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19 May 2016

US Navy League Sea-Air-Space Exposition 2016 Day 3 (18 May 2016) Report

US correspondent Marty Kauchak files the following exclusive report on significant news and developments gained from delegates, exhibitors and others in the naval community.

Ship Programme Updates

The first two of 12 US Navy MK VI Patrol Boats on contract with SAFE Boats International are deployed in the Arabian Gulf. Commander Raul Gandara, the N8 at Naval Expeditionary Combat Command, pointed out the craft are escorting friendly high value shipping transiting the Gulf as well completing maritime infrastructure patrol tasks to protect oil and gas platforms and other valuable assets. The two MKVIs are under the operational control of Commander Task Force 56.

The first two of 12 US Navy MK VI Patrol Boats on contract with SAFE Boats International are deployed in the Arabian Gulf. (Photo: US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas Frank Cottone)

The 85ft. (26m) MKVIs have an unrefueled range of about 600nm and are able to remain at sea for 24-72 hours. To date the new craft have been put through a rigorous operational regimen: completing well deck operations with the USS Bataan and an array of weapons testing – for starters. Any additional weapons would supplement the current 25mm MK38 gun and two, .50 cal. remote weapon stations.

The next two MKVIs delivered will be forward based in the Western Pacific later this summer. Gandara expects the two boats to participate in the multi-national 2016 RIMPAC exercise as part of their “shakedown” cruise.

We’re looking to add capacity on the boats,” Gandara also said. In one instance the MKVI’s are expected to soon operate the AeroVironment Puma. Current test and training missions have the air system operating line-of-site 10-12mi (16-19km) from the MKVI. While the MKVI has not operated with an unmanned surface vessel or craft, it has completed test and evaluation tasks with the Navy’s Mk18 Mod2 mine hunting system.    

A huge announcement at the Wednesday session was the Navy’s intention to start building the upgraded “frigate” version of its controversial Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) a year earlier, according to Captain Dan Brintzinghoffer, the service’s frigate programme manager. The fixed-price, winner-take-all competition will “tentatively” happen in 2018 instead of 2019. Accordingly the Navy will be “less prescriptive” in saying how to implement the various features of the upgrade, giving each competitor more leeway as it modifies its current LCS design.

This is yet another cascading development in the LCS programme. In 2015 Defense Secretary Ash Carter decided to cut the LCS programme from 52 ships to 40. He also ordered the Navy to pick one design and one yard no later than 2019, when production shifted from the original flavor LCS to the upgraded frigate. And now the Navy will announce a “downselect” in late 2018, Brintzinghoffer said, with a formal Request For Proposals out late in 2017.

The two suppliers of the LCS are Marinette Marine in Wisconsin — partnered with aerospace giant Lockheed Martin — and Austal on the Gulf Coast.

Weapon Systems

The small boat threat is an unending requirement. The threat is persistent and even evolving as small boats gain stand-off weapons and other capabilities,” retired Royal Navy Captain Anthony Watt, OBE, told MT. Watt, in has present capacity of head of US Business Development at MSI-Defence Systems US, noted his company has met this vexing, operational challenge to navies and coast guards around the globe with its small weapon, and in particular its 30mm family, weapons portfolio. The former commanding officer said his company’s 30mm is a “weapon of choice”, permitting the similarly equipped ship to fire warning shots, deter and when necessary, fight.

MSI’s weapons are in service with 18 navies and coast guards around the globe. “We have delivered about 260 weapons,” Retired RN Captain Anthony Watt further recalled. (Photo: MSI)

The industry subject matter expert provided one glimpse of this market sector, noting MSI’s weapons are in service with 18 navies and coast guards around the globe. “We have delivered about 260 weapons,” he further recalled.

MSI’s Seahawk naval gun system’s attributes include a number of features that resonate with operators and maintainers including: easy installation with no deck penetration; use of standard NATO ammunition; high availability and ease of maintenance, and others.      

The range of end users of MSI weapons is diverse, ranging from recently delivered .20mm guns to the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard to MSI-equipped small vessels in the reconstituted Iraqi Navy. The latter nation’s hulls received its guns through the Foreign Military Sales process.

Watt and his colleagues are also eyeing other new and upgrade programmes and competitions, including those in the UK as well as in Middle East, Asia and elsewhere. Indeed, MSI is confidently expanding its global market share through its strong life cycle support process. Beyond a 24-hour help desk, MSI has at the ready, a team of support engineers capable of short notice deployment anywhere around the globe. MSI it taking an important stride in global presence as it is preparing to establish a footprint in Bahrain. “We’ve already decided on a site,” the former captain revealed. The Bahraini corporate beachhead is a logical choice as the customer base includes ships in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Oman in that region – with the prospect of more sales on the horizon in that and adjoining areas.

As noted in this correspondent’s Day 1 Navy League report, the US Navy-Lockheed Martin industry team was scheduled to conduct Flight Test Other – 21 (FTX-21) of the Aegis Weapon System on 17 May. Paul Klammer, the director of Aegis BMD at Lockheed Martin, announced today that USS John Paul Jones, supported by the US Navy, the US Missile Defense Agency and Lockheed Martin, successfully used Aegis Baseline 9 terminal engagement capability to detect and track a Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) target. This exercise marked the first demonstration of Aegis’s ability to conduct a complicated tracking exercise against a MRBM during its endo phase of flight.
                   
The four US Navy DDGs forward deployed to Rota, Spain have a sophisticated ballistic missile defense capability provided by their Aegis system. As these ships complete patrols in the Eastern Mediterranean and contiguous waters on routine patrol they may be tracked and evaluated by Russian ships equipped with the increasingly capable Kalibr and Iskander missiles and other threats. Enter Raytheon’s SeaRAM (Rolling Airframe Missile) to help the four DDGs and other US ships defend against these anti-ship missiles and other hostile weapons and weapons platforms.

SeaRAM is a combination of the US Navy’s MK CIWS and the MK31 RAM.

During a discussion with Ed Lester, Raytheon’s SeaRAM programme manager, the industry expert pointed out SeaRAM uses the same mount and fire control system but substitutes the RAM launcher in place of the Vulcan chain gun. “It’s an 11-missile RAM launcher replacing one of the two DDGs 20 mm guns,” he emphasised. This was Lester’s “exit interview” so to speak, as he is leaving his programme manager position to assume a new assignment with increased responsibilities within the Raytheon Missile Systems office in Tucson, Arizona. And almost on cue during the meeting at the Raytheon booth, it was announced that the US Navy recently completed a series of test shots using SeaRAM anti-ship missile defense system, taking out several targets in a variety of scenarios that mimic today's most advanced threats to naval ships.

SeaRAM is presently installed on the Independence-class version of the Littoral Combat Ship, with USS Coronado (LCS-4) successfully firing a rolling airframe missile from its SeaRAM last August. This will be a stepping stone to further LCS SeaRAM installations. “We will install SeaRAM on all even-number ships and all odd-number LCSs starting with hull 17,” Lester added.        

USS Porter (DDG-78) was the first of four Rota-based ships to receive SeaRAM. The backfit action was completed in two to three weeks at the Spanish shipyard Navantia.

Raytheon’s industry partners for SeaRAM “are the German ones for RAM,” Lester said. These would be German companies LFK, DBD and RAMSYS.

Unmanned System

Duane Fotheringham, the president of Pocasset, Massachusetts-based Hydroid, walked MT through several technical enhancements of his New Generation Remus 100 man-portable AUV offering.

In one instance the industry team took two to three computer stacks and other materiel from the earlier platform and compressed them into one field-programmable gate array (FPGA) processor. As the core electronics require 25% less energy, the new vehicle is smaller and lighter.

We’ve also added a bus architecture through the vehicle,” the industry expert said. This physical arrangement has provided an enhanced vehicle that has fewer wires, is easier to manufacture and is more reliable – for starters.

While Hydroid has various suppliers including Teledyne RDI for the Doppler Velocity Log, “our parent company Kongsberg is one of the best because of its huge portfolio,” the corporate president said.

Orders have been received from unspecified end users for the New Generation Remus 100, which weighs in a 36kg (80lbs).

Hydroid’s list of applications for the new product includes mine countermeasures operations and harbor security operations.                                          

Attention Getting Presentation

Rear Admiral Mark Darrah, the Navy’s Program Executive Officer (PEO) for Strike Weapons and Unmanned Aviation, delivered the most informative and insightful presentation this correspondent attended at this year’s Navy League. Darrah, outlined an attention-getting, embryonic Navy effort to create an offensive anti-surface network that will link targeting data from satellites, aircraft, ships, submarines and weapons systems to establish a “kill web”.  The internal Navy effort is being driven by the quickening pace of US peer- and near-peer competitors to gain access to more capable electronic warfare and other kinetic and non-kinetic weapons, and bringing them to bear individually or collectively in the maritime domain.    

The US Navy intends to start building the upgraded “frigate” version of its controversial Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) (above) a year earlier, according to Captain Dan Brintzinghoffer, the service’s frigate program manager. The fixed-price, winner-take-all competition will “tentatively” happen in 2018 instead of 2019.  (Photo: US Navy)

The two-star admiral pointed  out the concept will use information from sensors throughout the warfare domains, placing the information in a “tactical cloud” to be shared, and then permitting weapons platforms to access targeting data from that tactical cloud and launch weapons against surface targets. Darrah slightly elaborated on the tactical cloud, adding, “We’re going to put data in the cloud and users are going to grab it and use it as a contributor to a targeting solution.”

The bottom line is that this concept will allow the service to increase the effective ranges of its weapons against surface targets – and perhaps even replace a weapon platform with a weapon in the kill chain – replacing an F/A-18 with a Harpoon, for instance.

Darrah’s anti-surface scenario using tactical cloud-supplied data called for military space assets to share data with F/A-18s, E-2Ds and a MQ-4C Triton. Scenario data was also provided by information from a Littoral Combat Ship and an attack submarine.

The Navy leader noted that while this concept “shows promise”, there are a number of challenges to determine what tactical cloud data is relevant. Indeed, the first obstacle is the operator or commander’s ability to sort through the burgeoning data and glean the time-sensitive, relevant to conduct a task or mission. “What is the pedigree of the data? Who generated it? How long has it been since it was refreshed,” Darrah pondered aloud, and continued, “How do you find the piece of information relevant to the person who is going to ‘pull the trigger’?
 
This concept appears to be on a “fast track” within the traditionally conservative and deliberate acting service – with PEO Integrated Warfare Systems and the Chief of Operations staff also teaming to move this effort forward.

Several defence industry executives seated near this correspondent at the presentation declined to comment on this concept and a possible role for their companies.