Keeping naval predators at bay.

Author:Withington, Thomas
Position:Naval: self-protection


> was the signal that came from the Royal Navy task force which was locked in combat with Argentine MM-38 Exacet Anti-Ship Missiles in the South Atlantic during the Falklands War twenty-five years ago. The devastation that these missiles caused to HMS Glamorgan, HMS Sheffield and the Atlantic Conveyor has been solemnly documented, but navies around the world were awoken to the danger.

Five years later, as tensions ran high in the Persian Gull the United States, Soviet and the British navies began protecting oil tankers that were being attacked by the Iranian navy. Disaster would strike almost exactly five years after the Falklands crisis as the USS Stark was hit by an Exocet apparently fired by 'accident' from an Iraqi Air Force Dassault Mirage F1, claiming the lives of 37 sailors. During that conflict, the USS Samuel B. Roberts was also badly damaged by a mine. The 1980s showed that naval ships were very much in the firing line in conflicts away from the Cold War standoff and the interest in countermeasures rose commensurately.

Fast forward to the 21st Century, the era of the global war on terror and asymmetric conflict, and the threats to naval surface and subsurface vessels are still clear and present. Weapons such as mines are relatively cheap, easy to deploy and able to inflict substantial damage. Missiles such as the Yingji-82/CSS-N-8 'Saccade' are operated by the Iranian Navy, the navies of Myanmar and Pakistan and may also operate with non-state actors such as Hezbollah. As recently as 2006 one of these missiles badly damaged the Israeli corvette INS Hanit, killing four Israeli sailors, while another also damaged an Egyptian civilian cargo vessel.

Hitting a naval ship has massive propaganda kudos for a guerrilla organisation, which will almost certainly post the video footage of the attack on the Internet within minutes. A similar success against a merchant vessel may have economic consequences if shipping companies run scared and refuse to navigate through areas where missile threats may be present, or they may demand escort by naval ships in a similar fashion to the tanker war. Anti-ship weaponry is relatively cheap and easy to deploy, one does not even need a ship to fire a Saccade for example, and it is capable of inflicting major damage.

Variety of Threats

To make matters worse, the speed of anti-ship missiles has increased in recent times and flight altitudes have lowered, making detection more difficult. There is also the question as to whether civil societies in democratic countries are willing to accept the size of losses that were seen in the Falklands and may insist that their governments desist from naval operations deemed too dangerous. The modern navy needs ship self-protection systems that not only protect against anti-ship missiles and torpedoes, but also protect a vessel from coastal threats and even non-maritime specific weaponry such as anti-tank or anti-vehicle missiles that may be fired from coastal areas.

At the same time navies are faced with increasingly tight rules of engagement. The famous shoot-down of Iran Air Flight 655 by the USS Vincennes on 3 July 1988 is still a fresh memory. The incident killed all 290 persons aboard the Airbus A300B2 and further soured already bitter relations between the United States and the Islamic republic. The events of that fateful day have long been debated, but what is not in dispute is that the Vincennes believed that it was about to be attacked by an Iranian Air Force F-14A Tomcat and fired a pair of SM-2MR surface-to-air missiles in self-defence, thereby destroying the airliner.

With this incident in mind, coupled with the increased media focus on 'blue-on-blue' incidents, there is an increasing move towards the use of 'smart kill' technology to defeat naval threats. Richard Lord, Director of Sales and Marketing, Naval, at the United Kingdom's Chemring Group explains the theory behind smart kill in his paper Advances in Anti-Ship Missile Protection: Naval Countermeasures, published in 2005. He argues...

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