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Death To Little Boats
by James Dunnigan
June 5, 2009

The U.S. Navy is adapting a new U.S. Army missile system to be used from helicopters to destroy small boats. For the last five years, the navy has been planning to equip its new LCS (Littoral Combat Ships) with a U.S. Army artillery system to provide fire support to troops near the coast. The army system is NetFires (or NLOS-LS), which is nearing the end of its development. NLOS-LS is actually two different missiles, identical in weight and size, but different in how they operate. The main one is PAM (Precision Attack Missile). This is a 178mm diameter missile that weighs 120 pounds, and has a range of 40 kilometers. PAM attacks from above, with a 28 pound warhead. This enables it to kill any tank by hitting the thinner top armor. This warhead would also sink a small boat, especially one carrying a suicide bomber. PAM uses a GPS, imaging infrared (seeks a particular shape down there) or laser seeker.

PAMs are usually vertically-launched, from what looks like a 4x6x4 foot (wide x deep x high) 1.5 ton cargo container. Actually, it IS a cargo container. The missiles are shipped from the factory in this sealed container. Each container holds 15 missiles and can be carried on the back of a truck, or a ship. The current navy tests are to see if NLOS-LS will work if you sling the container underneath a MH-60 helicopter and fire the missiles at swarms of small boats seeking to attack navy ships.

Once you plug a PAM container into the wireless battlefield Internet, the missiles are ready to fire. the fire control officer on the LCS send one or more PAMs against any enemy target that shows up on their screen (usually a larger flat screen.) The battlefield Internet is using aircraft, UAVs, satellites and ground sensors to pick up targets for LCS. When the fire control officer sees a target he wants to kill, a point and click will send the coordinates of the target to a PAM container, launch a PAM to the approximate location, where the missiles own sensor will pick up the target and home in on it. The sensors will, most of the time, pick up the vehicle as destroyed and adjust the fire control officers screen accordingly. The navy helicopter version of NLOS-LS would allow someone on the helicopter (like the co-pilot) to also spot targets and fire PAM missiles at them.

 Recognizing that there will be situations, like where there are a lot of woods or jungles, that will prevent sensors from spotting a lot of targets, there's a second NetFires missile, the LAM (Loitering Attack Missile). Same weight and all of the PAM, except it is actually a mini-cruise missile and can fly as far as 70 kilometers to an assigned area, and then patrol the an area for 30 minutes looking for a target. If one is not found, it just crashes. If a target is detected with the built in radar (laser radar, or LADAR, actually) and the built in software recognizes the vehicle as an enemy one, the missile attacks from above. Alas, the LAM warhead isn't large enough to take out most tanks, but anything else would likely be toast.

The first LCS joined the fleet last year. The LCS features a number of major innovations. For one thing, it is highly automated, and has a crew of less than fifty. The LCS has a large cargo hold that can be quickly fitted with gear to turn it into a mine clearing ship, a fire support ship (with NetFires containers), a submarine hunter, or just about anything (anti-aircraft, commando support, or even command and control.) Each LCS also carries a Black Hawk size helicopter (MH-60), and has a hanger for it. There is also a water level dock for launching USV (Unmanned Surface Vehicles).

 


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