Firing NEMO: Finns Take Different Tack on Naval Fire Support
Naval gunfire support is ultra-quick, unaffected by weather, never worries about enemy air defenses, and has saved the lives of many soldiers and Marines over the years. In Vietnam and engagements like Lebanon in the 1980s, this role was performed by Iowa class battleships and their 16-inch guns, firing shells the size of small Volkswagens up to 20 miles inland in a marriage of reactive firepower and sheer intimidation.
Nobody has battleships on call any more. These days, the high end of naval gunfire support options involves the not-yet fielded DDG 1000 Zumwalt Class destroyers/ light cruisers, $3+ billion, 14,500t ships with the most advanced air defense systems and sonars for protection, and a pair of 155mm howitzers on board that can rapid-fire GPS-guided ammunition 80-100 miles inshore. In the middle we have European countries with 100-127mm naval guns, and abortive efforts like Germany’s MONARC system that aimed to increase range and punch via a 155mm mobile howitzer turret on a frigate-sized ship.
Then there’s the low end, where Finland is funding a study that’s about as far away from the DDG 1000 idea as you can get – but may be very effective in its own right…
Here’s the idea:
Take a boat. A small boat the size of a very small landing craft, one so small that anti-ship missiles will likely ignore it, with a very low draught and enough speed that submarines or even aircraft will find it a difficult target to pin down. Instead of using a 155mm howitzer with its associated recoil, pick a highly automated, stabilized, breech-loading 120mm mortar system with shorter range – but far fewer naval issues.
Use them as swarmable mobile fire support that is always in motion and hence difficult for enemy artillery to counter-target, can fire from beyond the range of anti-tank missiles, and can travel into extremely shallow waters, motor up rivers, hide in fjords, et. al. to provide fire support from places where larger ships would fear to tread. Precision-guided 120mm mortar rounds are coming on the market, which opens up a new niche for mortar turrets.
To that end, Patria has received an order from the Finnish Navy for a concept study combining Patria’s single-barrel 120mm NEMO mortar system with a 10km range, and the 14.2m, 10.3 tonne WATERCAT M12 Jurmo fast landing craft developed by Marine Alutech Oy. This is not a large stretch; Sweden’s 2003 Naval Application Demonstrator project deployed Patria’s twin-barrel AMOS 120mm mortar system on a Combat-90 fast boat. Patria adds that:
“The project targets a possible prototype testing and serial production after the concept study. This project aims to create a new, mobile fire support system with high firepower for the coastal jaeger battalions, enhancing their performance in coastal protection. The concept is believed to raise also wide international interest as a new mortar system application.”
It certainly makes for an interesting concept in the coastal defense and/or riverine forces roles, and offers promise to smaller navies in particular.
If you had a larger navy, you could also transport similar boats in larger vessels and release them on site – an approach similar to the one suggested in the Pentagon Office of Force Transformation’s 2005 Alternative Fleet Architecture Design study [PDF format], which emphasized networked fires and overall fleet survivability/scalability. See also this Congressional Research Service Report discussing the OFT study.
Adoption of the concept, by smaller navies or by larger forces, remains to be seen. What’s certain is that this is definitely the very opposite end of the spectrum, vis-a-vis the DDG 1000 Zumwalt Class approach to naval gunfire support from the shallow-water littorals.
Contracts and Key Events
Aug 27/08: Patria announces an order for the second phase of the Nemo Navy program. The testing will be done for a combination of Patria Nemo mortar system and WATERCAT M12, developed by Marine Alutech Oy.The goal of the testing is approval for a serial production phase.
Nov 6/07: Patria announces the original order. See above.