he EURONAVAL naval trade show brings together much of the world’s naval industry and showcases new trends. Comparisons with previous shows also can be instructive. At the 2014 show, for
example, the Russians had a massive presence. This year the Russian presence was dramatically smaller, limited to a few models of projects that have been offered for some years. The reduction might have been because of the impact of a shrinking national economy, or Moscow may have realized attempting to sell ships and weapons to the audience at EURONAVAL is futile in the wake of Russia’s military actions against Ukraine.
In contrast to previous shows, there were few new missiles and no new torpedoes. The great missile question of this decade has been whether MBDA Missile Systems—a pan-European company with roots in Matra, British Aerospace, EADS, and other companies—would be able to gain the expected economies of scale envisioned when MBDA was established. This question had nationalist roots. Would, for example, the future European antiship missile be a version of the French Exocet or the Italian Otomat? EURONAVAL 2016 suggested MBDA was finding such rationalization difficult. It showed a new version of the Italian Marte, until now a helicopter missile, developed for coastal defense and sold to Qatar. In the past that role would have been filled by the Exocet or perhaps Otomat. MBDA did show a new helicopter-launched antiship missile, much smaller than the Marte, to be used by both the French Navy and Royal Navy.
The multinational Thales electronics company showed a spectacular new torpedo-sized autonomous undersea vehicle (AUV). This device reportedly is already under test, but it is not yet operational. A submarine would fire it out of a torpedo tube, and it is credited with an endurance of two weeks at a distance up to 50 nautical miles from the submarine. It lies horizontal on the bottom and periodically rises to a vertical position, using its contraprops to propel it to just beneath the surface. The AUV has a retractable sensor mast. Using such an AUV, a submarine can conduct electronic surveillance without exposing itself to inshore defenses. This is not a new idea, but it may be the first time it has been turned into an operational device.
Covert reconnaissance may be the most important current submarine function. Many submarines feature an array of masts that can collect signals, but they can be used only near shore. AUVs not only allow the submarine to perform this kind of duty from well offshore, but also make it possible for a single submarine to expand its footprint by operating multiple vehicles. Some years ago the U.S. company EDO (now absorbed by ITT) displayed a mock-up of what was then called a UUV (unmanned underwater vehicle) equipped with signals intelligence devices. It is not clear whether it was ever built. The Thales AUV seems to have been the first of its kind to be displayed publicly.
Thales neither described its solution for the most difficult part of an AUV mission—vehicle recovery—nor did it indicate how the AUV’s collection “take” would be transmitted to users. The AUV is large enough to employ a satellite antenna, however. And if its mission is valuable enough, it could be sacrificed at the end of its two-week mission. Because the AUV already exists and is being tested suggests Thales has solved the energy storage problem usually associated with long-endurance vehicles; it is less clear that it has solved the AUV obstacle-avoidance problem.
The U.S. Navy is experimenting with large AUVs, but it has not been very public about its achievements, and the U.S. companies’ displays at EURONAVAL 2016 did not show any equivalents to the Thales vehicle. It is not clear how far other navies have gone in this direction. Most discussions of AUVs focus on mine detection and covert surveying, both essential for an amphibious operation. Other AUVs displayed at EURONAVAL 2016 were relatively small and were described mainly as mine countermeasures.
EURONAVAL often marks the emergence of new naval exporters. For several years, for example, Singapore showed both weapons and ships. India was a major exhibitor at the last show, but this year it mainly emphasized the Russian-Indian Brahmos supersonic antiship missile. For some reason the Brahmos display area did not show the hypersonic Brahmos II, a model of which appeared at an Indian defense show as early as 2013. A cynic might suspect the hypersonic version is not yet quite ready for prime time. Brazil has exhibited before, often showing cooperative projects with Thales. This year’s display included a Brazilian technology development organization that mentioned its role in the country’s submarine program—including a nuclear submarine. A Brazilian nuclear submarine was not otherwise highlighted, and it still seems to be an aspirational project for the distant future.
South Korea is hardly a new naval producer, but its display area continued to show new ship designs. At the last show the Koreans showed a model of a new diesel submarine, the most interesting feature of which was a nest of vertical-launch tubes for cruise missiles. This time no submarine was shown, but the Koreans did show a 3,500-ton frigate using a phased-array radar—unusually sophisticated for a relatively small warship.
Both the British and French showed new frigate designs, as did the Spanish company Navantia. Apparently the British and French have decided their navies cannot afford continued construction of what they consider high-end frigates (the Type 26 and the European multimission frigate, respectively) and have demanded that they buy less expensive, lower-end ships that may be more attractive for the export market. That may be a mistake, however, because reportedly the Canadians, who are in the market for new frigates, find the full-up capabilities of the Type 26 attractive. The only other export frigate on display was a version of the Lockheed Martin variant of the Littoral Combat Ship, which the U.S. Department of State recently approved for sale to Saudi Arabia.
There were two surprises at EURONAVAL 2016. The most significant, albeit physically small, was the appearance of a Japanese display for a small radar producer. Until very recently, the Japanese interpretation of the “peace Constitution” had forbidden arms exports of any kind. The first public sign of relaxation was a Japanese maritime defense show held in Yokohama last year. Neither that show nor the display in Paris this year offered offensive naval weapons. The Yokohama show emphasized mine countermeasures and command and control, but also showed some current warships.
The Turkish display announced, in effect, that the country’s naval industry has matured. In the past, Turkey has shown various munitions, including rockets and missiles, and also warships, which in themselves are considerably advanced. At this year’s show, the Turkish booth was dominated by Aselsan, which apparently is focused on building advanced systems (its website proclaims its ambition to become one of the top 50 defense companies in the world). Among other things, Aselsan showed antitorpedo measures, both the usual rocket-projected decoys and an antitorpedo torpedo called Tork. The company also displayed a Turkish-made sonobuoy. The antitorpedo weapons seemed to be still in development. Tests of Tork are beginning, and the weapon is not yet featured on the company’s website. A second implication of the Turkish display in Paris is that Aselsan has achieved a high level of sophistication. In effect Aselsan was declaring that it has the sophistication to do what only one other navy has done. Tork still is very much in the experimental stage, but even to declare its existence is an impressive step. It is about the size of a standard lightweight torpedo. Aselsan does not seem to envisage producing a lightweight torpedo of its own.
Turkey appears to be developing sufficient indigenous capacity to be immune to weapon sanctions that may be imposed by suppliers, particularly the United States. Self-sufficiency probably first became an important issue after the 1974 Cypriot crisis which led to cancellation of weapons deliveries to Turkey. The creation of an indigenous naval industry takes decades, but it has doubtless been encouraged by the current Turkish regime, which seems to be looking more to future leadership of Muslim countries in Central Asia than to Europe. Ankara’s policies could lead to a break with NATO and thus a cut-off of technology. The creation of Aselsan is a public statement that Turkey is somewhat immune to Western leverage, which doubtless is attractive to the current regime and its increasingly nationalist supporters.
Several suppliers, including the French shipbuilding company DCNS, offered decoys as torpedo defenses at this year’s show. The decoys shown are likely to be effective against both active and passive torpedoes. For example, antisubmarine torpedoes generally guide themselves using active pingers. An effective repeater decoy can fool such a torpedo, saving the submarine. In the past, the usual means of guiding an antiship torpedo was passive acoustics—the torpedo homed on target noise. A sufficiently realistic decoy could seduce a torpedo and save a ship. If a rocket fired the decoy well clear of the ship, the decoy would be even more likely to be effective.
Most modern, antiship homing torpedoes follow a ship’s wake. We now know the Russians began using this technique in the 1960s. All Russian-built antiship torpedoes, apart from the supercavitating straight-runner, are wake followers. Wake-homing is important because it is difficult to create a simple decoy that the torpedo will mistake for a ship’s wake. It is possible that it will mistake a line of explosions or decoys for a wake, which would explain current interest in rocket-fired decoys, which can be fired in patterns (though there is considerable question as to whether such ploys will work). Even if they do work, there is a real danger that, having run out of wake to follow, the torpedo will turn to search for a new wake, and then home on its original target. The ideal solution to a wake-following torpedo is an antitorpedo torpedo.
Considerable effort has shown it is difficult to produce such a weapon. With limited time to react, the antitorpedo torpedo has to be faster and more maneuverable than the incoming torpedo. It also may have to find the attacking torpedo in the noisy environment of a ship’s wake. False alarms are a major problem. Even lethality is an issue. After several failed attempts, the U.S. Navy finally declared success a few years ago with a new 6.75-inch weapon. No other NATO navy has fielded a comparable weapon. The Russians have declared some success, but mainly with a rocket fired at the predicted position of the torpedo, which is unlikely to be effective.
Dr. Friedman is the author of The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapon Systems, Fifth Edition, and Network-centric Warfare: How Navies Learned to Fight Smarter Through Three World Wars, available from the Naval Institute Press at www.usni.org.