In Press: Quoted In the Globe and Mail

by Craig Hooper on April 6, 2010

And coverage of Iran’s small-craft acquisition continues.  Out of all the rehashing, the Globe and Mail’s Paul Koring generated a standout Bladerunner story, with some interesting info on the Bladerunner craft itself and some added background on the small boat threat:

“…The Tamil Tigers attacked cargo vessels with explosives-laden launches with some success. Against Sri Lankan warships they rarely succeeded. In 1991, after Iraq invaded Kuwait and a U.S.-led coalition attacked Iraq, a Canadian CF-18 warplane joined U.S. aircraft in destroying a flotilla of small Iraqi patrol vessels. Automatic, radar-controlled Gatling guns designed to destroy incoming sea-skimming missiles travelling hundreds of kilometres an hour would face no difficulty engaging even the fastest patrol boat. Helicopters firing heat-seeking or radar-guided missiles have be

en used to defend warships against small-boat attacks…”

And he stopped by the blog to pick up a quote:

“Surprise aside (à la the USS Cole), the small boat ‘record’ since World War II fails to live up to modern-day hype,” Craig Hooper, a San Francisco-based national security strategist and specialist in coastal naval warfare, wrote on his blog in the wake of the news about Iran’s efforts to get the Challenger.

“Certainly, small boats are not things to ignore, but I have serious doubts about the risk a small boat swarm poses to a prepared U.S. warship.”

Nice piece. But let’s take this story and ask another question–is the U.S. Navy prepared to confront a potential surprise in the Gulf? Are U.S. vessels in the region operating at a level of readiness sufficient to rebuff a surprise “out-of-the-blue” small boat attack?

Is the U.S. Navy ready?  Or are U.S. warships relaxing a bit too much in the ‘ole familiar Gulf?



Blacktail April 8, 2010 at 5:21 am

For those who think that small craft aren’t much of a hazard, let’s recall three major events in Naval Warfare History;

1- The Israeli Destroyer Eilat was the first warship sunk by a modern Anti-Ship Missile, on 21 October 1967. The vessel that launched it was a 66-ton Komar class Missile Boat.

2- In the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, 3 Indian Navy Missile Boats (the Osa class Nipat, Nirghat, and Veer) used the same type of missiles as the Komar class boat used in 1967 against the Karachi naval base, which they effectively destroyed;

3- During the Millennium Challenge 2002 exercise, the Red Force (representing an unspecified threat country) used swarms of small boats armed with Anti-Ship Missile against the Blue Force Battlegroup (equivalent of a US Nave Carrier Battlegroup), and they blew the ENTIRE Battlegroup out of the water in minutes — a loss that, in real life, would amount to the immediate deaths of at least 20000 US servicemen;

DJF April 7, 2010 at 5:25 pm

I agree, the real problem is in identifying the enemy. It is like suicide bombers on land, if you let them in too close then you are dead, but on the other hand you can’t shoot every person or vehicle you see.

One advantage on land is that you legally control the land and can set up exclusion zones with barriers so that you can have time to identify the enemy and if they cross that exclusion zone you can take them out. At sea in peacetime you only control the water your ship sits on and anything outside the hull is the high seas which is open to travel by all. You can attempt to declare an exclusion zone around your ship but I don’t know how legal that is and what the consequences will be if some fisherman gets sunk for getting to close.

If you identify the threat early enough there are plenty of ways of stopping it, if you don’t identify until too late then there is not much that can be done, the Cole is an example of that. The one good thing about the Iranian boats is that they seem to be recognizable, what I would really worry about is some beat up fishing boats or pleasure boats which are all over the world and often get very close to our ships.

Ted April 7, 2010 at 4:28 am

Warrant- Block 1A CIWS has no capability against a surface target, but the upgraded Block 1B is highly capable (except for relatively limited ammo). RAM and Sea Sparrow are also pretty capable against surface targets, although if you’re using a carrier/amphib’s self-defenses against a swarm it’s already too late. The Navy has also started deployment of the Mk38Mod-2, which bridges the gap nicely between CSWs and main battery. I’m not sure I’d want to take a DDG into a 10 ship/multi-axis knife fight (especially with C701/C704 shooters + torpedo boats), but with SM2 in surface mode and above mentioned technologies, it wouldn’t be one sided.

As Mr. Hooper mentions, though, finding the swarm amongst white shipping and non-combatants…that’s where the challenge is at.


Mr. Hooper, also mentioned on the Foreign Policy blog:

Warrant Diver April 6, 2010 at 2:35 pm

for those of you who don’t know, a DDS is a new type of surface ship, or maybe I’ll just own my typo and admit it was supposed to be DDG 🙂

Warrant Diver April 6, 2010 at 2:34 pm

“Automatic, radar-controlled Gatling guns designed to destroy incoming sea-skimming missiles travelling hundreds of kilometres an hour would face no difficulty engaging even the fastest patrol boat.”
Are you sure? Is the CIWS capable of engaging a surface target? (other than the accidental attacks on ships in the late 80s/early 90s) Methinks this might not be as simple as it sounds…how would a DDS with two CIWS counter ten fast runners at the same time approaching from multiple points on the compass?
And remember, the fast runners don’t have to destroy a US warship to “win” the PR battle, just damage it. Heck, all they really have to do is engage it and they “win” in the Al Jazeera realm.

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