SDSR 2015 – Issues, analysis and recommendations going towards the review
Royal Air Force
Beyond Harpoon and Storm Shadow (and Tomahawk too...?)
The Tomahawk problem
Not everyone has taken notice of the fact that Tomahawk was / is about to go out of production. The 2016 US Navy Budget request had a ZERO at the voice “Tomahawk”, with no new rounds to be procured. Eventually, Congress stepped in and added funding for a new TLAM purchase to keep the production line open a bit longer.
However, the expanded defence budget crafted by Congress goes well above the amount of money that the Obama administration wants to spend, and the president has vetoed it.
Eventually, days ago a bipartisan agreement on spending limits for the next two financial years has been reached, meaning that the worst scenario will be avoided… but also meaning that the 2016 defence budget is going back to the table for corrections meant to shave 5 billion dollars off the list. The unrequested TLAM production might or might not survive the re-examination of the budget document.
TLAM might soon be out of production, and this consideration might have helped the Royal Navy in getting some funding to procure "additional Tomahawks", as mentioned in passing in the 10 Year Equipment Plan, 2015 edition. 65 TLAM rounds were requested in July 2014 and authorized by the US government, but there is news of only 20 having been effectively purchased, in september the same year.
If production ends, the Royal Navy will then have to depend on its stock, which is unfortunately pretty limited (it once consisted of 65 missiles, might be a few more now) and all composed of encapsulated missiles meant for submarine, torpedo-tube launch.
No Vertical Launch rounds in stock mean that, if production closes, the TLAM will NOT be an option for Type 26, unless the RN is able to convince the US Navy to sell some of its stock (far larger, numbering possibly up to 4000 rounds).
A major US (and UK participated) upgrade and refurbishment programme for TLAM is indeed about to start, but production of new rounds might be over soon. It will be, unless plans change in the next 2 financial years or so.
Under the current US Navy planning, recertification of existing TLAM rounds (and technology insertion) begins in 2019, using already existing TLAM stocks, with no new acquisitions.
Meanwhile, the Tomahawk successor, the Next Generation Land Attack Weapon (NGLAW) received a first 5 million funding line in 2015 with this motivation:
Funding is provided for a Next Generation Land Attack Weapon (NGLAW), a weapons system that is long range, survivable and can be launched from multiple surface and submarine platforms. NGLAW will incorporate evaluated existing and emergent technologies to support an improved strike capability with an Initial Operational Capability (IOC) no later than 2024.
This effort will enter the Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) phase of the acquisition cycle in FY15. Upon completion, the Department of the Navy will assess the results of the AoA and make a determination on a preferred material approach, the phase of the acquisition cycle the program will enter, and when the NGLAW weapon will achieve IOC.
"Amusingly" enough, by the time the Royal Navy chooses what to do with the MK41 on Type 26, the TLAM production line might be closed already, making Tomahawk actually a non viable solution.
There is the possibility that Congress will impede the US Navy’s attempt to terminate Tomahawk purchases exactly as it impedes the USAF from grounding the A-10 fleet. But it might also not happen.
There is the possibility that TLAM will evolve and change face to become NGLAW and succeed to itself with a new, advanced variant and with production restarting within a few years. But it might also not happen.
The Royal Navy is involved in the Tomahawk enterprise and in the recertification and upgrade programme, but is unlikely to have much of a say in what happens with US Navy purchases and successor plans.
The Royal Navy itself could keep the TLAM production line open for an additional year if it purchased a significant number of rounds (above 100), either in the submarine variant or VL variant, or both. But this will require quick thinking and available money.
If indecision continues to win the day, the Royal Navy risks to fall in the gap between the end of TLAM production and the start of the production of the new US land attack missile, whatever it ends up being.
A sizeable extension to the Royal Navy’s stock of Tomahawk missiles is arguably a strategic priority regardless of the Type 26’s armament decision. In fact, the TLAM is going to be in use for at least 15 more years after the recertification. But while the US Navy can live off a vast stock, consuming it over time and filling the holes with the new Land Attack weapon when it enters in production, the Royal Navy can’t live long on the current stock. 60 – 100 missiles can be fired very, very quickly if a major operation, or several small ones, take place in the next few years.
Basic prudence suggests that a significant expansion of the stock is indispensable to make sure that the RN doesn’t run out of one of its most important and most often used weapons years before a replacement is available.
A decision will also be needed for shaping the post-Tomahawk era.
One major capability development for TLAM Is the cooperatively funded US Navy/United Kingdom Joint Multi-Effects Warhead System (JMEWS) / Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD). The JMEWS introduces much greater capability against Hard and Buried targets, while retaining the same blast-fragmentation effects already available. This new multi-effect warhead, first demonstrated in 2010 with perforation of a target protected by reinforced concrete, would greatly expand the range of targets that TLAM can effectively destroy.
Other enhancements in development include multiple or multi-band antennas, an integrated single box solution radio and Third-Party In-Flight Targeting (3PT). These changes enable the Tomahawk to fly attack profiles that increase its chances of surviving against complex air defence systems; allow the missile to send imagery back to base and permit the missile to loiter and be re-targeted in flight.
Experiments stateside have included TLAM retargeting from an F-22 Raptor in flight, providing a glimpse of the possibilities that would be opened by F-35s working with TLAMs as “wingmen”.
JMEWS and these enhancements are almost certainly going to be part of TLAM’s future, ensuring it remains relevant for another 15 years after 2019.
Separately, Raytheon is continuing to work on the Multi Mission Tomahawk concept, which introduces an active radar seeker (in addition to the existing guidance system) to enable much expanded moving target (and anti-ship) capability. The RF seeker is another element that could be included in the 2019 refurbishment and recertification programme. Raytheon hopes to win the US Navy’s interest (and funding), and is effectively pitching the Tomahawk MMT against LRASM and JSM for the US Navy’s Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare (OASuW) Increment 2 requirement. Lockheed Martin's LRASM for now has only been selected for OASuW Increment 1, which is an urgent programme for adding improved, modern anti-ship capability on U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers.
Increment 2 will address the requirements for an advanced, autonomous, anti-ship missile capable of being launched from the air, surface and sub-surface, and the solution for the requirement has yet to be selected.
The Future Cruise & Anti-Ship Weapon
The FCASW has been on the list of potential joint UK-FR projects since the Lancaster House agreement. It is a programme name that has been around for a while, but that has made virtually no progress since. Its long-term aim is to replace Harpoon, Exocet and Storm Shadow / Scalp.
Replacing Tomahawk and Scalp Navale is going to be more a problem, because of the strike range: the 2000 + kilometers range of TLAM is what makes it truly a strategic weapon, and any downgrade to that reach reduces the number of targets that can be reached far inland from launch zones out at sea. FCASW might or might not attempt to generate the same kind of strike radius: it will most likely depend on early decisions that hinge on how to sustain and then replace the TLAM capability. If the UK decides to follow the US efforts in that area, then Tomahawk replacement will not figure among FCASW requirements.
Jane's is reporting that there should be a first phase of joint concept studies starting next year, and a technology demonstrator in 2019 if we are lucky. Assuming that the british SDSR goes the go ahead and confirms the funding, things should start moving.
When FCASW is mentioned, the temptation is to think of the MBDA Perseus concept weapon, but while the Perseus is pretty likely to be considered as part of the exercise, the concept coming out of the study could actually end up being much, much different.
The CvS401 Perseus was MBDA’s Concept Weapon for the year 2011, and it clearly was inspired by the FCASW requirement: it was presented as a cruise missile capable of extremely high speed (up to Mach 3) and a range of 250 – 300 km. It was shown with a “triple” warhead consisting of a main explosive charge (around 200 kg) within the missile and two small (40 – 50 kg) inertial-guided, droppable “effectors” that could be used to strike a ship in multiple places with the same weapon; to hit multiple targets in the same area or simply to act as a large unitary warhead when necessary.
The missile would be able to cruise and attack from high altitude or to sea skim for maximum effect against enemy warships, and it would come with a multi-sensor seeker combining AESA radar, LIDAR and semi-active laser guidance.
It would be a multi-platform weapon, compatible with ships (MK41 and Sylver A70); submarines (standard 533mm torpedo tubes); aircraft and land-based launchers.
The Perseus was clearly aimed at the UK-Fr requirement, but it remains a concept which has not left the CGIs yet, and calling the Future Cruise and Anti Ship Missile "Perseus" and expecting it to have the same kind of characteristics is a wild guess. Perseus promises a lot from an 800 kg weapon, and it looks like a complex and expensive system. Some of its features might not be part of the actual weapon emerging from the joint programme (assuming it does eventually emerge).
Perseus’s 300 km range also makes it way too short legged to ever be considered a fitting replacement of Tomahawk and Scalp Navale.
|Perseus shown while ejecting its two sub-munitions.|
The FCASW concept phase will have to answer to a number of questions about range, warhead, seeker and intended strategy for penetrating inside highly defended bubbles of airspace. The Mach 3 speed of Perseus is particularly suited for anti-ship attack, as a sea-skimming, highly supersonic weapon leaves the targeted ship with a tiny timeframe available for attempting to shoot down or decoy the missile off target.
On the other hand, a high supersonic missile inexorably loses out part of its stealthness, as speed means heat (and higher IR signature) and also requires an optimization of the aerodynamics design that precludes obtaining the lowest radar cross section.
More speed and less stealth, or the other way around? LRASM settled for stealthness. FCASW might go in another direction.
But if speed is chosen, Mach 3 might be a rather modest target: while in the West supersonic anti-ship missiles haven’t had much space so far, in Russia and in Asia several supersonic weapons already exist. The Mach 3 Russia-India BramHos missile is already operational, and research is already moving on towards the hypersonic real, with speeds of Mach 5 and higher.
FCASW would risk to achieve high supersonic speed when the rest of the world achieves hypersonic speed, perpetuating the missile disadvantage.
Another problem with Perseus /FCASW is that the date being suggested for ISD back in 2011 was 2030.
2030 might be acceptable for the RAF and Armee de l’Air and even for the Marine Nationale, since the first two can life-extend Storm Shadow / Scalp and the second is just now putting into service the latest block evolution of the Exocet and the new Scalp Navale cruise missile.
The Royal Navy has more urgent needs, considering that it still uses the ancient Harpoon Block 1C (with a 2018 OSD and an uncertain future); is faced by the possibility that TLAM production will end within two years and is planning to put in service a new frigate type beginning in 2022 that comes with 24 MK41 cells but not with a clear plan to achieve an anti-ship and land attack capability.
The urgent needs of the navy and the uncertainties of UK-Fr cooperation (Telemos is still fresh in the memory) bring forth painful questions about what to do. The FCASW concept of a single weapon able to do it all is fascinating and comes with the plus of keeping british industrial capabilities alive.
On the other hand, the US solution to both the Tomahawk and anti-ship problems will likely be ready earlier and, due to the large US purchases, might come cheaper and with a production line open for many years.
Two programmes might be needed: a collaboration with the US on the post-Tomahawk; and the FCASW for the post-Harpoon and post-Storm Shadow.
The Harpoon problem
Aside from money, one problem with replacing Harpoon is the different design philosophies followed by the vessels of the fleet. The Type 23 cannot be equipped with a vertical-launch anti-ship missile, but is not going to be completely out of service before 2036.
The Type 45 could move on from Harpoon to a VL system, but only if the space reservation was used and two MK41 Strike Length modules (with a total of 16 cells) were slotted in. This might at some point happen when Ballistic Missile Defense becomes not a “nice to have” but a “must have”. As detailed in the previous article, the Royal Navy has already been putting work into BMD software for the Type 45 and has also funded a study into the addition of the MK41 modules and the integration of the SM-3 anti-ballistic missile.
In the meanwhile, four of the Type 45s are (slowly) being retrofitted with Harpoon, using the launchers and missiles taken from the decommissioned Type 22 Batch 3 ships. As of today, HMS Duncan and HMS Diamond have received their fit.
It is possible, but not certain) that all six Type 45s will receive the computers and wiring back-end that make Harpoon work, allowing the rapid transfer of the launcher blocks from one to the other.
The incoming Type 26, on the other hand, does not seem to have provisions to ever embark a missile unless it is vertically launched from the 24 MK41 cells.
Today, there are many western anti-ship missiles that are fired from above-deck tubes, but there is very little choice in terms of vertical launch ASMs. This is going to change, at least in part, due to the renewed US Navy interest for anti-ship missiles.
The US LRASM is thus taking shape, and Norway intends to have a go at the US opportunity by developing its Joint Strike Missile for vertical and torpedo tube launch. The JSM will also be integrated for internal and external carriage on the F-35A and, if selected by the US Navy, could go on the F-35C as well. On the F-35B, internal carriage is not possible as the bays are 14 inches shorter, but external carry is an option. The FCASW will also be required to be compatible with vertical launch.
It is reasonable to assume that over the next decade or so, the availability of VL missiles will increase, while over-deck tubes will fall progressively out of fashion.
The problem, however, remains: it is hard to imagine the Royal Navy funding two anti-ship missiles at once (it is already hard enough to see it finding the money for one), so the option is arming the Type 26 and disarming Type 23s and, at least for a while, the 45s; or leaving the Type 26 itself without an anti-ship missile.
Given the obsolescence of the Harpoon and its single-mission nature, it would seem logic to procure a more capable and dual-role missile for use on the Type 26 and, subsequently, Type 45, even if it means accepting the loss of ASMs on the Type 23 while they have still more than a decade of service ahead of them.
But if FCASW continues to aim for the distant 2030, the Royal Navy will have to consider a big Harpoon life-extension, or an interim ASM solution with an off-the-shelf missile, or deal with well over a decade of nothing.
Storm Shadow Mid Life Upgrade
France has confirmed in its Financial Law for 2016 that the defence budget will include money to start the Scalp mid life upgrade. Originally, this was to be another joint programme, with the RAF interested in life-extending its Storm Shadow missiles, close “relatives” of the French Scalp. It is possible to find news of joint studies and technology developments dating back to 2004 if not earlier. Finally, for France at least, the actual upgrade might be about to start.
Requirements and aspirations voiced in the past years included a two-way data link for in-flight retargeting and a different seeker. At one point, the DUMAS (Dual Mode Active IR and Imaging IR Seeker), result of a joint UK – FR technology demonstration programme, was expected to be part of the MLU. DUMAS combined an active infrared scanning laser and a passive infrared detector which, used in conjunction with sophisticated algorithms, provided detection, imaging and accurate identification.
No information is coming out from the MOD at the moment, but it is pretty likely that the RAF will still want to exploit the chance to share the costs involved in life-extending Storm Shadow.
Despite writing off more than 200 million in Storm Shadow holdings after the 2010 review, reportedly. Which might mean having reduced the stock by 200 missiles or so...