Naval Systems: Phalanx Radar/Rolling Airframe Missile Combination Offers Promise

By Ed Walsh

Navies worldwide operate about 200 Phalanx mounts and the U.S. Navy has about 300 in service. Phalanx is deployed to ships of 20 navies, including the Royal Navy, Royal Australian Navy, Royal New Zealand Navy, and the Republic of China Navy. In January, the company announced a new contract with Japan for more than 100 block 0 and block 1A systems. The U.S. Navy's present plan is eventually to phase out the Phalanx and replace it with the RAM, which has proved highly effective during testing at sea. Before that happens, the Navy is fielding a block IB Phalanx upgrade that provides both a surface-mode defense and an enhanced AAW capability.

The centerpiece of block IB is an electro-optical (E-O) sensor, built by the U.K.'s Pilkington Optronics, which is fitted to the gun mount. The E-O enhancement, Carroll says, gives the ship a day/night threat-evaluation capability and supports decisions on whether to fire or not to fire. The EO data are processed by the Phalanx computer, which was upgraded in an earlier block IA enhancement. Other block 1B enhancements are an extended barrel and an enhanced lethality penetrator, fabricated for Raytheon by Primex Inc. The Navy plans to buy 12 to IS block 1B upgrade kits which are slated for 12 Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG-7)-class FFGs.

The Phalanx block I B surface-mode capability addresses the Navy's doctrinal shift since the end of the Cold War from open ocean operations to focus on littoral environments. Persian Gulf operations before, during, and after Operation Desert Storm focused the minds of many surface sailors on the danger of terrorists in small craft easing within a few hundred yards of Navy ships and launching missiles. Both Navy and industry officials pointed out that the Mk 45 five-inch deck gun aboard most surface combatants is not agile enough to track and hit small fast-moving craft at close ranges.

The Phalanx block 1B was going through technical evaluation of the surface-mode capability on board the USS Underwood (FFG-36) last month, to be followed by operational evaluation, scheduled to be completed in April.

The Phalanx-RAM program executive office for theater air warfare/surface combatants also has tested block 1B in the antiair warfare mode as an element of the Mk I ship self-defense system. For the AAW role, the Pilkington sensor gives Phalanx a multi-spectrum tracking capability. By integrating radar and electro-optical tracks it provides greater accuracy in measuring threat-missile angles of approach. The integrated Phalanx track data then are fused with data provided by shipboard radars and other sensors to provide a composite AAW track.

The Ship Self-Defense System in a Mk I configuration is planned for Whidbey Island (LSD-41)-class 'Gators. A Mk 2 system that incorporates elements of the cooperative engagement capability is slated for aircraft carriers and Wasp (LHD-1)-class amphibious assault ships.

Meanwhile, the antiship missile threat is growing—and ships will have to defend against highly maneuverable missiles using multi-spectrum guidance systems and approaching closely sequenced to compress the time available for defense. The RAM in its block I variant is a "wooden round" fire-and-forget infrared-guided missile.

There is no single solution for defense against the emerging AAW threats, but the integrated approach offered by Sea-RAM represents the leveraging of multiple weapons and sensors to maximize AAW defenses. Yet some Navy surface warfare engineers voice concern over the phase out of the Phalanx, which because of its a short-range capabilities (less than RAM's minimum range) gives operators a couple of critical extra seconds to react, especially to kill "leakers"—missiles that get past the RAM.

 

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