On 7 October, the Maritime Equipment and Warfare team at DE&S placed an order with Systems Engineering & Assessment Ltd (SEA) which includes a technical refresh for the NATO Sea Gnat decoy launcher system, (officially named Outfit DLH in RN service). There have been hopes for some time that the RN will obtain a trainable launcher but for now, SEA says the contract involves “upgrade the ships’ countermeasure capability with a new fixed barrel system”.
The contract also covers control system upgrades to resolve obsolescence issues on the Type 23 frigates’ magazine torpedo launch systems (MTLS). 8 of the frigates will receive the update which includes open architecture to improve integration with the combat system and ease future modifications. Despite the continued investment in existing systems, there has been no order for an MTLS to be fitted to the RN’s Type 26 anti-submarine frigates. Space is allocated in the design and the Australian and Canadian derivatives will carry the weapon.
The £34M contract is the largest the RN has ever awarded to SEA and in addition to the decoy system and MTLS modifications, also included are changes to the air-weapons handling equipment. These are likely to be modifications to handle the new Sea Venom and Martlet missiles safely.
Sea Gnat consists of sets of 6-barrelled 130mm mortars with 1 or 2 pairs mounted on the upper deck on each side of the ship. (Typically called Mk 36 Super Rapid Blooming Offboard Chaff (SRBOC) in USN service). The mortars are hand-loaded from ready-use lockers and can launch 3 types of decoy rounds. RF seduction or ‘chaff’ rounds contain hundreds of strips of foil to create a radar reflective cloud intended to lure radar-guided missiles away from the ship. Infra-red rounds (main image above) use flares to attract missiles that rely on heat signatures for guidance. Active rounds descend slowly by parachute and transmit radar signals either in deception mode to confuse the missile seeker or in jamming mode to blind the radar.
The Outfit DLH chaff decoys made by Chemring include the Mk214 Mod 1 which is a 23Kg round. The Mk216 Mk1 Type 1 is a slightly more sophisticated 27kg round with a barometric height sensor which detonates the chaff cloud at the correct attitude whatever the ship’s movement. The Mk 245 A2 is an IR seduction round that includes five sequential, airburst submunitions which ignite flares at 7-second intervals.
The Mk251 Siren Off-board Active Decoy (OBAD) round was developed by Marconi (now Selex ES) and has been in service as part of the Outfit DLH suite since 2003. A low-G rocket fires the round upward and out to around 500m away from the ship, it then descends on a parachute, utilising a parasail wing that allows the decoy to manoeuvre slowly. The onboard computer manages the multimode I/J-band jammer.
Outfit DLH consists of either twin or quadruple six-barrel launchers bolted to the upper deck which cannot be trained to launch a decoy in the optimal direction to counter incoming threats. The ship must use precious time to manoeuvre onto the best heading in the given wind conditions before launching the countermeasures. As anti-ship missiles have increased in speed there is decreasing time to react. The bolt-on Sea Gnat is cheap, reliable and simple solution but more sophisticated trainable launchers have been in development for many years.
As far back as 2010 Chemring demonstrated their Centurion launcher prototype which contains 12 barrels on a rotary mounting enclosed in a cupola with a low radar cross-section. This would increase reaction time and can be pre-loaded with a variety of rounds. Positional accuracy is further enhanced by stabilising the mount to compensate for the ship’s motion.
Centurion also has the potential to counter threats beyond missiles and could be loaded with anti-torpedo countermeasures / small depth charges. In 2013 Chemring teamed up with Raytheon to experiment using the Centurion to launch a Javelin anti-tank weapon with the intention to adapt it for maritime use to counter FIAC or small boat swarming attacks. In 2019 the RN conducted an experimental test-firing of Marlet missiles from panniers on its 30mm gun mountings but it was not deemed a success, mainly due to efflux management issues. It is possible that Centurion or a similar purpose-built decoy launcher could also be adapted to provide a better platform for the delivery of lightweight defensive missiles such as Martlet or a maritime NLAW variant.
Centurion or an equivalent would appear to be a significant and low-cost enhancement to RN surface ship defensive capabilities and it is hard to understand procurement has been delayed for so long. However, in January 2022, DE&S published a Prior Information Notice (PIN) stating “a requirement for a Trainable Launcher capable of deploying future and legacy rounds”. This forms part of the wider Electronic Warfare Countermeasures (EWCM) project, which includes the Maritime Electronic Warfare Programme (MEWP) project. This will eventually provide a broad range of enhancements to RN EW and soft kill countermeasures capabilities.
Defeating the counter-countermeasures
Adversary anti-ship missile systems are not only gaining speed but are increasingly able to accurately discriminate between the intended targets and decoys. This requires countermeasures to evolve with similar levels of sophistication. Not only are faster reactions needed but the decoys must be positioned with more accuracy. A new generation of missiles designed for use in cluttered littoral environments have sophisticated pattern recognition algorithms and can visually identify individual targets so will not be easily seduced by the radar return of a chaff cloud or heat from a flare. This would imply that ship-mounted EW systems or active RF decoys are likely to be the most effective form of soft kill defence against missiles using active I, J or Ka-band radar for terminal guidance. Passive IR-guided missiles such as the Kongsberg/Raytheon Naval Strike Missile are especially hard to defeat using soft-kill countermeasures.
The Anglo-French Acccolade technology demonstrator was run by Thales between 2011-16. The initial concept of a manoeuvring expendable airborne RF decoy carrier vehicle was not fully developed but the programme was used to de-risk concepts including a miniaturised RF transmitter derived from Thales’ Scorpion advanced shipborne jammer. Like the Centurion system, Accolade was test-fired on Sailsbury Plain but has not made it into operational service. Thales says the development of OBAD rounds continues today based on work done with Accolade but focused on a different concept of operations and utilising the latest electronics. MEWP includes plans to replace the obsolete Mk 251 Siren round but it is unclear when this will be in service.
The more obvious hard-kill close-in weapon systems catch the eye but another important layer of soft-kill defences are often overlooked or underestimated when assessing warship capabilities. The RN is generally acknowledged to have good defensive electronic warfare systems and passive countermeasures and through MWEP is working to resolve obsolescence issues and keep pace with emerging threats.
Good Lord, I may even manage to be first (if I can type fast enough).
Question. Is there opportunity for the weird Australian active RF decoy missile that hovers & can manoeuvre (Nulka)? In service with Australia, Canada & US. I would have thought alternative payloads were also possible.
Nulka is big…really big and on an AB I have seen a maximum of 8(Usually only 4) carried . They sit in dedicated launch tubes between the funnels in the midships cross passage. You cannot reload them.
NULKA creates a ghost electronic ship as well as messing up whatever it can of the incoming missiles sensors.
The ideal ‘thing’ would be fast fired a reasonable distance from the ship and then persistently hover around.
However, you could see that role played by a mid weight drone in future that is pre positioned and flying in a high threat environment. Maybe kept at altitude to keep it out of the salt spray and swoop down and EW transmit/fire chaff when a threat emerges?
It’s very possible that Leonardo’s Britecloud may see service onboard ships soon. This can do everything Nulka can do RF wise but better and in a much smaller package. A launch vehicle for the jammer will need sorting, as the current explosive squip, is not powerful enough to launch it any significant distance. There have been images of Britecloud using a parawing, but how and what it was launched by were not included. But raises the possibility that a ship variant is being looked at.
The image provide by our good friend X shows low impact from the main unit. Vertical launch helps too
They are chunky units. But there is lots of space on today’s big hulls.
The hangar is useful after all as it has ‘roof real estate’ !
It is still a shed. Stepping things towards the centrer is betterer. Look at some of the US Terrier and Tartar hulls.
The only person who likes hangars beyond the flight is the club swinger who sees it has his mini-sports hall……….
yes , 1950s and 60s designs were like that. But an advanced new design was laid down in 1959 that has set the pattern since
Some since have even placed the VL tubes beside or in front of the hangar,
This country tried the no hangar but still a landing area for a while , but decided on the error of their ways and slotted in one hangar each side
Having Hangers on Ships is one thing but having enough Helicopters to fill them is another….. We have neither enough Ship Hangers nor Helicopters to Park in them really.
How about just dangling something from a small quadcopter?
If it is active it needs power.
The chaff needs to disperse into something that look, to the incoming, like a warship….
A packet of crisps and a can of beer will do it
The RN has had trainable launchers the 3″ Corvus launchers for throwing out distraction chaff. From experience they had issues with among other things the electrics, barrel loaded switches and firing cables.
Superseded by firstly SRBOC and then DLH they removed the troublesome barrel loaded switches by using magnetic reed switches and the firing pulse is done by an induction coil coupling between the barrel and round. No training or elevation movement required as the barrels are bolted to plinths on the deck. It is simple, has little to go wrong with it and pretty much Jack Proof. (Stand fast the really small shear pins in the barrel/round clamp mechanism!)
Trainable launchers will speed up reaction times . However trainable launchers have moving parts and complexity so there is more to break, fail and go wrong. Looking at the videos there are a lot of pistons, hinges, pivots etc to keep greased up and free of salt encrusting.
You will still be reliant on the unsung but critical system inputs of Wind Speed and Direction from Anemometers and ship speed from the Log for getting the chaff seed patterns deployed correctly. Lose those inputs and the soft kill systems automation of chaff seeding is degraded
In total agreement, looks sexy but more moving parts and potential failure points may make this an issue for availability and maintenance. How useful is it if the training drive breaks
The problem with decoys, as demonstrated during the Falklands conflict, is that if an escort vessel does manage to decoy an incoming missile away from themselves, it will just seek out a new target, which is likely to be the vessel they were there to protect. In a peer conflict, it might be worthwhile considering Q ships, expendable vessels configured to appear like a major target and able to soak up incoming missiles.
Do you like to be the expendable target soaking up missiles?
This is something those much vaunted drones could do…………
Agreed that a lost missile is still a dangerous proposition for a fleet / carrier group!
This is why, after that lesson from the Falklands, the RN classifies AShMs as threats that require a hard kill response too- regardless of success of passives.
This is apparently different to the USN (at least Gulf War era), who felt that passive decoys were sufficient, and RN escorts ended up shooting down an Iraqi missile or two that would have caused problems if they hadn’t.
If the RN’s policy is to shoot down the missile anyway, even if it has lost lock, then probably less need for Q ships.
I have an uncomfortable feeling that radar guided SSM’s will decline in favor of imaging infra-red.
It is worth remembering that your average IR based air to air missile (AIM-9, ASRAMM, Iris-T) now has a seeker that can identify aircraft shapes and target particular parts of the shape.
The Naval Strike Missile (replacing Harpoon in many navies) uses IR with passive RF as a backup. Such new missiles are going to be very hard to counter with either Chaff or flares.
More and more it is going to be complex decoys or hard kill.
You can have imaging with radar. Next SSM’s will have AESA radars with SAR capabilities.
Standard chaff clouds will be obsolete in 10-20 years for top peers.
It won’t be long before these missiles can actually see a ship and know what it is they are looking at.
With speed AI is advancing it can be already today. Public don’t have access to black programs. So even what i said above might be “pessimistic”
There have been a few ‘camera systems’ down the years.
I am sure we are close. But not quite. That is we may have something that can do it that is ‘fridge’ sized (for want of something to compare) but not quite something we could stick on the front of missile.
I seem to remember they might be able discriminate what is the ‘centre’ of the target they are homing in on as thats the the sweet spot for a substantial warhead to cause major damage. I dont know if this is the actual case anymore.
Search for this image caption in Google
It is an image from 10 years ago. And obviously we are not in top secret stuff.
Armour drones that line themselves between the incoming ordnance and the ship will eventually come into use. A 10×10 grid of them each equipped with a square shield might defend against all manner of physical threats.
They tried something similar at the start of WW2 to ‘catch’ incoming aircraft – Unrotated projectiles they were called
‘A small cordite charge was used to ignite a rocket motor which propelled the fin-stabilised 7 in-diameter (18 cm) rocket out of the tube to a distance of about 1,000 ft (300 m), where it exploded and released an 8.4 oz (240 g) mine attached to three parachutes by 400 ft (120 m) of wire. An aeroplane hitting the wire would draw the mine towards itself, where it would detonate.’
HMS Nelson 1940. The flaws werent obvious at the time , but yours are
What particular flaws do you have in mind?
The Multi Ammunition Softkill System (MASS) is a trainable launcher connected to ship sensors by launching decoys that operate in all relevant wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum: ultraviolet, electro-optical, laser, infrared, and radar.
1: Multi Ammunition Softkill System (MASS) is becoming popular now. How about combining SeaGnat with MASS. Former for early phase chaff/flare, and latter for close-in use?
2: IR-imaging homing missile is a bit of problem, I can see. But, at the same time, such an imaging homing can my soft-killed by proper smoke and/or chaff-IR-reflector with numerous flares. Just wait for such system to be developed.
More the thing is that IR sensors/detectors can be saturated by a very intense source such that they are not able to discriminate.
The only way round that is by using a very large, very heavy, very hard to calibrate and very expensive prism(s) systems such as, for example; Calcium Flouride (200-7000nm); Zinc Selenide (600 -18000nm) or Germanium (2000-14000nm) so as to try and separate the wavelength(s) of interest to a narrow band away from likely flare IR frequencies. OK you don’t really want to use prism optics in a missile but it does for the schoolboy level physics analogy!
The only issue is that if your opposition knows which prism you have fitted then they will, pretty much, know how to saturated the detector by using flares that saturate that range of frequencies.
There is also the tiny problem of needing to keep the ‘prism’ optics dead dry as they are hygroscopic!
As ever having multiple means of targeting and comparing the data is the way forwards as you cannot fool all of the sensors all of the time.
I should have added that this was why industrial sapphire was/is used for some IR applications. Sapphire has good mechanical strenght and does not need to be specially protected and so can be the outside object on the nose of the missile.
But it too has its own limitation(s).
There is a way around IR seeker saturation overload, which is through digital blinking. The blink rate and duration can be controlled. This is a system that has been in use for quite a while. Some of the first systems to use it were aircraft missile approach warning systems (MAWs). As it was found that when the MAWs detected a threat, it would then deploy flares, but then blind itself, due to the flare’s intensity. By blinking it allows the seeker’s sensor to reset and not be overloaded. Then to see beyond the flare as its intensity wanes and extinguishes.
This process is also being used in missiles that use IR sensors, ASRAAM for example.
Aircraft launched flares are becoming obsolescent, As when they deploy, they don’t mimic an aircraft’s flight profile. Which means a missile with a moving target algorithm can quickly distinguish between an aircraft and a flare or pattern of flares.
Apart from a kinetic kill. The more effective method is through directed infrared countermeasures (DIRCM). This gets round the missile seekers blink capability by having a much longer duration than a flare, where the light intensity is more focused on the seeker. DIRCM uses a highly focused IR light source. It is being replaced with a laser-based system (LIRCM), e.g. Leonardo Miysis.
With older missile IR seekers, you could pulse the DIRCM, which made the missile believe the target was moving away. Which then made the missile turn away towards where it thought the target was. Today’s Imaging infrared sensors are not so easily fooled. They require the sensor be constantly lit up and overloaded. The missile will then either fly on a straight path or towards the last known position of its target. Today’s DIRCM/LIRCM do not have the strength to burn out the seeker. Though that is likely to change in the future with the adaption of more powerful lasers.
Presumably the future is AI drones
Spot on! Think out of the box.
Drone with decoys but must be quick reactions.
Once in the air the drones can be coordinated to do some very clever things
I think we should be looking to add aircraft style missile approach warning systems to ships and linking this to DEW to blind EO missiles. This should be backed up by ECM/ECCM on ships and perhaps on towed platforms behind the ship to avoid lock-on-jam targeting.
It is quite clear that chaff/flares fired from ships no longer provide good protection.
That was a done deal long ago and the pinnacle of that was the development of the SAMPSON radar/threat suite.
It is already linked to ECM and the soft kill systems etc
That software then lives in a CMS module that can be ported and used with other capable radars.
This discussion is about the effectors that are then loosed off in response.
The right kind of chaff and flares with ECM can be surprisingly effective. The main thing is to mess up as many of the incoming weapons sensors as possible, at the same time, so the missile gets confused about what is real and what is a ghost.
Regarding the MTLS updates on the 8 A/S Type 23, could it be the intention to migrate these to the 8 Type 26 rather than order additional units?