Navy Ship Defenses Upgrade to Stop Missiles, Drones & Small Boats all at Once

Kris Osborn

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by Kris Osborn

(Washington D.C.) Could a simultaneous attack by anti-ship cruise missiles, drone-fired rockets, swarming small boats, underwater torpedoes and ship guns all overwhelm a U.S. navy ship’s defenses?

That would certainly seem to be the intent of any such attack, a move which would challenge layered ship defenses including interceptor missiles, radar, torpedo detection systems and close-in weapons

As a way to counter this kind of integrated attack scenario, the Navy is working closely with industry to refine, improve and further integrate its system of ship defenses by sharing information, consolidating targeting data, connecting fire-control systems and facilitating ship-to-ship coordinated defenses.

The Navy is working with Lockheed on some ways to do this using a “common source library” software system to engineer technical connectivity between otherwise separated command and control and weapons systems. Much of this includes using software technology developed for ship-based Aegis radar systems engineered to integrate weapons and sensors. Lockheed already engineers a ship-based command and control system used across large portions of the fleet that comes with common technical standards to enable modernization and greater interoperability. 

“One ship can have a target and another ship fires. The system looks at and selects which radar is best and aligns it with the right target,” Joe DePietro, Vice President, Small Combatants and Ship Systems, Lockheed Martin, told Warrior in an interview. 

The concept with this approach is, for instance, to use an aerial node such as a drone or surveillance plane from one surface ship to send video and data to commanders operating another vessel, allowing otherwise disparate radar-fire control systems to share target information. Should one ship-mounted radar detect an anti-ship cruise missile at greater distances, the trajectory and flight-path data regarding the approaching threat could be sent to the ship in the line of fire. This would give ship commanders a greater time window with which to decide which interceptor would be best. 

“The Common Source Library allows the Navy to leverage the investment over several platforms. For instance, COMBATSS-21 Combat Management System used on the Freedom-variant LCS integrates a host of weapons and sensors; 95% of the software was reused from the Common Source Library,” Lockheed said in a statement to The National Interest

What this amounts to in a tactical sense is that ballistic missile defense, mine countermeasures, submarine detection and defensive area weapons in close proximity to the ship such as Close-In-Weapons System, can be integrated, interoperable and able to share targeting information.  The CIWS system has also in recent years been upgraded to perform counter surface missions as well as counter air missions, giving it the ability to stop swarming small boat attacks and other close-in surface threats.

Perhaps the attacked ship would be able to launch an Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile Block II in sea-skimming mode to intercept the approaching cruise missile flying at lower altitudes parallel to the surface. Also, integrated radar detection systems could enable a commander to use electronic warfare defenses to jam or disrupt the electronic guidance systems of the weapon.

Lasers are another key option, as they are precise, low-cost and scalable. That means an enemy drone or attacking helicopter could be fully incinerated or simply disabled depending upon the strength of a laser used. Lasers also naturally travel at the speed of light, so that they can intercept or destroy incoming attacks quickly should threats be closing in or fast approaching. 

-- Kris Osborn is the Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest --

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

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