land-attack ships to just three. Sharply unfavorable economies of scale drove the purchase price for the shells above $1m per shot, rivaling the cost of the Tomahawk cruise missile, which has a 1,000-mile range. The shells became too expensive to buy, and the ammunition program for the Zumwalt-class destroyers was soon canceled. In December 2017, the Navy announced that its “land-attack” ships were “surface-strike” ships that would engage other vessels at sea instead of targets ashore.
All three of the failed projectile programs had similar design features and shared a fundamental conceptual problem. “When you try to make a rocket-boosted projectile that can steer itself to a target, you basically have built a guided missile,” said Tony DiGiulian, a retired engineer who has studied all these weapons and runs NavWeaps, a website on the subject of naval weapons and technology. One problem with gun-fired guided shells, he said, was that, when fired, sensitive electronics inside the projectile were exposed to exponentially more stress than if they were launched in a traditional missile. Protecting those electronics, DiGiulian said, added to the shells’ cost. “So why not just build missiles in the first place?” he said. “That’s what you’ll end up with anyway.”
Navy officials said they are evaluating a new shell, called the “hypervelocity projectile,” that is lighter and narrower and could potentially be fired from the upgraded five-inch guns at targets 40 miles away. The program is experimental and in its early stages, and it is unlikely to produce a viable weapon soon. With a gap in fire support now running beyond a quarter of a century, the Marine Corps said it “encourages continued study” of yet another idea: installing vertically launched missiles on San Antonio-class amphibious ships, a type of ship much larger than a cruiser or destroyer that is meant to launch Marines ashore in landing craft and helicopters and is not typically outfitted with offensive weaponry itself. The Marine Corps did not specify which kinds of missiles could be used for that role.
The Navy was even less forthcoming with details about what might come next. In a written statement, Rear Adm. Ronald Boxall, who leads the Navy’s surface warfare division, said the service continues “to monitor developing technologies and adapt to changing requirements, from gun-based systems and advanced projectiles to land attack missiles. We take this partnership seriously and are committed to providing the Marines with the naval fire support they need to fight and win.”
The Navy fired its last major naval gunfire missions during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, when the battleships U.S.S. Missouri and U.S.S. Wisconsin blasted more than 1,100 rounds at a variety of targets in the campaign to drive Iraq’s military out of Kuwait. In what appears to be the sole fire mission ashore since then, the U.S.S. Chafee, a destroyer, shot its single five-inch gun at Somalia in 2007 to support Special Operations forces, according to a speech by Adm. Harry Harris, who commanded the United States Pacific Command until he retired earlier this year.
Beyond that mission, little has changed since the Government Accountability Office examined the state of naval gunfire in 1997 and reported that “the Navy admits that it currently has no credible surface fire capabilities to support forced entry from the sea.” (Source: glstrade.com/New York Times.com)
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