The purpose of this article is not to examine yet again the much discussed propulsion problems of the Type 45 but rather to consider how the type can remain relevant in the face of significant threats posed by advanced aircraft and missiles.
Hence, this article will primarily review the destroyer’s current and future armament fitout. At the launch of the first T45, HMS DARING on 1 February 2006, the then First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Alan West, declared that she would be the most capable destroyer ever possessed by the Royal Navy, as well as the world’s best air-defence ship.
These are significant claims, and while there is considerable evidence that the T45s are indeed the RN’s most capable destroyers it has ever had, the assertion that they are the world’s finest air-defence destroyer is debatable, at least in their current configuration.
This article was submitted to the UK Defence Journal by Kelvin Curnow. Kelvin’s particular area of interest is naval aircraft and aircraft carriers. He is a keen writer and over the past fifteen years he has had a number of articles published in different journals.
NOTE: For the purpose of this article Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs) and Ant-Ship Missiles (AShMs) are designated by the latter nomenclature.
The lessons learned from the tragic loss of the Batch 1 Type 42 (T42) destroyers HMS SHEFFIELD and HMS COVENTRY in the Falklands war led to a very different approach when a replacement for the T42 was considered. The T42s were built in three batches. The first two batches, comprising ten ships, were followed by four Batch 3 ships which were 12 metres longer and possessed better sea-keeping qualities.
The Batches 1 and 2 were cramped and this affected the number and type of weapons which could be carried. Worse still the six Batch 1 ships were equipped with the ancient Type 965 or 966 ‘double bedstead’ air search radar and the Type 992Q radar used to designate targets for the gun and missiles which lacked Moving Target Indication (MTI). Both radars therefore lacked the ability to detect moving targets at low level, or with a land mass behind them. These deficiencies led directly to the loss of two T42s and severe damage being inflicted on HMS GLASGOW.
However, the situation changed when the two Batch 2 T42s, HMS CARDIFF and HMS EXETER arrived in theatre. Both were equipped with the Type 1022 L-Band, long range Surveillance, and Target Identification Radar (STIR). Most importantly the Type 1022 added a MTI capability. With the benefit of better radars and combat system EXETER shot down three Argentine aircraft and an Exocet AShM by GWS-30 Sea Dart Surface to Air Missiles (SAM).
The latter claim was disputed. However, supporting evidence for the Exocet shoot down could come from the verified kill of a similar first generation Iraqi Silkworm AShM by a Sea Dart fired from HMS GLOUCESTER. On 23 February 1991 during the First Gulf War, the battleship USS MISSOURI, escorted by GLOUCESTER, the Type 22 (T22) frigate HMS LONDON and USS JARRETT, was engaged by two Silkworms.
One missile crashed into the sea, the other was intercepted and destroyed by the Sea Dart. This action was in many ways prove to be a watershed in RN thinking, both confirming its previous experiences in the Falklands war and setting the pattern for future warship design and tactics. Two essential lessons arose from this one engagement. First, JARRETT’s Raytheon Phalanx 20 mm Close In Weapons System (CIWS) designed specifically to shoot down incoming AShMs was placed in autoengagement mode but failed to engage the Silkworm and instead targeted chaff launched by MISSOURI. Second, LONDON which carried the MBDA Sea Wolf SAM, which like to Phalanx was an anti AShM system, did not engage the Silkworm. This reflected the earlier Falklands experience when the missile failed to engage Argentine Exocet AShMs.
Likewise, in various Middle-East conflicts the Phalanx has failed to intercept incoming AShMs, the first occasion being in 1987 when the USS STARK was accidentally attacked by an Iraqi Dassault Mirage F1 which fired two Exocet missiles at the frigate. The failure of both ‘last ditch’ weapons systems gave rise to consideration of how to effectively protect ships against AShMs particularly as these develop in sophistication and can now attain hypersonic speeds or be fired over a ballistic trajectory.
DESIGN OF THE TYPE 45
The Type 45 is often negatively compared to the American Arleigh Burke design which is equipped with ninety-six BAE Systems (BAES) Mk 41 Universal Vertical Launching System cells (thirty-two fore and sixty-four aft). They are allocated for SAMs, Raytheon Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles and Honeywell Subroc Anti-Submarine missiles although the mix is varied in order to meet specific mission needs.
For a maximum Anti-Air Warfare (AAW) load out seventy-two cells carry forty-eight Raytheon RIM-66 SM-2 and eight RIM-174 SM-6 Standard SAMs, together with sixty-four Raytheon Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSMs) which are quad packed in sixteen cells. (These are figures for Flights I and II ships, Flight IIA vessels have an additional six Mk 41 cells.) Interestingly the Burkes were not initially equipped with the Phalanx CIWS, close-in defence against AShMs was provided by the ESSMs.
They are now equipped with at least one Phalanx. In comparison the T 45s have forty-eight A 50 Sylver cells for MBDA Aster 15 and Aster 30 SAMs. Additionally each ship is equipped with two Phalanx CIWS, while four T45s may be equipped with eight canisters for Harpoon missiles at any one time, the Harpoons having been removed from the Batch 3 Type 22 Cornwall class frigates when they were decommissioned in 2011.
These figures would appear to afford the Arleigh Burke class an overall superiority in terms of AAW capability. However, there are some factors which are not apparent in the statistics which tip the balance in favour of the T45. The Burkes are equipped with the Aegis combat system which currently uses the Lockheed Martin AN/SPY-1D(V) S-band radar featuring four passive electronic system arrays (PESAs) as the primary system for threat detection, searching and tracking targets at a range of 189+ nmi (350+ km). Being a PESA radar it cannot provide target illumination for Semi-Active Radar Homing (SARH) missiles of which the SM-2 and ESSM Block 1 are the most widely used examples. These missiles must be guided to a target by three SPG-62 continuous wave illuminators (CWIs) controlled by a Raytheon Mark 99 fire-control system. This places the Burkes at a considerable disadvantage if a destroyer was to experience a saturation attack of twenty to thirty AShMs because the mechanically steered SPG-62 can only guide a limited number of SM-2s at once.
These shortcomings will all begin to be addressed from 2023 on Flight III Arleigh Burke destroyers which will be equipped with the introduction of the AN/SPY-6 active electronic scanned array (AESA) Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR). Together with active radar homing (ARH) SM-6 and ESSM Block 2 missiles these destroyers will be formidable AAW and ballistic missile defence (BMD) platforms and gain superior capabilities over and against the T45.
The T45 features the BAES SAMPSON S band AESA multi-function radar (MFR) which is primarily used for fire control, although it can also carry out long range search to a distance of 216 nmi (400 km). It is the radar component of the Sea Viper air defence system, the other being MBDA Aster SAMs. SAMPSON features two back-to-back planar arrays which rotate at 30 revolutions per minute leaving no area of the sky without coverage for less than 0.5 seconds. Being smaller and lighter than fixed radar arrays such as the AN/SPY-1D(V) or the Thales Nederland Active Phased Array Radar (APAR), SAMPSON is sited approximately double the height of either and consequently has a considerable advantage in its ability to detect sea-skimming targets over a longer range. Early detection of such threats was one of the lessons coming out of the Falklands war as was the necessity to have the maximum number of missiles available to bring to bear on incoming targets.
Being an AESA radar SAMPSON has inherent advantages in countering a saturation attack with the ability to simultaneously illuminate and steer Aster missiles to thirty-two or more targets. The US Naval War College has suggested that SAMPSON is capable of tracking 1,000 objects the size of a cricket ball travelling at Mach 3, consequently emphasising the radar’s performance against high speed stealth targets. SAMPSON is complemented by the BAES S1850M PESA L band volume search radar capable of tracking of up to 1,000 targets at a range of 216 nmi (400 km). It is also capable of detecting stealth targets, and is able to detect and track missiles in the outer atmosphere at short range, therefore making it capable of forming part of a Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (TBMD) system.
For long range defence against AShMs the 65 nmi (120 km) range Aster 30 and the 130 nmi (240 km) range SM-6 are currently the West’s most advanced shipborne SAMs. Both missiles feature inertial guidance and active radar homing. The Aster 30 has a terminal speed of Mach 4.5, the SM-6 Mach 3.5. Both are designed to provide area defence. The Aster is fired on a one shot one kill basis and features a unique combination of aerodynamic control and direct thrust vector control called ‘PIF-PAF’ through which the missile is capable of high speed end manoeuvres. Together these features are claimed to give Aster an unmatched kill (Pk) capability. In addition to providing anti-aircraft defence, the SM-6 is designed to perform terminal phase Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) as are the Aster 30 Block 1NT/Block 2 BMD missiles. American practice is to ripple fire missiles with at least two directed at each target. (Perhaps recognising the practice of firing multiple Standard missiles at one target, the South Korean Sejong the Great class destroyers carry no less than one hundred and twenty-eight missiles of different combinations.) Hence, the T45’s seeming disadvantage of carrying fewer SAMS is offset by the number of missiles directed at a target, forty-eight Asters prospectively destroying the same number of targets, while ripple firing ninety-six Standard missiles would normally be required to achieve the same outcome.
IMPROVING THE T45’S ARMAMENT
With a displacement of 9,400 tons full load, the T45s are nearly twice the weight of its T42 predecessor at 5,350 tons (Batch III). The T42 was constrained by its size which inhibited its growth potential. An initial proposal was for the T42 to be equipped with both Sea Dart and Sea Wolf SAM systems for long range AAW and point defence against AShMs respectively. However the T42 was too small to accommodate both systems particularly the Sea Wolf missile system which was both large and heavy. The Sea Wolf system meant that the three batches of T22 frigates were both larger and heavier than the T42s. In the Falklands war Sea Wolf suffered from problems with hardware failure causing launches to fail, and computer malfunctions causing broken lock onto targets.
Nevertheless, there is some argument that had COVENTRY been equipped with both Sea Dart and Sea Wolf she may have survived the 25 May 1982 attack which sank her. Consequently, in designing the T45 provision was made for a multi-layered AAW capability with Aster 30 missiles providing long range area defence, Aster 15 missiles short range defence and Phalanx CIWS providing ‘last ditch’ defence against AShMs. This considerable capability is enhanced immeasurably by SAMPSON, arguably the most capable naval radar extant. Yet, while the T45s are a considerable improvement over their predecessors and match or exceed the capabilities of other Western AAW destroyers they can nevertheless be improved in their armament and sensors.
The inability of chaff to prevent the destruction of the ATLANTIC CONVEYER in the Falklands war demonstrated to the RN the limitations of passive defence systems. This was later reinforced by the inability of chaff fired from the MISSOURI to decoy the incoming Silkworm AShM. Both events confirmed that the greatest defence against incoming missiles was via a hard kill. What is also apparent from attacks by AShMs is that the Phalanx CIWS has failed in every instance to shoot down an incoming missile. In addition to the MISSOURI and STARK incidents, on July 14, 2006 Hezbollah fired two Chinese made C-802 AShMs at Israeli warships one of which hit the corvette INS HANIT. The HANIT possessed sophisticated a multi-layered missile defence capability including a Phalanx CIWS, Barak 1 anti-missile missiles, chaff and ECM and an Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system which was activated at the time of the attack. These should have detected and brought down the AShMs but did not. With respect to both this and the STARK incident it was claimed that their ship’s defensive systems, including Phalanx, were switched off. Despite there being some evidence proffered to support these claims, it seems either implausible or negligent that ships operating in war zones had their principal defensive systems turned off.
A far superior alternative to the Phalanx would be a system which combines a gun and missiles to provide defence against incoming AShMs. In my article for the UKDJ Wartime Operations – Employing the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers, I noted that mounted on the DS30M Mark 2 remotely operated 30mm cannon turret Thales Martlet Lightweight Modular Missiles (LMMs) and Thales High Velocity Missiles (HVMs) would provide a formidable anti-surface and anti-air capability. Jed Cawthorn supports my opinion in relation to this option and further adds that ‘I am no fan of the Phalanx, it was introduced to the RN…in the early 80s…so hope to see it retired in favour of a more modern and capable system’. In the same article he gives a detailed analysis of weapons options for the Type 31e (T31e) frigate, much of which also can apply to the T45. In particular he notes that the with the T45 unlikely to be used for Naval Gunfire Support (NGS) a good option for the ships would be to replace the BAES Mk45 Mod 4 127 mm/ 4.5 inch main gun and Phalanx CIWS with the BAES Bofors 57 mm Mk3 gun in non-deck penetrating mounts.
There is a strong case to support this argument. The gun can fire up to 220 rounds per minute out to a range of 10.6 miles (17 kms). With a greater range and firing a heavier round the 57 mm gun arguably has a greater Pk than the Phalanx CIWS. Additionally, the gun can fire BAES Ordnance for Rapid Kill of Attack Craft (ORKA) projectile which is a one shot-one kill round fitted with an imaging semi-active seeker. It can be guided to its target through laser designation or autonomously by downloading an image of the target prior to firing.
In development is the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Multi-Azimuth Defense Fast Intercept Round Engagement System (MAD-FIRES) rocket propelled projectile. Fired from the Bofors 57 mm gun, it will combine the speed, rapid fire and the availability of the rounds of a gun weapon system with the precision and accuracy of guided missiles. Both ORKA and MAD-FIRES use enhanced ammunition rounds able to alter their flight path in real time to stay on target, together with a capacity to continuously target, track and engage multiple fast-approaching targets simultaneously and re-engage any targets that survive initial engagement.
The current and future ammunition possibilities provide the 57 mm gun combined with the Sea Viper missile system would provide the T45 with a greater capability to defeat cruise missiles, AShMs, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), aircraft as well as surface threats simultaneously.
Janes reported in May 2014 that the UK was committing more funds to explore the development of the T45’s SAMPSON radar and Sea Viper missile system’s anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defence capabilities. This followed a live firing event hundreds of miles north of Kwajalein Atoll in the Western Pacific Ocean, where DARING successfully demonstrated the ability to detect and track at considerable range two medium-range ballistic missiles. Further signalling the UK’s intention to equip the T45s with an ABM capability, in March 2016 Britain and France announced a joint procurement programme with the intention of France acquiring MBDA Brimstone anti-tank missiles and Britain acquiring Aster Block 1NT missiles capable of intercepting medium range ballistic missiles which have a range of 539 nmi – 808 nmi (1,000 – 1,500 km). Once purchased the ABM Aster will match the capabilities of the SM-3 and SM-6 Standard series of missiles.
However, it is not the capabilities of the Aster missile which is questioned when the subject of missile armament is raised in relation to the T45. As noted above, negative comments are directed towards the T45 with respect to the low number of Aster missiles carried. Increasing the number of available anti-aircraft missiles could be achieved by replacing eight Aster missiles with quad-packed MBDA Sea Ceptor missiles, increasing the load out to seventy-two missiles. The Sea Ceptor (also designated the Common Anti-Air Modular Missile [CAMM]) is an active radar homing missile which requires no fire control or illumination radars. It has a speed of Mach 3 and a range of 13.5+ nmi (25+ km), although Janes have reported that the missile has achieved a range of 32 nmi (60 km).
The CAMM-ER (CAMM-Extended Range) has a range of 24 nmi (45+ km). The Sea Ceptor has similar characteristics to the Aster 15, with a high rate of fire, 360 degree coverage and a high degree of manoeuvrability the missile can provide defence against saturation attacks by supersonic AShMs as well as aircraft. In addition to its primary role the RN has confirmed that the missile has a limited surface-to-surface role with the capability to engage small naval vessels.
Beyond this limited capability should the RN determine to equip the T45s with a more substantial AShM capability many possibilities remain open. With the Harpoon Block 1C missiles in RN service now obsolescent they will be removed from both T23 frigates and T45 destroyers by 2023. Anti-surface capability will rely entirely on the Martlet and MBDA Sea Venom lightweight AShMs carried by Leonardo Wildcat HMA2 helicopters. However, in an acknowledgement that a heavyweight AShM would be required to sink vessels larger than a corvette, in March 2019 the Ministry of Defence (MoD) issued a Prior Information Notice (PIN) document which sets out the general requirements for a Harpoon replacement to potential contractors.
These requirements for the Interim Surface to Surface Guided Weapon (I-SSGW) include capabilities to provide over-the-horizon precision anti-ship strike and a terrain-following precision maritime land attack. Missiles in contention to meet this requirement include the Lockheed Martin Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) AGM-158C, the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) and the Saab RBS15 Mk 4 ‘Gungnir’ (Odin’s Spear). These missiles will be canister launched from the T23s. However, if the T45s were to be equipped with AShMs it would make sense to launch them from sixteen strike-length VLS cells for which provision has been made aft of the existing Sylver cells. These could be either the Mk 41 VLS which can accommodate the TLAM, LRASM and Anti-Submarine ROCket (ASROC), or the Sylver A70 VLS for the MdCN derivative of Storm Shadow. Logic would suggest that a purchase of the LRASM which could be used on both types of vessels would be the more suitable choice. Whichever missile is chosen in the interim, by the early 2030s both the T45s and T26s will be equipped with the MBDA CVS401 Perseus Future Cruise and Anti-Ship Weapon (FCASW).
The T45s have no provision for anti-submarine weapons which are carried instead by an embarked Wildcat or Leonardo Merlin HM2 helicopter. A decision to install the Mk 41 VLS would bring with it the possibility to carry ASROC, but bringing yet another weapon type into RN service would appear unlikely especially given that the missile’s design dates back to the early 1960s.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
That the T45 is at the forefront of modern AAW destroyer design is without question. How to maintain its superiority in the face of growing and far more complex threats is now a question which should be addressed by the RN. Particular attention must be given to the number of missiles carried. One possible and innovative solution comes in the form of the BAES Adaptive Deck Launcher (ADL) which has four Mk 41 cells positioned on a ship’s deck in much the same way as any other canister system. The great of the ADL is that it can launch all current RN and USN missiles via its Mk 41 cells.
Quad packed into two ADL’s Mk 41 cells the T45 could carry thirty-two Sea Ceptors without the need to reduce the complement of Aster missiles. The greatest benefit brought by the ADL is that unlike VSLs it can be replenished at sea. Given this development and other rapidly growing technologies, the future possibilities for the expansion of the T45’s armament and sensor systems are considerable hence there remains the probability that the type will indeed be among the world’s best air defence destroyers for some time to come.