Part 2: LUSV as an Anti-Air and Anti-Ship Missiles Platform
For purely hypothetical and speculative analysis discussion purposes, Naval News will explore the possibility of other armed and functional roles for the Large Unmanned Surface Vessel (LUSV) according to the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps current and future desires, challenges, and to counter peer nations’ threats. The author is not an Engineer or a navy ship designer so this story is a work of plausible naval fiction based on a real vessel, the LUSV (the LUSV isn’t actually field in numbers and armed yet), and real armament options.
For the sake of this Op-Ed, we’ll use a Seacor Marine’s Amy Clemons McCall® LUSV as an example. The Amy Clemons McCall® is 202 feet long (within the U.S. Navy’s LUSV’s 200 to 300-feet dimensions, but falls well short of the 1,000 to 2,000-ton displacement at 529 U.S. tons (479,901 kilograms), meaning that the LUSV will be longer and much heavier). Nonetheless, it is the open cargo deck that is the focus of this Op-Ed and the Amy Clemons McCall® example has an open cargo deck of 132 feet (40 meters) long and 26.9 feet (8.2 meters) wide and carries 400 tons. Note that Searcor Marine® FSV models come in many sizes and speeds so the U.S. Navy can select to build LUSVs of multiple sizes to suit their requirements and that the Amy Clemons McCall® is not a military vessel.
Mid-Range Anti-Air and Anti-Ship Role with Mark 56 VLS and Harpoon Missile Launchers
The U.S. Marine Corps’ Commandant, General David H. Berger, said at the USNI/CSIS webinar on 1 September 2021 that a U.S. Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier won’t deter all those numerous vessels in a foreign militia fishing fleet. Thus, the U.S. Navy needs to learn to deter that problem and General Berger doesn’t see most U.S. warships as the appropriate tool for that task, so he concludes that the U.S. must become much more adaptable and match these asymmetrical kinds of threats with a proper tool and response. Naval News will speculatively explore a few U.S. Navy options to deter numerous “non-combatant ships” that have armed crews with possible future conflict add-on impromptu deck weapons.
The LUSV can be equipped with the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) and Harpoon Anti-Ship missiles for medium-range tactical armament. With custom removable platforms as decking installed for “plug-and-play” options, the U.S. Navy can use the Mark 56 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile launcher, a launcher it doesn’t field but is readily available commercial-off-the-shelf for purchase. (The U.S. Navy currently uses the Mark 29 eight-cell Missile Launching System in which 32 ESSMs can be carried in a Mark 29 as each cell is quad-packed with four ESSMs).
The ESSM has a range of approximately 27 nautical miles (31 miles/50 kilometers) and flies at Mach 4+ for the Anti-Air and Anti-Missile defense role. The ESSM MK56 launcher footprint is very small and narrow as shown in the following photos showing vertical MK56 launchers with red caps, meaning a LUSV can carry a lot of these rectangular ESSM tubes into a battlespace.
The Harpoon Block II+ Anti-Ship missile has a range of over 100+ nautical miles (115+ miles/185+ kilometers), and the U.S. Navy reports on its official website that Block II+ is capable of attacking land-based targets on shore such as surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites, bunkers, hangars, radars, stationary aircraft, installations, and potentially armored vehicles and Transporter Erector Launchers.
Naval Technology provided this quote on the Harpoon Block II: “The major system components of the Harpoon Block II missile include a booster, launch support structure and canisters, as well as command and launch system. The 500lb penetration, high-explosive blast warhead provides the missile with sufficient firepower to destroy coastal defense and surface-to-air missile sites, aircraft, port/industrial installations and docked ships.”
The Royal Danish Navy ship, HDMS Absalon (F341), uses this armament mixture combination amidships of Harpoon Anti-Ship missile launchers in quad canister mounts intermixed with MK56 ESSM launchers. This LUSV armament option could result in an “Adjunct Magazine” armament package destined for the mid-range Anti-Air, Anti-Missile, and Anti-Surface warfare role. This can prove especially powerful and useful as LUSVs armed in this fashion can ride “Shotgun” to the “L-class Gator Navy” and escort any under-armed naval ships such as the Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) and the U.S. Navy’s amphibious warship and logistics transport fleet (i.e.: LPD, LHD, LHA, LCS, ESB, ESD, EPF) that lack any adequate and moderate Anti-Air, Anti-Missile, and Anti-Surface offensive and defensive firepower outside of close-in weapons system range.
For added concealment from an adversary’s unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and helicopters’ overhead sensors, the U.S. Navy could hypothetically purchase commercial off-the-shelf waterproof “missile foil or scored X cardboard” to totally stretch from wall-to-wall and act as a “suspended roof cover” to hide the missile launchers underneath. When a missile is fired, the missile will literally punch through the thin foil or cardboard as most guided missiles do when they leave their canister launcher. The U.S. Navy would need to test the cost-effectiveness and safety of such a method, but it would keep the LUSV’s armament contents covered and not attract attention when carrying numerous Harpoon and ESSM launchers, a canister profile that is easy to identify.
Naval Strike Missile (NSM) launchers can also be incorporated for a mixture of longer-range Harpoon Block II+ and stealthy and more survivable NSMs. Furthermore, new future Anti-Ship Missiles (ASM) such as Rafael’s “Sea Breaker” or IAI’s “Sea Serpent” can give the U.S. Navy new approximately 186 miles (300 kilometers) ASMs with advanced beneficial features such as passive electro-optical (EO), infrared (IR), and imaging infrared (IIR) seekers, auto-target recognition, deep learning, Artificial Intelligence, multi-directional synchronized attack (to have multiple ASMs converge on the target simultaneously from different directions), all-weather operations, and stealthier designs if acquired. This would create the “Anti-Ship Missile Corvette” that the U.S. Navy could use to complement the amphibious force, provide (wide) area sea denial and deterrence, act as independent “USV swarms,” or to show sustained U.S. Naval presence and a “Show of Force.” The LUSVs would have enough missile launchers to act similar to the Ohio-class Guided Missile Submarines’ (SSGNs), and the numerous ESSM and Anti-Ship missiles carried on a single LUSV can counter the effect of an adversary’s small unmanned aerial and surface systems that can be better armed and also can out-range the weapons of the U.S. Navy’s armed unmanned systems (such as the .50cal M2 heavy machine gun on a USV’s remote turret), and to counter enemy “drone swarms.”
A U.S. Navy “LUSV Missile Corvette” variant would be an ideal overmatch to a numerous militia fishing fleet, able to pack enough missiles with enough range and firepower to counter these small and large commercial fishing vessels numbering over 500 boats in some locations with estimates of a nation’s fishing fleet numbering anywhere from 2,500 to a whopping 17,000+ boats. Although generally unarmed, the militia fishing fleet can be retrofitted with deck-mounted cannons and heavy machine guns, or the “crew” can carry various handheld small arms such as handguns, rifles, carbines, rocket propelled grenades and rocket launchers, Anti-Tank Missile Launchers (ATGM), grenade launchers, portable Short-Range Anti-Air Defense missile launchers (SHORAD), and light and medium machine guns.
The ESSM is semi-active radar guided and in addition to Anti-Air and Anti-Missile defense modes, it also has a surface-to-surface mode so ESSM is a viable option to use against weaker or unarmed and (non)armored ships such as fishing boats or ferries with adversary military aboard instead of firing dedicated and expensive Anti-Ship missiles. Nonetheless, the U.S. Navy will need to acquire the MK56 ESSM launchers first in order to achieve the ESSM numbers aboard “LUSV Missile Corvettes” to act as an effective at-sea cruising deterrent.
LUSV as a Loitering Munitions Launcher Platform
The LUSV can be used as a Loitering Munitions multiple launcher platform with various versions of Loitering Munitions preloaded into launchers with six to eight cells each for use against asymmetrical threats.
This LUSV concept is a “Force Multiplier” and a “Game Changer” for the naval forces because it offers a guided munition for Anti-Surface, Anti-Ship, Anti-Drone, Anti-Armor, and Anti-Rotorcraft usage, with huge ranges and long loitering endurances for a small launcher footprint. Let’s take the UVision® smart loitering “HERO series” munition for a speculative example and for Op-Ed discussion purposes. UVision® makes “Operational” (25 to 93 miles/40 to 150 kilometers range with 2-to-4 hour endurance and a 11-22 pound/5-10 kilogram warhead and “Strategic” loitering munitions (124 to 155 miles/200 to 250 kilometers range with seven hours endurance and a 44 lb/20 kilogram warhead. Thus, a LUSV equipped with multiple rows of launchers can fire off a massive swarm of Loitering Munitions from afar akin to smart shore bombardment to aid the assaulting Marines at a fraction of the weight, cost, footprint, and equipment compared to specialized missiles.
With so many Loitering Munition launcher cells aboard a LUSV, in this example, the Amy Clemons McCall®’s 132 feet (40 meters) open cargo deck, the “LUSV Loitering Munitions Concept” vessel can put at risk large militia fishing fleets, militia ferries, shore targets and land-based vehicles, island fortifications, small boats, seaplanes, and amphibious assault swimming vehicle swarms from various distances as an improvised “Arsenal Ship” for a fraction of the bulk and cost of specialized missiles for a persistent U.S. Navy deterrence. The small footprint of the Loitering Munition launchers means that can be arraigned in vertical launch configuration inside ISO shipping containers smaller than 40 feet for concealment and disguise and fired through the container’s roof, or have the exposed munition launchers mounted at various levels on a “step pyramid” platform fixed to the LUSV’s cargo deck. The Loitering Munition launchers can even be interspersed with “Deep Strike” VLS missile ISO shipping containers and other missile launcher canisters for a more blended and balanced Anti-Air, Anti-Surface, Anti-Ship, Anti-Armor, Anti-Submarine, Anti-Missile, and Anti-Unmanned System LUSV armament.
The added benefit of having Loitering Munition launchers aboard a LUSV armament cannot be underestimated as the Electro-Optical nose sensor allows the Human Operator in the loop to guide the munition to strike at critical areas of a target, be it the bridge of a ship, the top deck of an armored vehicle, through the open door or window of a structure, the weakest spot of a target, vulnerable logistics and fuel targets on an island base, or to follow successive Munitions for maximum destructive effect on the same target. With so many Loitering Munitions possible aboard a LUSV due to the small footprint of the Loitering Munition launchers, the U.S. Navy and Marines will have Loitering Munition magazine reserves in the dozens if the LUSVs are properly equipped, more so than any ground of air vehicle carrying these Munition launchers.
These Loitering Munitions can be controlled by platoons of U.S. Marines housed in Mission Bays aboard cruising Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) with each Marine having a tablet controller, creating an impressive “Force Multiplier” in terms of guided firepower with long range and endurance, independent ISR, enhanced flexibility, and improved tactical options unheard and undreamed of by the short-ranged LCSs’ armament. The assaulting Marines will thus have mobile firepower and plenty of real “teeth” aboard escorting LUSVs that are able to launch, loiter overhead, and watch over the backs of their fellow Marines going ashore, and in the case of any threats, dive down and eliminate the targets. The Marines armed with Loitering Munitions will provide even more firepower to cover their own assaults and create a protective bubble over their own operations below.
LUSV Self-Defense, Self-Protection, and Self-Concealment
As the Navy’s “Adjunct Magazine” with missile launchers for long to middle-range strike and defense, the LUSV will also need weapons for close-in self-protection. Installed .50cal MK50 Remote Weapons Stations (RWS with possible Javelin ATGM mount as coaxial), CCTVs on the LUSV’s perimeters, remote-controlled Long-Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs) to deter and provide warning, remote-aimed high power water cannons, and perhaps lasers or 25mm MK38 MOD 3s or 30mm MOD 4s can provide exterior Medium USV and LUSV close-in defense against frogmen, rappelers, small boats, close aerial targets, capture, drone swarms, and unwelcome boarders. In addition, the U.S. Navy can incorporate JQL/JAGM on deck for close-in small boat and air defense in addition to providing the U.S. Marines close Anti-Tank and precision firepower support capability when ashore. Being optionally unmanned, the “LUSV Missile Corvette” can cruise the waters and act as a militia fleet deterrent from afar using missiles, or get up close to use unmanned aerial systems and video and thermal cameras for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) inspections with RWS guns and JQL/JAGM acting as close-in LUSV defense.
For interior MUSV and LUSV cabin, hull, and deck security, (lethal and non-lethal armed) robotic sentry dogs (such as Ghost Robotics’ quad-legged K-9 with SPUR by SWORD Defense Systems® can roam the interior and monitor and report back to Human Operators. The K-9 robot dog is great for climbing steep ship stairs and climbing over ship doors deck-to-deck.
Automatic fire-suppression foam and water sprinklers and remote-aimed high power water cannons on the open cargo deck can prevent the LUSV from experiencing “Chain-reaction explosions” in the event a missile or Loitering Munition launcher is hit by hostile fire or a missile malfunction occurs, in addition to protecting the living spaces.
For concealment from overhead sensors such as satellites, maritime patrol and warplanes, drones and rotorcraft, the LUSV could have a simple, cheap, and effective “storm-resistant” warehouse arch tent over its open cargo deck to hide U.S. Army and Marine vehicles, containers, and other cargo that doesn’t have to shoot back or launch.