Latest updates[?]: Russia has announced that it is developing its own rail gun technology as the first pictures of US efforts made their way to press. The "battlefield meteorite" is capable of firing a projectile at an initial speed of 4,500 miles per hour, piercing seven steel plates, and leaving a 5-inch hole -- able to "blow holes in enemy ships, destroy tanks and level terrorist camps." For Russia, the new weapon will not replace traditional weapons "even in the mid-term perspective," as much time needs to pass from the first tests to the mass production, especially considering the high price of the production, according to Russian senator Franz Klintsevich.
Back in March 2006, BAE Systems received a contract for “design and production of the 32 MJ Laboratory Launcher for the U.S. Navy.” Some hint of what they are talking about can be gleaned from the name. BAE isn’t the only firm that’s working on this program, which the US Navy sees as its gateway to a game-changing technology. The project is an electro-magnetic rail gun, which accelerates a projectile to incredibly high speeds without using explosives.
The attraction of such systems is no mystery – they promise to fire their ammunition 10 or more times farther than conventional naval gun shells, while sharply reducing both the required size of each shell, and the amount of dangerous explosive material carried on board ship. Progress is being made, but there are still major technical challenges to overcome before a working rail gun becomes a serious naval option. This DID FOCUS article looks at the key technical challenges, the programs, and the history of key contracts and events.
Swiftships’ 35-meter coastal patrol boat (CPB) contracts are part of a larger program that’s also delivering spare parts, guns, ammunition, training, naval simulators and infrastructure to the Umm Qasr Naval Base in southern Iraq. That total program for the Iraqi Navy was the country’s 3rd largest foreign military sale case, according to the Pensacola Council of the Navy League’s Bullhorn newsletter. That’s probably an appropriate priority level, as Iraq seeks to monitor and protect its southern oil export infrastructure.
Meanwhile, the US Army Corps of Engineers is partnering with Iraq by managing a $53 million pier and seawall project. This set of projects in southern Iraq will provide the Iraqi Navy with new port facilities as it continues to expand its military naval capabilities – but in the end, it all comes down to boats on the water, manned by well trained crews. The Swiftships are currently the medium tier of those capabilities.
It’s easy to forget that the original rationale for the DDG-1000 Zumwalt Class centered around naval gunfire support for troops ashore, as the ship’s estimated costs have risen and its missions have proliferated. Heavily armored US battleships with massive 16-inch (406 mm) guns once performed extremely well in this role, as their volkswagen-weight shells gave enemies pause. USS Iowa was brought back into service during the Reagan era, but she was decommissioned again in 1990. That left America with a floating museum in Los Angeles, and a gap in its options.
While European manufacturers are fielding guided, long range adaptations of existing 127mm/54 and 76mm shells, the Zumwalt Class will be getting an entirely new Advanced Gun System that fires the same 155mm shells used by field artillery ashore. The goal was to combine the wide range of available 155mm shell options with extra-long range, GPS precision guidance, and rapid fire.
Sometimes, a basic improvement opens up entirely new opportunities. Raytheon’s one-piece M982 Excalibur rocket-boosted, GPS-guided shells are costly, but they offer the kind of accuracy that has made artillery relevant again on Small Wars battlefields. Overall accuracy is currently touted as being within 4 meters 90% of the time (3m or less CEP), and the US military recently began buying Block Ib shells. At the same time, the firm is starting to face competition from less accurate but cheaper drop-in solutions like ATK’s PGK, and the wars that propelled Excalibur sales are winding down. What to do?
Part of Raytheon’s response involves a self-funded program to create a new dual-mode GPS/ Semi-Active Laser guidance and navigation unit (GNU) for the Block Ib. Adding the ability to attack moved or moving land targets adds a lot of flexibility on the battlefield, and retains Excalibur’s unique positioning. It also creates entirely new opportunities for Raytheon at sea.
Medium caliber naval guns confront naval planners with a divergence of opinions: mount large caliber, slower-firing 5″/127mm guns used mostly for naval fire support, or smaller caliber 100-57mm guns with far more rapid rates of fire that can be used against smaller boats, UAVs, missiles et. al. as well? In recent years, a 3rd option has entered the scene: 155mm guns adapted from Army platforms. Key advantages include potential commonality of ammunition stocks, greater destructive power, and better leveraging of R&D into long range and specialized variants with some land/sea commonality. Hence projects like the American AGS system for its Zumwalt Class destroyers, and Germany’s aborted MONARC that would have mounted a turret from their PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzer on the new F125 expeditionary frigates.
AGS is rather large, however, which leaves the question of what to do with ships smaller than the DDG-1000 Zumwalt’s Graf Spee sized 14,500t. The Royal Navy has become the latest navy to jump into this fray, undertaking a relatively low cost research program that looks at the AS90 Braveheart howitzer’s potential for future warships, and for refits to the existing fleet.
They’ll have a number of significant challenges to overcome before they can declare success, but a recent release says the project is moving on to Phase 3 now…
The Navy announces that it is moving forward with development of the Littoral Combat Ship’s Surface Warfare (SUW) Mission Package, which it describes as “designed to combat small, fast boat terrorist threats to the fleet.” The Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren division is the technical direction agent for the SUW mission package, with NSWC Port Hueneme division providing integrated logistics and testing support. US NAVSEA’s release lists the components as:
“…electro-optical/infrared sensors mounted on a vertical take off unmanned air vehicle [the MQ-8B Fire Scout] to provide over-the-horizon detection; 30mm guns to kill close-in targets; four  non-line-of-sight launching system [NLOS-LS/ “NetFires”]… container launch units, with each system containing 15 offensive missiles; and the MH-60R armed helicopter for surveillance and attack missions. The SUW mission package has software that interfaces with the LCS command and control system to maintain and share situational awareness and tactical control in a coordinated SUW environment… The first two  SUW mission packages assembled for developmental and operational testing use the Mark 46 30mm gun made by General Dynamics Amphibious Systems.”
The $400-500 million question is, will this be enough?…
BAE Systems has announced a Basic Ordering Agreement (BOA) from the U.S. Navy for up to $368 million to build and refurbish naval weapon systems, and provide support services over the next 5 years. Potential orders received under this BOA are expected later this year and will be carried out by BAE Systems’ facilities in Minneapolis, MN and Louisville, KY.
The BOA covers a wide range of BAE Systems’ programs including the transition of production of the Mk 110 57mm naval gun system from low-rate to full; the overhaul, manufacture and upgrade of the Mk 45 5-inch (127mm) naval gun for the CG-47 Cruiser Modernization program, the Mk 75 76mm gun mount, the Mk 42 extended range guided missile handling mechanism, the Mk 32 surface vessel torpedo tubes (SVTT), and the Mk 36/53 decoy launcher systems (DLS); the manufacture of gun barrels; the overhaul of turbine pump ejection systems (TPES); and work associated with minor caliber guns. BAE Systems release.
BAE Systems – Armament Systems Division in Minneapolis, MN received a $108.9 million cost-plus-award-fee modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-05-C-5117) for completion of design, development and integration of the Advanced Gun System (AGS), in support of the DDG 1000 Zumwalt Class program. Work will be performed in Minneapolis, MN (76%); Burlington, VT (19%); and Baltimore, MD (5%), and is expected to be complete by September 2009. The Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC issued the contract.
The Advanced Gun System (AGS) is intended to be the 14,500 ton DDG-1000 “destroyer’s” primary naval gunfire support weapon, fitting into a stealth-enhancing turret and emerging to fire 155mm GPS-guided “Long Range Land Attack Projectile” guided shells up to 100 miles inshore.
In the absence of a 155mm gun, the use of long-range, guided rounds like Oto Melara’s Vulcano can certainly extend the range of existing naval guns, and their move toward similar naval and 155mm versions of this ammunition family is also likely to be a harbinger of trends to come.
Finmeccanica subsidiary OTO Melara recently announced [PDF format] a EUR 80 million (currently about $108 million) pair of orders for naval gun systems to be mounted on Germany’s F125 frigates, where they will be integrated with EADS FuWES command & fire control systems. The final contracts are expected to be signed in the third quarter of the year, subject to the approval of the F125 program by the German parliament.
Germany has also selected the remote-controlled Hitrole(R) 12.7mm remote-control turret in the new Naval Tilting (NT) version. OTO Melara will provide a total of 25 12.7mm Hitrole NT systems under the ER 10 million contract: 5 on board each of the 4 frigates (TL = 20) and 5 on land for training purposes. The Hitrole RWS is currently serving with the Italian finance police and the UAE and Mexican navies, among others.