Last week’s deadly Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) attack against the MV Mercer Street vessel has highlighted the increasing insecurity towards vulnerable merchant shipping operating across the Arabian Gulf, and around the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman in particular. 

Highlighting the seriousness of last week’s attack, the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) General Sir Nick Carter held a meeting with his Israeli counterpart over the weekend to discuss the situation. The Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab subsequently accused Iran of a “deliberate, targeted, and a clear violation of international law” following the drone attack. 

This is the fourth such incident on an Israeli-linked vessel across the region since February – all widely attributed to Iran. In the wake of this weekend’s COBR meeting to discuss the crisis, the Prime Minister has deployed a special forces team to the region to help collate evidence of the attack, in addition to potentially coordinating a military response. 

However, the window of opportunity is slipping by. Leaving a response much longer than a week will appear indecisive to Tehran and thus interpreted as weakness. Over the weekend both Israel and the US presented the UK with irrefutable evidence which laid the blame squarely on the Iranian regime.

Whilst a host of policy options remain available for the UK government, including a targeted military strike aimed at the Iranian infrastructure used for launching the UAV attack from, it seems that the most likely course of action the government will take is an offensive cyber-attack. This will most likely target the Iranian UAV programme itself, in order to mitigate against further attacks. 

However, there are further policy options available, and all should be considered within the context of Britain’s regional allies.  Whilst the Royal Navy retains significant assets across the Arabian Gulf, most notably within the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) based out of Bahrain, it is to these alliances and like-minded regional security actors to which the UK should seek to form a broader coalition, in order to counter the increased malign activity by Iran. 

One such ally is the United Arab Emirates (UAE), itself a member of the eight-nation IMSC. Whilst the Royal Navy-led Carrier Strike Group (CSG) is currently navigating the turbulent South China Sea, it is due to return to the Gulf later in the autumn, docking along the way after the lengthy journey back across the Indian Ocean. 

The UK should take this oppourtunity, whilst likely docked temporarily in Oman, to conduct maritime training and exercises with member IMSC nations, including the UAE. This would likely consist of a higher frequency naval patrol action, whilst also sharing best practice where appropriate within the informal maritime alliance. 

Crucially, given the regional proximity and shared security threats emanating from the Iranian republic over the Gulf of Oman, this should seek to include a greater emphasis on countering UAV attacks – pertinent given the nature of the rising threat level in this environment. This is even more prescient when considering the UAE’s recent experiences in countering the significant UAV drone threat from the Houthis in Yemen – the insurgency itself Iranian controlled and supported. 

However the UK government decides to respond – and respond it must – it should do so in consultation with regional allies and partners. In modern warfare and statecraft, operating without allies is a severe detriment. In security partners including Israel and the UAE, the UK can ill afford to operate alone in this deeply contested security environment. 

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David Steeper
David Steeper
1 month ago

Iran responds to strength see killing of Soleimani the head of their Quds force. They ranted and raved and ended up throwing a few rockets around like that they had already being doing and just calling it revenge ! To quote ‘If they put one of yours in the hospital you put one of theirs in the ground’

Monkey spanker
Monkey spanker
1 month ago

It’s like a red rag to bull doing that. Got it be smart. Iran is full of a young population who aren’t that keen of the government. Got to try and punish the rulers economically and make the people of Iran hate them to the point they rise up.

James
James
1 month ago
Reply to  Monkey spanker

Rise up they have been, lots of unrest in that country and has been for some time. Most with money leave and live elsewhere.

expat
expat
1 month ago
Reply to  Monkey spanker

They already hate the rulers. But the regime is brutal, if the young protest they arrest the parents/grandparents to send a message.

David
David
1 month ago
Reply to  expat

Cut off the heads.

Whlgrubber
Whlgrubber
1 month ago
Reply to  Monkey spanker

Totally agree. If the population is united they are difficult to overcome ( Iran Iraq war) fragment the leadership and the youth will rebelet.

expat
expat
1 month ago

I wonder if those 2 ships that Iran sent to Russia a couple of weeks back will make it back to Iran. I don’t think the UK will act but Israel I imagine will be weighing up options.

David Steeper
David Steeper
1 month ago
Reply to  expat

Yep. The Red Sea is a very dangerous stretch of water lots of shoals and reefs popping up in unpredictable places.  :wpds_neutral: 

David
David
1 month ago
Reply to  expat

Would you really be sad if misfortune happened upon those ships? 😉

Mike
Mike
1 month ago

Only issue with sending the CSG back to the gulf on the return leg, how good is the CSG defence against drones?

Don’t want to waste million pound missiles against cheap swarming drones. Can CIWS cope? Would this have been a useful application for Martlet? Frickin lasers?

Chris
Chris
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike

Drones are not fast or particularly stealthy. Especially the commercial derived ones Iran is using.

PHALANX is more than capable when paired with an EO tracker, but so would spotters posted on deck 24/7 with shotguns and NVG.

It’s not a complex threat, but rather an airborne derivative of their loved swarming boat tactics.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris

Not sure about shotguns or small arms. Watched a documentary 3 or 4 years back pitting an ex army sniper with a state of the art US sniper rifle against a relatively static drone a mile or two away. It took him for ever to register a hit. It would certainly take phalanx or similar I suspect reliably at any real range. The documentary itself came to the conclusion after testing various solutions that lasers under clear conditions at least was very effective but needs to be complimented with specialist radar and optics for detection and microwave or other disabling… Read more »

David
David
1 month ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

I thought T45 could take out tennis balls 🙂

lee1
lee1
1 month ago
Reply to  David

It can. But that is a costly missile to put take out a toy plane…

OkamsRazor
OkamsRazor
1 month ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

I think if T45 can fry the electronics of a jet with it’s Radar it can down a few drones with it’s Radar. I wouldn’t swallow Iran’s coolaid

Paul.P
Paul.P
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris

I see a business opportunity here. Protect your tanker…RentaPhalanx

Gunbuster
Gunbuster
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike

CIWS and 30mm can deal with them easily.

You can also add in all the sneaky beaky kit on the Electronic Warfare front that can disrupt down links and command signals.

AlexS
AlexS
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike

It depend how many – in case of small drones – and in larger ones if they have missile that can be launched outside AA range.

A swarm of 200 small drones against the CVF will probably be at least mission kill if EW fail.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
1 month ago
Reply to  AlexS

Yes it’s their stand off range that concerns me I’m not sure we are clear what the present state of affairs is and it’s ever changing. So even a strong potential defence might be far less effective even in 5 years or so. Very concerning when you have an Iranian State itching to flex their muscles in this regard knowing retaliation is a complex choice for an opponent especially if proof of origin can not be made convincing. Other States will be looking on too to learn about, both the tech and the lines opponents will/will not tolerate.

AlexS
AlexS
1 month ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

I am concerned about both, but more by the small ones if they are successful.
3 Phalanx cannot stop 200 small drones say each with a 4 kg explosive. Imagine even 50 of them exploding in bridge, radars , entering funnel and even nearby the Phalanx’s.

It would not sink he ship probably, but it would be a mission kill.

andy a
andy a
1 month ago
Reply to  AlexS

If we have copied the americans I believe there is usually a combat info centre buried deep in the ship that can do anything the bridge can do. Not ideal but if they did do that at least the ship and combat could still be controlled

DaveyB
DaveyB
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike

In some respects they have two very good assets for detecting drones. The Crowsnest equipped Merlin and the F35B. Both aircraft operate X-band radar that uses a small wavelength emission. Being a smaller wavelength means they are better at detecting small targets that have a small RCS, i.e. small aeroplane engines etc. Once detected the issue is what to use to knock them down? Iran has unveiled a number of so called “suicide” drones. They are little more than scaled up model aircraft, although some are now jet powered. ?itok=bR3ViTzm ?itok=0tq9lzaP The one the Saudis recovered had a basic daytime… Read more »

AlexS
AlexS
1 month ago
Reply to  DaveyB

Yes X band helps with discrimination.
In the end will have to use what will have, even Aster. The Type 31 will be better since with more guns, but they have only EO directors.I don’t know how fast are those acquiring the target issued from main radar. Presumably a laser range finder will measure the range after that.

DaveyB
DaveyB
1 month ago
Reply to  AlexS

The Thales NS100 radar operating in the S-band supports ship based gunfire targeting. Therefore, the T31’s 57mm and 40mm weapons will use the NS100s for target tracking and a firing solution. If these guns are to be used in a CIWS role, they will have to use the NS100 as EO does not provide sufficient all weather targeting. If the RN opt for the fully leaded version of NS100, it will also come with a second radar incorporated within the NS100. This is the Scout Mk3 which is a continuous wave X-band radar using a frequency modulated continuous wave (FMCW)… Read more »

AlexS
AlexS
1 month ago
Reply to  DaveyB

How NS100 which is rotating set can continuously update the data on a target for the gun system? i can understand that in ship to ship, ship target have much more inertia and are not maneuverable enough, but in air is different.

Last edited 1 month ago by AlexS
DaveyB
DaveyB
1 month ago
Reply to  AlexS

It’s pretty simple but complicated at the same time. As the AESA array is mechanical rotating it does not just transmit along its boresight as per traditional radars. It does forwards, backwards, upwards and downwards scanning. As its uses individual transmitter-receiver modules (TRMs) instead of phase delay circuits that PESA uses. Its sweep/scan (pushing the beam) rate is bloody fast. For example, it can do a raster scan (something like a top left to top right, down a bit, then right to left, down a bit, left to right etc in ever decreasing lines in less than a 1/10 of… Read more »

AlexS
AlexS
1 month ago
Reply to  DaveyB

slow small drones can have unpredictable flight paths a bit like a fly. There is also intermittent propulsion for some faster drones.

DaveyB
DaveyB
1 month ago
Reply to  AlexS

Yep, auto cannon plus multiple shots of proximity fused ammunition, will sort that out.

Johan
Johan
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike

Drones ie a single and the size of the one used are no threat to a Warship, the Modern Navy uses single jammers and blockers to disable drones. and the RM Snipers are trained to shoot them as well.

it will be the swarming kind, but again there payload and range is still limited. the one used had a small Anti Personel Load, rather than major damage

John Hampson
John Hampson
1 month ago

I wonder if the MoD’s will get away with their failure to sufficiently arm RN ships or will an Iranian satuation attack by drones or fast attack craft in the near future expose their penny pinching gamble with the lives of sailors. The USNavy, despite the orginal fanfare, in the face of the Irainian capability, have now realised their mistake with underarming the Indepence class Littoral Combat Ships. The USN have decided decommissioning, decades early, is a cheaper option than trying to upgrade their defences. The article “The Littoral Combat Ship Can’t Fight” in Forbes described the LCS problem as… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by John Hampson
Paul.P
Paul.P
1 month ago
Reply to  John Hampson

“ No T23 and some T45’s have no CWIS. The 2x 30 ml guns they do have cannot fire programable rounds,so immportant in defending against swarm attacks”
But the T31 57mmm and 40mm guns do fire programmable rounds😉

Mike
Mike
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul.P

Are you suggesting that perhaps the RN had given some thought to the weaponry being placed on the T31? Heavens above!

Paul.P
Paul.P
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike

Indeed, whatever next. I’ll also wager that the operational research folks have modelled the killing power of the guns and Ceptors as a holistic system.

David Steeper
David Steeper
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike

See Navy Lookout.

Andy a
Andy a
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul.P

Thought the t45 had phalanx?

andy a
andy a
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul.P

I thought all the t45 had ciws? if not why not as the MOD had loads being used to protect bases in afganistan. the harpoon I can understand being moved around but not ciws

Paul.P
Paul.P
1 month ago
Reply to  andy a

Hi Andy, yeh, I think they do. I was being a bit sarki . Maybe the potential Israeli target ships might like to rent-a-phalanx on board when they are in the Gulf.

Last edited 1 month ago by Paul.P
Andy a
Andy a
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul.P

I’d rent on! Beats my target rifle

Paul.P
Paul.P
1 month ago
Reply to  Andy a

I see the experts below have deep knowledge of drone ECM etc. Jamming and electronic radar death rays seems to be the way to go. Model aeroplanes have certainly come on a long way. Time for me to retire to the fringes…😉

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
1 month ago
Reply to  John Hampson

A few second WW Bofors might be handy ironically.

AlexS
AlexS
1 month ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

The best AA gun in Falklands was Argentinian Oerlikon GDF 35mm.

Italians should make a strales version for their 5″ gun to destroy medium drones long range without need of spending missiles.

Damo
Damo
1 month ago

Mmmm. Do we have the capability to launch a cyber attack or even have the political will to it?

David Steeper
David Steeper
1 month ago
Reply to  Damo

Yes and Yes. We’d publicly deny it of course  😉 

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
1 month ago
Reply to  Damo

God Yes. Had that for years and it was admitted the capability exists, but no details.

Recently the whole point of the new National Cyber Force is to conduct offensive cyber.

Gunbuster
Gunbuster
1 month ago

Almost everyone is talking kinetic kill systems. Its the sneaky electronic kill systems that will be stopping drones. Years ago when the Iranian proxies first started to use remote control boats they where used close in to shore. Why? The remote control portion was a radio signal with limited range and the vision system used to see the target and aim the boat was… A video phone app! They literally had a mobile phone fitted to the front of the boat to see where it was going. The use of jammers has put paid to those close inshore attacks against… Read more »

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
1 month ago
Reply to  Gunbuster

Hi Gunbuster, People forget that soft kill methods often result in hard kill effects. These simple drones will be lost to the controllers once the link is jammed. Also, I read sometime ago (just before CSG21 sailed) that MBDA had supplied the RN Wildcats with pre-IOC versions of both the Martlet and Sea Venom missiles. So life could get very exciting for anyone launching a drone attack against the CSG. Of course there is always a risk and there are gaps in capability, but as you have pointed out before you work arounds to those, and the RN is very… Read more »

DaveyB
DaveyB
1 month ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

I think a fair example of this is the 3 separate attacks on the USS Mason by the Houthis off Yemen. It was reported that over 3 days up to nine Noor/C-802 (Exocet copies) anti-ship missiles were fired at the ship. The ship used a combination of passive and active countermeasures along with ESSM and SM2 to intercept the C-802s. What has not been published is how each element of the ship’s defence performed. On the first day two C-802s crashed into the sea. Was this down to the ship’s countermeasures or did the C-802s just perform badly? We will… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by DaveyB
DaveyB
DaveyB
1 month ago
Reply to  Gunbuster

Yep, one of the suicide drones that the Saudis captured intact was controlled by a 3/4g phone data-link. You could also use a satphone, such as the Inmarsat network to easily control a drone over a very long distance. There have been some model airplane enthusiasts that do this in a competition as part of their hobby, they even live stream video 4K data using a GoPro, so the picture quality is awesome. They run these events much like glider competitions around a set courses.It ahs a very large following in Germany and Poland. Both of these phones systems use… Read more »

Johan
Johan
1 month ago

Remember the Drone attacks on Gatwick. what was deployed is now a standard kit defence, as the guy who lost his £3000 drone trying to film the QE and POWs in pompey harbour.

Marked
Marked
1 month ago

If electronic measures fail an “over sized shotgun” type system would seem to be a good option here. The rounds fired would be much cheaper than missiles or 20mm phalanx rounds and one shot could take out multiple targets.

Business opportunity for somebody! Not that the MOD would be interested mind, wouldn’t do to equip anything properly…

DaveyB
DaveyB
1 month ago
Reply to  Marked

The 4.5″ and 5″ firing canister rounds would be an interesting spectacle. But just as when you’re doing clays for sport. Shotgun pellets have a really short range, i.e. less than 100m effectivity. Fired from a larger gun would increase this range, but controlling the dispersion to get enough mass of pellets to hit the target at say 1km is going be hugely difficult. Not sure the Weaps guys would be too keen fitting a choke to the 4.5/5″ guns, especially if was then needed to fire against against a land target for instance? Both 20mm and 30mm HE shells… Read more »

George Parker
George Parker
1 month ago

Impose an oil embargo and either sink or turn away every vessel headed for Iran.

Bringer of Facts
Bringer of Facts
1 month ago

What is the primary advantage of Drones ? is it that they are less detectable on radar because they are small ? or swarm attack tactics (too many to shoot down)? It seems Iran and the Houthis have effectively used them to attack Saudi arabian oil facilites and a now a tanker. Experts who observed the Nagorno-karabakh conflict said they were game changer and were lethal to Armenian AFVs.

Last edited 1 month ago by Bringer of Facts