Naval Guns

Naval Surface Fires and the Land Battle

The US Navy is expanding its capabilities to conduct operations in the littoral regions of the world and to project power from the sea to achieve naval objectives and support joint forces operating over and on land. This new thrust comes from the strategic concept implemented by the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps in the 1994 paper "Forward ... From the Sea."

This article, by O. Kelly Blosser, appeared on pages 46-50 of the September-October 1996 issue of FA Journal

The Navy must remain the dominant naval force in the maritime or "blue water" regions of the world where the US has special interests or allies. In addition, strategic employment of the sea services, including the Marine Corps, is now being focused on naval expeditionary force operations over a continuum from peacetime forward presence through crisis response to regional conflict.

In concert with the strategic concept for naval force employment, an over-arching concept of naval fires is being developed by the Naval Doctrine Command to guide the future development and use of naval weapons to project power near and over land in the littorals. Components of naval fires include carrier- and land-based tactical aviation and their air-to-ground weaponry and naval surface combatants and submarines launching tactical land attack weapons. Mobile Marine Corps artillery batteries employed as elements in a rapidly maneuvering expeditionary force also could be considered a naval fires component.

Naval surface combatants, including cruisers and destroyers, the focus of this article, are key components of this new drive to increase the Navy's ability to project power from the sea in the littoral environment. The Tomahawk land attack missile (TLAM) launched from surface combatants and submarines is a proven weapon for strike missions. Naval gunfire from surface combatants is one of three traditional supporting arms for amphibious assault operations.

For the future, new surface shiplaunched land attack weapons are being developed or adapted for land attack, and mission planning and coordination capabilities will be improved to provide a true joint capability. The scope of operations for this system will include independent surface strikes from the sea, fire support for Marine Corps or joint amphibious operations and fires supporting the air-land battle. Naval surface-launched weapons will contribute to the land battle as well as to expeditionary operations in the littorals.

Traditional Naval Gunfire Support

In our history, naval firepower from surface combatants contributed to the success of military actions in nearly all littoral operations. Naval guns from destroyers, cruisers and battleships were employed to destroy and disrupt enemy shore defenses in support of amphibious assault operations, conduct shore bombardment missions against enemy coastal installations and transportation and, occasionally, to support a maritime flank of a land campaign.

Traditional naval gunfire fire support (NGFS) encompassed all naval guns from 3-inch to 16-inch to support amphibious operations and contribute to the land battle (as long as the objectives were on or near the coast). Navy surface combatants today have one or two 5-inch/54-caliber gun Mark 45 guns with ballistic ammunition that can fire to a maximum range of about 14 nautical miles (NM) but with a much shorter effective range for precision fire.

The newest Arleigh Burke (DDG-51 Class) destroyers have a modem fire control system. Using global positioning systems (GPS), these ships can obtain a precise fix on their own positions instead control system. Using global positioning systems (GPS), these ships can obtain a precise fix on their own positions instead of using dead reckoning or navigational references in in-shore waters.

Courtesy of United Defense
Artist's conception of the new 5-inch/54 Mark 45 gun shield configuration; modifications to the gun will allow it to fire the ERGM 63 NM.

However, fire support planning and coordination on the most modern cruiser and destroyer are still accomplished with a plot team and charts. Voice or naval text-formatted teletype messages provide communications between separate elements of the organization. Coordination conducted by the supporting arms coordination center (SACC) on amphibious command ships is done much as it was done in World War 11; it's a manual, man-intensive operation using charts, maps, overlays and 3x5-inch file cards.

The Marine Corps is attempting to bring automated support aboard some amphibious command ships by installing its initial fire support automation system (IFSAS). However, while IFSAS can communicate with other fire support elements (FSEs) via several commo systems, current Marine and Navy architectures aboard amphibious ships only support an IFSAS interface through the VHF single-channel ground and air radio system (SINCGARS).

Naval Surface Fire Support

In 21st century concepts of warfighting, our current naval weapons and the planning and coordination process, communications and organization will be inadequate in range, firepower and response to support operations from a seabase. The Marine Corps' new doctrine of Operational Maneuver From the Sea (OMFTS) stresses the use of rapid, decisive action with firepower and maneuver from the sanctuary of a seabase. US Army combat in the 21st century will be characterized by "full-dimensional operations" over an expanded battlefield; depth, simultaneous attack and the use of decisive firepower to support dominant maneuver are the underpinnings of the Force XXI concept.

In response to these new requirements, NGFS has been replaced in the naval lexicon by naval surface fire support (NSFS) to denote the expanded role asked of surface combatants. NSFS is the "fire provided by navy surface gun, missile and electronic warfare systems in support of a unit or units tasked with achieving the commander's objectives" (Joint Pub 3-02 Joint Doctrine for Amphibious Operations).

Weapon systems are being developed to provide surface combatants a greatly expanded capability to place ordnance rapidly and precisely on and around the expanded battlefield of the future. The concept of a system of systems is very applicable to the problem of evolving NGFS systems to the NSFS system of the future. Advances in the technology will give us effective weapons, and the judicious adaptation of other joint systems could provide automated mission planning and fire coordination. Adapting joint systems would allow us to operate "seamlessly" with Marine and joint land forces to provide firepower when and where needed.

The development of these new weapons is being paced by a program of critical experiments and demonstrations aimed at modernizing Navy tools for planning and coordination. Weapon development has the momentum provided by funding while development of the supporting system is in a conceptual phase.

NSFS Weapons

The current Navy weapons program managed by the NSFS Program Office (PMS-429) of the Naval Sea Systems Command will develop and field an enhanced extended-range, guided munition Ex-171 (ERGM) fired from a modified 5-inch/62-caliber Mark 45 gun mount. Required but unfunded is the need to adapt and modify an existing missile airframe to provide a tactically responsive land attack missile.

The Ex-171 ERGM is being developed to meet near-term Marine Corps requirements for a weapon to support expeditionary operations, to initially take the place of and later supplement artillery in the close battle and to engage in counterfire against enemy indirect artillery. ERGM will incorporate a rocket motor to reach an objective range of 63 NM and an inertial guidance system (INS)/GPS to accurately place the weapon and a submunition warhead to attack a broad range of battlefield targets. It is scheduled to complete initial operational capability (IOC) testing in September 2000.

Courtesy of Texas Instruments
Conceptual ERGM

TLAM, the only conventional surface and submarine-launched land attack weapon, has been used in strike, interdiction and suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) missions in Desert Storm and Bosnia. The missile employs GPS mid-course guidance and digital scene matching and area correlation (DSMAC) for preplanned strikes and to attack high-value targets. This missile and its supporting planning and targeting system requires a lengthy planning time due to the need to develop detailed mission plans. However, TLAM is being improved to provide a more tactically responsive weapon for certain types of high-value, time-critical targets.

Several candidates also are being evaluated to produce a fire support missile in the first decade of the next century to supplement both TLAM and the gun system. This weapon will provide surface combatants a quick response, deep attack capability against high-priority battlefield and interdiction targets.

The Army tactical missile system (ATACMS) was tested at sea in February 1995, and a variant, the Naval tactical missile system (TACMS) has been proposed. The production version of Navy TACMS would be a modified Army TACMS Block IA with a range of about 150 NM carrying a payload of 300 M74 submunitions. This missile would be fired from the vertical launching system (VLS) Mark 41. A test of TACMS from a vertical launcher is scheduled at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, in late 1996.

Courtesy of Lockheed Martin Vaught Systems
An artist's rendition of a submarine-launched ATACMS.

A land-attack version of the Navy's standard missile 2 (SM-2) also has been proposed for standard missile strikes. It would use the SM-2 rocket motor and control set with a new INS/GPS navigation and guidance set and a submunition payload.

The sea-launched standoff land attack missile (Sea SLAM) is a proposed surface ship-launched variant of the airlaunched SLAM missile. Sea SLAM capabilities were successfully demonstrated in early 1996. Sea SLAM has a range of about 75 NM; a control aircraft or a specially modified helicopter uses the missile's electro-optical seeker to lock on to the preplanned target.

Other more advanced weapons have been proposed for land attack. An advanced gun system concept, the revolutionary vertical gun for advanced ships (VGAS), features a vertically positioned pair of 155-mm/52-caliber barrels with automatic loaders. VGAS would fire rocket-boosted guided projectiles to ranges well beyond the current gunrange requirement. Projectiles fabricated from advanced composite materials or powered by a supersonic ram jet (Scramshell) also could attain ranges well beyond the 63 NM specified for the ERGM round.

Tomahawk stops the attacking regiments (TSTAR) is a concept by the cruise missile program for a TLAM variant to attack massed, mobile armored forces. The missile would be a variant of the TLAM missile with brilliant anti-tank (BAT) munitions or wide area mine (WAM) payloads.

Also, a notional fast-response missile has been included in concepts to support the 21st Century Surface Combatant (SC-2 1). The notional ballistic missile would attack time-critical targets beyond 150 NM.

Fire Coordination Systems

Outstanding weapons won't be effective without the ability to accurately designate targets and ensure fires are coordinated over an extended and fast-paced battlefield. These capabilities call for systems that can plan and coordinate fires and communicate digitally.

It's clear that NSFS must be a component of a fully integrated fires system within the Marine Corps' OMFTS and Army's Force XXI. It must communicate with all FSEs using joint message standards over high-speed digital data paths and have interoperable mission planning and fires coordination capabilities. Such a system must meet several basic requirements. It must--

  • Support NSFS weapons and other naval weaponry against assigned targets: prearranged, general support (GS) and direct support (DS). This requires precise target information to place ordnance within lethal weapon radius for a variety of targets.
  • Operate with both digital and voice communications used by joint forces on the battlefield. Voice will be less important; but for the near future, voice communications must be retained as a parallel and backup capability.
  • Ensure that surface combatants with NSFS capabilities are interoperable with the force fire support coordination system. Surface ships must have a relevant battlefield tactical picture shared with all echelons of tactical command afloat and ashore and must receive fire support coordinating measures (FSCM) to develop tactical fire control solutions for all weapons. The problems of the future battlefield include not only assigning resources, but also deconflicting the fires of aircraft, helicopters, missiles and gun-fired ordnance. Coordination must encompass joint fires and air coordination elements.

New NSFS operational concepts and requirements are determining candidate systems for a notional system of systems. Today, the requirements to develop a new system must be tempered with concern for development costs and retention of flexibility in the combat system of the cruisers and destroyers. Reuse of joint systems, especially where they enhance capabilities and interoperability, is a system design goal.

Currently, fire support communications are via HF voice radio nets with force coordination centers afloat and ashore and forward observers (FOs). In expeditionary operations or in a land battle involving Marine Corps or Army combat elements, digital communications for fire support control and coordination is accomplished primarily using the VHF radio combat net and SINCGARS. This has some significant limitations where the fire units are over the visual horizon from the combat radio net. Navy surface combatants must participate in the digitization of the future battlefield. New communications solutions may be required to provide a reliable communications interface with cruisers and destroyers providing fires to support expeditionary operations or the land battle.

Joint systems are now being developed in a common operating environment (COE) with open system architecture standards, standard hardware and modular software. Future surface combatants will have fully integrated combat systems with a computing system backbone and common display terminals to run mission-specific applications. Cruiser and destroyer combat systems will include the functions required to plan, coordinate and execute missions for tactically responsive land attack missiles. Weapons coordination and a relevant, shared tactical picture are key requirements in NSFS.

Several demonstrations have been conducted recently to explore integrating naval fires with forces operating ashore.

Demonstrations completed in Combined Joint Task Force Exercise (CJTFEX) 96 in April and May of 1996 off the coast of North Carolina were ambitious attempts to showcase planning and coordination capabilities at the force and NSFS ship level. The Navy received generous support from the Marine Corps and the Army in conducting these demonstrations.

These demonstrations included mission planning, airspace coordination, GS and DS fire missions with the gun system and a notional engagement with a simulated shipboard ATACMS. Army advanced Field Artillery tactical data system (AFATDS) terminals were installed in the USS Mount Whitney (LCC-21), USS Saipan (LHA-2), USS Nassau (LHA-4) and USS Mitscher (DDG-57).

Courtesy of Naval Surface Warfare
USS Saipan and USS Mount Whitney used AFATDS to simulate airspace deconfliction for a notional TACMS firing from the USS Mitscher

DS missions were conducted with an FO on shore using a digital communications terminal (DCT) to pass fire support messages to the USS Mitscher. A remote digital data link converted certain tactical fire direction messages sent from AFATDS and the digital devices carried by the FOs for display on the gunfire control console. This replaced the current procedure where targeting data is passed by voice from an FO and entered manually by the gun fire control system operator to designate targets for the 5-inch gun. SINCGARS and a SHF satellite communications link were used to exchange tactical data and coordinate fire missions among the amphibious command ships and shore terminals. Connectivity ashore included the fire support coordination center (FSCC) for II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF) and the XVIII Airborne Corps FSE at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Courtesy of Naval Surface Warfare

The USS Mitscher provided direct support to Marines ashore during JTFEX 96.

The demonstrations showed conclusively that VHF SINCGARS is inadequate to provide a reliable ship-to-shore digital net over the ranges and at the digital data rates that will be common in future littoral operations. A reliable and secure SHF satellite communications net for NSFS was established among command ships and ground component forces for the at-sea demonstration. However, this is not an operational capability: we are not assured of having SHF channels available and, in any case, cruisers and destroyers won't have a SHF communications capability.

In another effort, the Cruise Missile Program (PMA-282) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA's) Information Systems Office conducted interoperability demonstrations of the advanced Tomahawk weapons control system (ATWCS), the Department of Defense (DoD) global command and control system (GCCS) and other systems. The objective was to share situational awareness data to plan and execute timely fire support for ground forces via digital calls-for-fire from Army FSEs as well as small units in the field.

In this demonstration, disparate systems from different services interoperated seamlessly and shared common tactical data. This demonstration and the CJTFEX exercise illustrated the need for DoD systems to migrate to the COE as soon as possible to ensure joint interoperability and integration.

Army and Marine Corps systems will continue to be evaluated for use as building blocks with Navy-specific systems to develop a NSFS digital mission planning and coordination system that is interoperable through the COE. For example, AFATDS is being examined to determine if its functions support naval surface fire support solutions. If AFATDS meets the requirements, the software probably will be used in a computer already on the surface combatant to avoid adding a console to a crowded combat information center(CIC).

Naval fires in future operations will employ a variety of advanced weapons and a unit-level mission planning and targeting system that will be integrated with a modem force-level fire support coordination system. The goal is for surface-launched weapons to provide close support, interdiction, counterfire and deep fires for the joint land battle. All ships will be closely integrated into the joint fire support planning and coordination system. These NSFS developments will ensure we're fully capable of supporting Marine Corps and Army operations in the 21st century.

Kelly Blosser is in the Warfare Analysis Department of the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, Dahlgren, Virginia, and has 35 years of experience in naval surface warfare. He is a Mechanical Engineer and the Lead Analyst for a team evaluating naval surfacefire support (NSFS) and tactical land attack systems. The team studied mission planning, coordination and targeting requirements for a variant of the Army tactical missile system (ATACMS) and is determining requirements for the NSFS for future ships. Mr. Blosser also is co-chairman of a team evaluating strike and fire support options for the 21st Century Surface Combatant. He's a graduate of the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island.