Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Navy Versus Persia


Despite all the warm and fuzzy feelings engendered by the recent nuclear accord with Iran, Iranian warships have been giving the U.S. Navy conniptions in the Persian Gulf this year. This week, an Iranian naval frigate trained its guns on a U.S. Navy helicopter that was performing training maneuvers with an auxiliary vessel. No shots were fired in the encounter. But at least twice this year, armed patrol boats from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have fired upon unarmed merchant vessels.

It is the threat posed by these fast-attack boats, the mainstay of the Iranian navy, that our own navy aims to address.

According to published sources, the Iranian navy and Revolutionary Guard own only a handful of real warships -- submarines, corvettes, and frigates. The bulk of Iran's seagoing military is comprised of a fleet of upward of 200 missile boats, patrol boats, fast-attack boats, and hovercraft.

While dangerous and often packing powerful missiles, these are small warships, often displacing as little as 70, or even just 14 tons of water

In short, they're threats, but threats too small to waste a million-dollar Harpoon or Tomahawk missile on. What's needed is something smaller and cheaper, capable of tracking multiple small boats as they maneuver erratically to swarm a warship -- and defeat those threats.

That's where Hellfire comes in.

Last week, the U.S. Navy released a report on test firings of a modified Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) Longbow Hellfire missile (the "Longbow" part refers to its advanced fire-control radar). Military watcher DefenseUpdate.com says the missile is designed specifically to take on the threat of Iranian fast-attack boats. The Navy plans to use these Hellfires in Surface-to-Surface Missile Modules (SSMM) aboard Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) expected to encounter small-boat threats.

Each Hellfire has a five-mile range, and will be self-guiding (i.e., "fire-and-forget"). Once a threat is detected by shipboard or airborne radars, a Hellfire can be launched to destroy the target. In demonstration of this, the Navy's test firings at a series of eight targets maneuvering as small, fast-attack boats saw seven of the eight targets destroyed. The one miss, says the Navy, was "not related to the missile's capability."

As part of the demonstration, the Navy conducted one rapid-fire test in which three targets "conducting serpentine maneuvers" were blown out of the water, one-two-three.