Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Reconsidering The Cormorant

A few days ago, I blogged about a DARPA concept for a sub-launced Multi-Purpose Unmanned Aerial Vehicle called the "Cormorant". I didn't like the idea very much, because I was concerned that the submarine would be vulnerable to attack when retrieving the MPUAV. Some people a lot smarter than me have convinced me to give it a second look, though, and I've decided it might be feasible.

Here's why: I'm used to the 21" vertical tubes on SSNs, so I didn't really think about how much bigger an SSBN (or SSGN, in this case) launch tube is; in fact, it's much bigger (I think it's 86 inches). This means that the MPUAV will probably be big enough to be both stealthy and fast; therefore, it should be able to reach the recovery area covertly, which would lessen the chance that an enemy would be able to track it to splashdown. Therefore, I think the system could work, and DARPA has what I'm sure it was waiting for: a random blogger's permission to proceed.

I'm just hoping that DARPA is also working on another system that could use the same basic deployment system that subs really need more than anything: a viable sub-launched anti-air missile system. Not only would being able to deploy a near-surface nest of anti-air missiles that could shoot down hovering helicopters or annoying MPAs be tactically useful, it would also seriously kick ass. Totally.

Going deep...


Blogger Zoe Brain said...

Ah, the Holy Grail of submarine weapons, the sub-launched SAM.

The only one to see active service (apart from various GRAIL and more modern systems on Russki subs) was the Vickers SLAM. Its main use was not AAW, but dealing with Boghammers, Zodiacs and that ilk, for which a Mk48 really isn't appropriate.

The trouble is, Ops Research continues to say 2 things: first, that the benefit of such a system, even if Pk is close to 1.0, isn't worth converting a POSSUB into a CERTSUB. Second, that Sub Skippers, being the aggressive B*stards they are, are really poor at judging when to go deep and clear the area, and when to have a shot, even if geometry isn't good.

An encapsulated MICA or Sidewinder equivalent will take up volume equivalent to 0.5 HWTs. Again, Ops Research suggests that giving up, say, 2 HWT for 4 iffy SAMs is not a good idea.

Mast-mounted clusters, or reloadables from magazines in the sail, are tricky to keep airtight at depth, and maintenance is a nightmare. Rockets burn hot : VL tubes in ballast tanks can have blowout panels, but a really hot fire in the sail, right next to all the optronics, radar, comms, EW etc could ruin your whole day.

Summary: this is Hard. The Blowpipe Cluster, replaced by laser-guided weapons such as Hellfire or RBS-90 would be a good "Zodiac Basher" and scarecrow, making MPA pilots nervous, and MAD runs something of an adventure. But you'd be lucky to get a Pk on air targets above 0.5.

My own concept - slightly positively buoyant canisters, fitted with acoustic/IR sensors, and a short-range TOW-like missile.

Drop a few of these around, with say, 10 minute delays for activation and a 6-hour life, and you'd get as good or better Scarecrow effects as well as Hard Kills. It would also allow time to clear the datum.

Signature of these would be not much larger than a fullsize sonobuoy or XBT, (probably too big for an SSE though), and could be carried externally in the casing, minimising safety risks. In case of failure, stealth wouldn't be compromised.

But... you don't get the Coolness factor of watching the Helo get splashed through the scope. Might get it on Sonar though, unless running at Flank.

Wish I had a dollar for every submariner who'd asked for one though.

1/04/2006 2:59 AM

Blogger Zoe Brain said...

As an addendum...

Personally, I always differed from my colleagues. I figured my job was to give the submariners what they asked for, not to tell them they didn't need it.

Even though that's what the numbers said, or rather, shouted loudly, 20+ years ago. Things may have changed.

No-one talked to the MPA pilots and Helo crews and asked how their tactics would change if just a proportion of the OPFOR had this capability.

But I better shut up before I say too much.

<rant mode = "on">One remark : I think all COs of any unit involved in ASW sould have some service time on both Subs and surface vessels, plus MPAs and Helos, just to appreciate the problems each has, and how to exploit the other party's weaknesses, and minimise their strengths.

Scumbag Contractors and DSTO/DARPA weenies should also have some time at sea, and learn to listen to those misfortunate enough to be lumbered with their kit. I speak as a Scumbag Contractor myself.

"Well, it looked good in theory" doesn't cut it when brave people are depending on us to give them what they need to do their job.

</rant mode>

1/04/2006 3:30 AM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

Thanks for the info. With this Cormorant launch system, even if they could have a loitering subsurface SAM battery dropped off by the sub, you'd still have the problem of the sub having a secure and reliable method of telling the missiles when to launch and where to look when it launched. And if you can't even watch the helo get blowed up... well, no one wants to miss that part of it.

1/04/2006 6:56 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

We are working on a "Littoral Warfare Weapon" - essentially a reconfigured Sidewinder to attack aircraft and very small skimmers. Did a successful shore test earlier this year (shot down a helo). Stand and fight in the littorals, baby. It's got money behind it.

1/04/2006 8:14 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember a big stir a couple of decades ago when a surfaced Tango sported a "suspected small SAM" atop the sail. The P-3 weanies were all in a serious tizzy even though it was soon apparent someone was engaging in some cheap entertainment.
A close examination of the photos though showed some ear to ear grins on the Soviet "sewer pipers".

1/04/2006 10:54 AM

Blogger Chap said...

Zoe, as usual, has some great observations. She's right in her rant but our culture doesn't allow it--we learned *lots* when I got our sonarmen and radiomen to ride a P-3 for a flight--and what the guys learned came in handy one day. But I had to fight tooth and nail to let that happen, the guys had to want to do it for their own edification, and it's unusual. Which is a damned shame.

On Kam we had room for all sorts of stuff. One tube of ordnance just for the SEALs and we had enough in there to invade Belize. I'm talking dozens of tons of ordnance.

Dry Deck Shelters aren't shabby in terms of what they can carry, either. That DDS mod is similar to the first Regulus missile shelters and Japan's I-400 airplane hangar. Trident tubes, though vertical, are much longer. Lots of space if you do it right for interesitng things. Funding is an issue, though--spend a dollar on ten things and none of them come to maturity--and we're obligated to certain capabilities for SSGN right now.

I hate it when I can't remember if something is classified or not, so something interesting may or may not go here.

I would look deeper into NAVSEA's SUBTECH organization. DARPA is high tech risk stuff. Ever read an old Popular Science and notice how nothing they predicted ever showed up that way? That's DARPA. SUBTECH starts with things that have a certain level of technical maturity (usually a handoff from places like DARPA) and builds a path to get it on ships. Look at SUBTECH, seriously. Their stuff will show up on the ships; other things likely won't.

1/04/2006 7:39 PM

Blogger PigBoatSailor said...

I feel your pain, Chap.

I will, however, add, that we are more than just thinking about UAV's off of subs. As Willy posted last August, we are already playing around with them at sea. Ok, we have to be surfaced to do it at the moment, but baby steps, you know?

1/05/2006 8:48 AM

Anonymous Big D said...

The sub-launched SAM always sounded like a neat idea, but like Zoe said, it has problems with implementation and tactics.

However, it may be a moot point in 10 years--put a laser cannon on a mast, and zap whatever you like as often as you like.

1/09/2006 7:07 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Basically a stolen U.S. idea for a Fiber Optic Guided-Missile. Which Euromissile/EADS have taken to sea and given a range of about 60-70km. It is supposedly operational on the latest 212 series boat out of Germany as an antihelo/FPB weapon.

Gives you a quiet tether and Penguin like ability to find PCI/FAC-M type nuissance threats deep in the inshore boundary without radar bouncing off the walls of every fjorden as you check the fathometer bottom read.

It /may/ also reach inland far enough to be marginally useful.

IMO, the real answer however is two-fold:

1. Blue Light Comms Buoys.
2. Encapsulated Turbo SAMs.

There is _absolutely_ no reason to be at PD inshore. Indeed, IMO, there is very little justification for bringing either a 350 or 560ft boat into less than 500ft of littoral waters.

Missiles Miss. A given SSPH fraction of the time. That's why they call them that. BUT a weapon that flew like MALD (Mach 1.4 for 5 minutes or Mach .85 for 20-30) could provide 'formating' kill options.

While launching from a CAPTOR like robotic swimmer that was only long enough to enclose a 6'X7" missile body. Don't use it? Sink or recover (preferrably by cheap-net means).

Don't want to go emplace it? Swim the sucker in and make a veritable spiders web of netted firepower/comms relay nodes around you.

Get tagged by a threat that can _literally_ see your mighty-big-shark outline against the sands underneath? Fire a weapon which is NOT at your location but which can bank and turn like a fighter as it comes creepsy traipsing up alongside the MPA or Helos cockpit window. A handgrenade in the pilot's ear is worth ten times the weight of an annular blast chainsaw cutting the airframe in half.

CAUSE the shot to happen with a laser link to a CDL (UHF/C/X/Ku) buoy that makes it possible to _do both_ evade and fire back. Again with no acoustics (beyond flank ahead) to give one self away as a function of stay-and-die-fighting or run-and-die-tired alternatives.

DISCRETION is not bringing a bloody (ex)boomer inshore people.

Anything past that is desparation in action already.


P.S. You were right the first time on Cormorant. If only because all that counter-crush/counter salt foam and seal garbage is going to leave very little mission equipment package space and the difference between recovering a mine-CAPTOR like enclosure and a what, 30X11ft Trident-Tube-Drone with /another/ (equal mass) swimmer is simply 'HUGE'.

Not only that, but the stuff I read hints at in-the-tube servicing and rearm. No way in blank you should have 1,000 gallons of JP-8 and 100 microbombs (GBU-39, LOCAAS, whatever) plus _wet access_ inside the hull. That's just beyond dumb.

Go with a bigger Sea Ferret as emergency throaway targeting and accept the reality that the Sub is a freakin' bus. It drives the naughty kidlings to within 500nm of school and they then FLY IN to burn it down. Under the control of somebody looking at satellite feed off a separate drone which should be VTOL recoverable (any fishing boat) for loitering ISR/RISTA but not out of a damn missile tube on 2 billion dollar boat.

Dump the 'submarization' features and your options for fuel and mission suite and other-area platform sophistication (JPALS and autoland) go up about 10 fold.

What this comes down to is the oppression of the air navy not wanting to provide anything that isn't manned and being too thin on a scum on the water to be where they need to be, discretely.

If the HG&U Navy could gird it's shorts and defeat the CVN admirals 'air dominance' by putting a real UCAV on an FFG or LCS, a LOT of this idiocy would square itself away, on obviousness of common sense alternative.

Instead, you have agencies like DARPA trying to do their job for them and LOSING (J-UCAS) over and over again to the establishment policies of Tammany Hall power politick.

2/23/2006 1:17 AM


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