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The future of naval warfare ?

September 16, 2014

Littoral warfare


i.e.  conflict that takes place in shallow water, coastal waters, in-land seas or lakes


“. . . An’ the dawn comes up like thunder out of China cross the Bay”

– ‘Mandalay’, by Rudyard Kipling

Within the last few days the US Navy has announced that it is conducting littoral warfare manoeuvres (operation “Valiant Shield”), with allied forces  around the island of Guam. [1]  In all but name this has to be seen as a direct response to China’s posture of developing an anti-access, area-denial strategy which seeks to keep ships out of large areas Asian Pacific waters. This  she  intends to do with ballistic and cruise missiles, according to the this year’s Pentagon report to Congress.

Naval warfare is changing and may never be the same again.

Gone are the deep-sea set battles that characterised the 19th and the fleet interceptions of the 20th century. They are now as obsolete as the once revolutionary Dreadnoughts and Ironclads. [2]

Gone too, in all probability, are those vessels that were formerly the mainstay of any self-respecting and respect-inducing navy; vessels with massive fire power, impressive missile defence umbrellas, multi-tasking; capable of high-speed and able to slice through even mountainous waves.

Welcome then to the 21st century and the advent of Littoral Warfare where ‘littoral warfare vehicles’ will proliferate. The term ‘vehicles’ is consciously made for in future it will be vehicles in every imaginable shape and form (and not just vessels / ship) that will find themselves engaged in this new theatre of combat.

Increasingly navies are being called on to provide the right of innocent passage for friendly ships, to protect vital installations such as ports and offshore oil and gas production facilities, as well as to provide support for armed forces during littoral amphibious operations. There has been a growing recognition of the vital role navies will have to play if they are to take control of the littoral (inshore) environment, an area where the traditionally limitless open water battle space suddenly becomes tightly compressed, more complex to manage with hostile shore batteries air cover (see

1. Maps hold the key

The reason why this shift is underway becomes clear when examining the sea charts of the several principal ‘hot spots’ of today (see world map below). The circled areas represent shallow seas and with the current tension in the  Black Sea (see ‘Update Baltic’ below), and China Sea they pose potential areas for conflict.



Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea highlights a Black Sea Fleet that is now bottled up and for all intents and purposes ‘neutralised’ as an effective power. The Black Sea in not much more than 500 feet deep which complicates ASW, though not quite so much surface-to-surface engagements.

littoral_1Moscow will, by now, know the dangers of mining the straits into the Sea of Marmara leading to Istanbul and should be making contingency plans.

Right: The Black Sea (click to enlarge)

Equally with an eye to influencing Georgia and Ossetia and possibly Moldova in the near future NATO members will be nervous to have a countervailing force available for the game of Black Sea blackmail, should they arise again.

For all the TV coverage and world condemnation there is hardly a mention of the similarities with the onset of hostilities in Georgia (Aug 2008) when South Ossetian “separatists” (?) committed the first act of violence when they blew up a Georgian military vehicle wounding five Georgian peacekeepers. Followed by a campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ against Georgians. This was proceeded by the war in Abkhazia (from 1992 – 93) where Georgia lost the region of Abkhazia to separatists backed by the Russian Army (Moscow). And in a repeat of Eastern Ukraine, those separatists appeared already equipped (as if by magic), with T-72 tanks, BM-21 Grad rocket launchers, Sukhoi Su-25 attack planes, and helicopters.

littoral_2JPGThe Gaza Strip region, always a tinderbox, is another region of comparatively shallow waters and which carries a high  risk of conflict.  Its waters are as shallow as the Bay of Biscay and the Black Sea (see map above).

Left:  China and the independent nation states that border the China Sea (click to enlarge).

On the other side of the world, the emergent nations of Singapore, Malaya, Indo-China, Indonesia, India and Philippines are facing what Japan and Taiwan have faced for some years – China.

In common with the Black Sea blackmail gambit China is intimidating neighbours into striking less than favorable deals. But also in common with the Black Sea in the lack of sea depth which puts China at a disadvantage.

The trump card those smaller nations hold is the control of the Malacca Straits – the choke point of China oil supplies and equivalent to Russia’s Black Sea bottleneck.

2. Above us the waves

Underwater we can expect to see a whole gamut of strange and weirdly wonderful craft emerging rapidly from the experimental stage into the mainstream. There will be a step change in design and performance from this depiction of a rather old-fashioned looking Italian human torpedo (and British navy’s ‘Chariot’) of the 1940 era littoral_X_craft(left) and the original X-Craft (for more background see previous article & Between then and the Israeli version of the human torpedo, circa 1967 (below), there has been no radical reinvention especially when compared with the futuristic visions of new mini-sub designs outlined in the previous article (see

For a new era we have new phrases and new craft – the ‘diver propulsion vehicle’ (or DPV). Diver propulsion littoral_3aJPGvehicles in common with their predecessors are used in special operations to deliver teams of varying size against a specific target.

Currently, US standard issue DPVs look something like the one depicted here  (left) ,where the diver is dragged along behind the motor (similar to a James Bond film). In more elaborate version a team of 6 or 8 sit inside the cockpit of a much larger craft (see below right).

littoral_3JPGThe future will bring advanced in technology and design and future DPV may well look the one shown here albeit in less bright recreational colours (see left). Those technology advances could be in the form of hydrogen power, AIP, plasma or litoral_colourpolymer assisted propulsion, and swivel water jets instead of propellers and rudders.

Left: Recreational use of a DPV

Existing modes of transport such as hydroplanes and hovercraft may undergo evolutionary transformations.To be added to that list will be craft in prototype stage and craft formerly not considered suitable for naval or military use.

Right:  special forces vehicle designed to deliver personnel close inshore (see USN SEALs)

However, the changes will not stop there and it will be the navy with the best innovations coupled to outstanding engineering that will better set to dominate.

3. Nimble and stealth ships

Surface ships riding not under but through the waves will similarly be radical if not revolutionary in design. The new era will welcome not just ships and surface vessels but other craft that will not only have shallower drafts and higher turns of speed but in some cases no drafts at all.

The US navy has realised it needs to address its littoral warfare capability and as a result has introduced Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). These are ultra-high tech, high-speed, combat vessels. Intended for littoral skirmishes – but they are ultra-high expensive. The Americans have decided to go for ships which displace around 3,000 tons unlike their Asian or European counterparts which have focused on 1,000 ton vessels.

LittoralLaunched in 2009 the USN’s Freedom-class littoral combat ship weigh in at 3,000 tons; have a length of 378 ft;, a draft of 13 ft; and fitted with four 4 Rolls-Royce water-jets as propulsion, achieves 47 knots.[3]

Left: USS Freedom

Stealth alone has been the hall-mark of ships built with Vee cross-sectional hulls (monohull), until quite recently with stealth determining construction techniques, overall shape, radar and sonar techniques used (see above).To these craft will be added multi-hulled surface ships (catamarans and tri-marans), some of which are already in service, and in every instance these will be combined with ‘stealth’ technology and function will dictate design leading to some inspired outlines

littoral_4This new generation of craft will include the already in service multi-hulled surface ships (catamarans and trimarans). In some instances these will be combined with ‘stealth’ technology and function will dictate design leading to some inspired outlines.

Typical of this is the USS Independence (picture right).At 2,000 tons and launched in 2010, she is a stealthy, trimaran designed to hunt submarines in and near shallow water (one of the US Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships). She is not intended or armed to fight conventional sized warships but to engage with small boats. However, her defence capabilities can be ‘swopped out’ and she can be re-configured up for a multitude of other roles.

Another incarnation, the USS Zumwalt, Pictured right) is borrowing techniques from stealth aircraft technology. She was floated out of dry dock on Oct 28th 2013. (14,500 tons, 610 feet long and 80 feet wide, littoral_6_Zumand cost US$3bn).

However, some years earlier, in 1984, the Sea Shadow (IX-529), was built by Lockheed for the US Navy as a prototype stealth ship to test out how a low radar profile might be littoral_5 achieved (453 tons, 164 ft long).

Left: the Sea Shadow

She was decommissioned in 2006 and scrapped in 2012.

Norway and Sweden both with coastlines made up of deep fjords have nonetheless built fast shallow-draft craft for inshore fighting. These tend not to be as large as the new styled US sized coastal Corvettes (to use a wartime term).

The Swedish Navy’s Stockholm class corvettes (approx. 380 tons), have a speed of 30 knots and were built in the mid 1980s. Stockholm class corvette such as HMS Malmö (pictured below) was commissioned in 1985. HMS_MalmoThey were lightly armed but had missile and torpedo capabilities and were first fitted with basic stealth technology in 1999 – 2000.

Left: HMS Malmo, Stockholm class corvettes, 1st generation stealth technology (1985).

Stealth features were also incorporated into its successor the Göteborg class (e.g. HMS Gävle, 1989) displacing 425 tons. The latter being 187 ft long with a beam of 26 ft. Today, they have been replaced by five Visby-class corvette of 640 tons (236 ft long and a top speed of over 35 knots).

Somewhat surprisingly and according to Global Firepower , Sweden had a total of 313 warships (in 2012), making it the fourth largest naval power in the world after China, North Korea and the USA. However, counting the individual categories, ie  destroyers, corvettes etc, a total of only about 190 could be found.

Norway has, reputedly, the fastest corvettes afloat. However, the Skjold-class corvettes could equally termed an advanced or enlarged MTB (motor torpedo boat) weighing in at only 270 tons and a length of 156 ft. Most distinctively, it has a draft of only 3.3 ft.; is constructed of glass-fibre and carbon composite materials and rides like a hovercraft on an air cushion between its two hulls.

littoral_8_NorThe Skjold class corvette is designed as a ‘surface effect craft’ where buoyancy is augmented (when underway) by a fan-blown skirted compartment between the two rigid catamaran-type hulls. This provides an alternative solution to the planing hull and Vee cross-section hull compromise: the air cushion reduces wave slamming into the craft at high speeds while presenting a low-drag profile at the waterline. In calm seas it is thought that its top speed is in the region of 60 knots (about 70 MPH).

The adoption of new ways to benefit from air cushions brings about another chapter of quite separate technical development.

4. Sea-skimming

Hydro foils for water taxis are not new but their adoption by the military is recent. Shown blow is Juliet Marine Systems offering, based on the ‘Swath concept’ (Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull) [4] called “Ghost.” It is a 21st-century warship that they says can protect large Navy ships from attacks by small boats and at a fraction of conventional ship building costs – a mere the $10m or so Juliet Marine claim. It is further claimed that it can deploy 18 special forces troops without drawing too much attention.

littoral_9_GhostRight: ‘Ghost’, a prototype military hydrofoil by Juliet Marine Systems

The 60-foot long stealth inspired silhouette of the Ghost is shown here slicing ‘effortlessly’ and ominously through the water. But its speed which is in the region of 50 knots (57 mph) is not due solely to its hydrofoils but to the surrounding of each ski in a ‘bubble of air’ that helps it cut through water much easier than regular boats (this is yet another usage of the concept called super-cavitation).

‘Ghost’s’ promotional literature describes it as “bristling with weapons” yet is operated by only a 3 man crew. Reportedly the vessel can also operate without any crew, if so needed, i.e. by remote control from a nearby ship or control centre.

5. Ship-to-shore connectors

Up until this point the focus has been on suitability of vessels and their ability to seize and control hostile inshore waters. But assuming the enemy’s vessels have been swept aside there is always the next phase namely littoral_11_HoverFrntlanding troops on the shore.

littoral_10_HoverIn obviate this would have been undertaken by landing craft and that procedure produced casualties getting to the shore and gaining a foothold. The landings in Normandy and the Pacific theatre bear testament to how precarious that one phase can be. The US Marines have invested heavily in huge (180 ton and 87 ft long) hovercraft capable of not only carrying troops but their trucks and armoured vehicles. Their advantage is to obviate the need to disembark into water and fight inch by inch up the littoral_14_Rigidbeach (see left and right). Their drawback is that they are very noisy, offer a large target and as can be seen in the photos, offer a large spray and wake which given the experience of World War II was a constant source of locating the precise location of the enemy.

Left: the ubiquitous Rigid Raider used to carrying small groups ashore

In fact, all of the vessels and craft mentioned so far – barring those designed to operate underwater – leave a tell-tale wake. However even this might be a thing of the past.

6. Wake-free warfare

Any vessel that has a single hull, be it a twin hull, a trimaran, has a stepped hull, or is a hydro foil will leave a wake of churned water and given the right circumstances this will glow (bio-luminescence) at night. In the littorasl_wakePacific theatre (1942 – 45), where aircraft were used extensively to locate and destroy ships (and when Radar was in its infancy) the give-away, even in bad cloudy weather conditions, was often a fleet’s wake as this aerial photo (right) demonstrates, eg Battle of Midway; Coral Sea etc.

Troops carried in LCTs were equally defenceless against aerial attack as this picture from the same era show (see below).

littoral_15_LCTRight: WWII era landing craft

In the Falkland conflict British forces (esp. the Royal Marines) landed using the ‘Rigid Raider’ (pictured here). With its hull of robust glass-reinforced plastic it is the most widely used assault craft and operates successfully from the Arctic to the Equator. However, littoral_12_Rigidas is obvious from these three pictures it leaves behind a tell-tale wake (left, right, & below).

littoral_13_RigidWake suppression, if it could be realised, would therefore be a prized ambition with its total elimination as the Holy Grail.

The only vehicles that do not leave a wake, and are not pure aircraft, gooseand which could get troops ashore without leaving a wake are small amphibians, such as the Grumman G-21 Goose of the 1930s, or Ground Effect Vehicles (GEV).

The Grumman Goose was designed as an eight-seat “commuter” or taxi aircraft for businessmen – in a military role with troops and kit it would probably carry half that number at most.

7. Ground Effect Vehicles

Presently, Australia and Germany seem ahead of the game in this niche market.  Grounds affect vehicles are alternatively referred to as ‘WIG’ (Wing in Ground) craft which is a rather awkward and misleading name and it does them a disservice but is the term applied to Ground Effect Vehicles (GEV). For an outline on the principles of GEV see

Ground effect vehicles come in many shapes and sizes, from a craft best suited to a lone saboteur (artist’s impression, right) to one where an agent or operative can be dropped off and later collected (see Hoverwing UH-19XRW, below)

littoral_16_artistRight: Lone raider

Their other use, of course, would be to replace fast motor boats designed to pick up pilots or crews who have ‘ditched’ in the sea.

littoral_17_UH19Left: Hoverwing’s UH-19XRW

However, on an altogether larger  scale is a craft such as the Airfish-8 seen here on a demonstration run at Cairns (Australia). The Flightship company have calculated that operating as a civilian water-taxi, and using its 6 litre engine, the costs are US$) 14 cents per person / per mile, and in cargo mode, only 0.13 cents per kilo / per mile (much less when compared with other modes of transport). The Airfish-8 can carry 8 passengers or up to 800 kilo of cargo.

littoral_airfishRight: Airfish-8

Like a hovercraft the advantage is that GEV such as the Airfish-8 can transition from water to dry land seamlessly. Indeed, with a greater ground clearance than a hovercraft troops and equipment can be pushed further in-shore and even onto higher ground that would prove difficult for a hovercraft. However, in common with traditional skirted hovercraft one littoral_18_Airfish_2suspects they present a noise problem generated from the propeller blades.

Left: Airfish-8 shown flying high enough to clear small boats and sandbars

Airfish is only one of several successful manufacturers and the use of a single hull should be noted. While it may be suitable for in-shore landing and wide estuary assaults it is inflexible when compared to a double hull variant which can negotiate narrow rivers and even channels connecting different parts of large harbours.

littoral_FS50Right: Flightship FS50

The promotional video for the Flightship FS50 shows how the double hull provides a cushion of air between its two hulls so that it can transition into a boat moving on the water with wings that can be folded upwards (like those on a carrier borne aircraft), enabling it to enter confined spaces, eg canals rivers and harbour (see below).

Ditching into the sea always hit and miss affair, and is a far less ‘soft landing’ than is usually imagined. GEVs delivering troops even when damaged or engineless can still glide and thus avoid casualties. GEV are all highly manoeuvrable even when there is a lot of sea traffic and fast-moving targets. Sudden turns which might dip a wing tip into the sea and would be fatal for most air craft are not for GEV which clittoral_FS50_2an fly on unaffected.

Right: Flightship FS50 showing forward doors opening on both hulls, it also has rear and side doors

Although the impression gained is that GEV are limited to fly only a few inches or feet off the surface they can in fact fly much higher – just how high is governed

When even the Armed Services are becoming sensitive to fuel costs the prospect of using 50% less fuel for the same given task in highly attractive. And the more so when the GEV craft has the equivalent speed of the fastest surface patrol boatl and some are comparable to ‘fast’ helicopters (approx. 200 mph).

littoral_XPWhatever the individual layout, wing span, power  used or purpose it is designed for,  all GEV have to conform to a set of aerodynamic laws that make their motion possible.

Left:in flight, the Fischer Flugmechanik Hoverwing 2VT (Germany)

One of the main determinants is the  particular size of the wing, which largely determines its ‘flying’ altitude. Flying is used advisedly here because GEV are actually classified as boats and not aircraft so no  pilot’s licence is required to fly them. As one might imagine with so many permutations on propulsion, hulls and air cushions, there is a range of categories and for  GEVs there are 3 broad headings to reflect this diversity (see later).

Non-Occidental forces

Outside of the West there are comparable advances in China and Russia – and India which is emerging as a large economically strong nation. Indeed, GEV can now be found in Iran (see Bavar-2) and Korea (see Aron-7)

littoral_CaspianHowever it is Russia that has long been associated with GEVs, the Caspian Sea Monster (1966) of Cold War fame which so puzzled Western analysts for years come quickly to mind.

Right: : the MD-160, Russia’s huge ekranoplan (aka Caspian Sea Monster)

The MD-160 was the sole Lun-class ekranoplan built to this gargantuan size. Nikita_Khrushchev had visions of it flying under the radar to land, say, 1,000 troops or it being used to carry and then launch ballistic missiles close in to the America coast. Notable though it is – at 540 tons, a tail littoral_aquaglideplane 5 storeys high and yet capable of 400 mph – Russia has had others ekranoplans of varying size.

For instance the recreational; Aquaglide-2 (left), circa 2006, and the “AQUALET” (below right), both manufactured by ‘Aquagen’, based in Russia (see ).

littoral_aquajetAnd whereas the Caspian Sea Monster could fly at a significant altitude, the variants made by Aquagen merely skip the waves (see above).

Right: Aquagen (2011)

By contrast the ‘A-90 Orlyonok’ was a Soviet era ground-effect plane first commissioned in  1979, which shows just how far ahead of the game they were, despite the State bureaucracy which doomed most bright ideas to failure.  The Russians classified it as Ekranoplan Class B and the public specifications show it could achieve an altitude of Littoral_Orlyonok3,000 m (9,800 ft), placing it between Class A – which is limited to ground effect, and Class C, which exploits the ground effect only during take-offs and landings.

Left: a beached A-90 Orlyonok

Which bring us fortuitously to the definitions and differentials. Some GEV are designed for wave skimming and no more, while some others are deigned to fly a little higher and some much, much higher.

The International Maritime Organization recognises three classes of ground effect craft: [5]

  1. Type A: a craft which is certified for operation only in ground effect;
  2. Type B: a craft which is certified to temporarily increase its altitude to a limited height outside the influence of ground effect but not exceeding 150 m above the surface; and
  3. Type C: a craft which is certified for operation outside ground effect and exceeding 150 m above the surface.

Any notion that Russia and the West are giving GEV a priority is countered by photos from Russia (courtesy of ( ) of what is reported as China’s Littoral_chineseentrance into the niche market. Shown here is the XTW-4. This is said to be a prototype and no detail or date is yet available.

As has been stated earlier, a littoral warfare vessel must be fast, agile, well-armed, full;y able to defend itself and have a very shallow draft.

So far we have looked for these attributes in surface vessels and GEVs. The combination of agility and speed is not so important under water if the craft remains undetected.

However there are common features and a commonality of components in the materials and propulsion needed for littoral warfare and those will be outlined later (see Commonality). For the meantime a review of some of the fast patrol boats of potentially hostile nations needs to be included.

One gun for all reasons ?

The USS Freedom and Independence are typical of this new style of craft designed for this particular theatre of operation. And they will be met, in theory but hopefully never, by Russian and Chinese corvettes and fast patrol boats which have the same speed, armaments and level of weaponry sophistication as this Veer class littoral_veercorvette (shown left) supplied to the Indian Navy.

Left: India’s Veer class corvette

The Veer class corvette (circa 1993), is reputedly a customised version of the Soviet Tarantul class capable of 32 knots, with a displacement of 455 – 480 tons, and a length of 56 metres (approx. 150 ft). The original Tarantul class was reportedly able to achieve 42 knots.

Variants differ but the Indian version has the Russian made AK-176 (76 m/m, 3”) fitted and is effective against incoming missiles as well as shipping.[6] This gun platform has been shown to shoot down an AT-2 ‘Swatter’ which is a small and relatively high-speed Russian made anti-tank missile of the Soviet era, i.e. the 1980s. This would simulate a Harpoon anti-ship missile.

litoral_BAeThe AK-176 has a high rate of fire for a naval gun; it can be increased from 30 rounds per minute to 120 rpm (compare this with the rate of fire for the automated BAe Mark 45 naval gun of 20 – 25 rounds per minute). [7]  However, the high-speed achieved by the Russian is possible when firing a burst of 75 shells and then letting the barrel cool down for 30 minutes.

Left: BAe Mark 45 naval gun

The Veer class corvette which is found in many navies – from Yemen to Vietnam and Bulgaria to Poland – has actually sold well for Russia with around 30 launched, 12 of which were commissioned by India.

It is armed, as are most ships of this ilk, with a single forward facing main gun and backed up by torpedoes and missiles. The BAe Mark 45 naval gun (AK-176 ), is designed to down aircraft, sink shipping, LCT, drug runners, littoral_Buyansmall pirate boats (re: Somalia) contraband smugglers and suicide attacks using rigid rubber inflatable boats (ref USS Cole, Oct 2000). The Gulf states have long had littoral craft because they best suit Middle Eastern demands and territorial waters

Right: Buyan M class corvette

Traditionally ships of this size, i.e. under 500 tons, would be considered as “fast patrol craft” but the demands and evolution of littoral warfare is blurring the distinctions and resetting definitions (ref Norway’s 270 ton Skjold-class corvettes above).

Of a different order of magnitude is the Russian built the Buyan M class corvette (shown below firing a SAM missile). This has a displacement of 600 tons; a hull 62 metres long; a top speed of 28 knots; and is armed with a 100 m/m (4”) gun which has a range of 20 miles and can fire varied ammunition. Begun in 2004 there are thought to be 6 of this class.[8]

littoral_frigateAnother Russian designed and built ‘corvette’ is the Steregushchy-class. But at 2,200 tons and 343 ft long, it is far larger than Buyan M class corvette and is too large to be termed a corvette. Quite properly it is regarded as a frigate by NATO planner.

Right: Stereguschy class ‘corvette’ of the Russian Navy

As one might expect, Sweden with its proximity to Russia, takes a rather Saab-like approach to ships of this class. Overtly the Visby-class corvette has no visible armaments even for self-defence. However, it is fitted with the Rheinmetall (German designed and made), MASS, which littoral_Saabstands for Multi Ammunition Softkill System.

Left: Sweden’s Visby-class corvette

Apparently, MASS is a naval self-defence system and is connected to the ship’s sensors and protects ships from attacks by advanced, sensor-guided missiles. Decoys that operate in all relevant wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum are launched to confound the incoming ordinance (i.e. ultra violet, electro-optical, laser, infrared and radar). This does rather beg the question as to whether any material advantage is gained by having this technology on craft to make them almost invisible to radar, invisible to sonar and visually leaving no wake, when all the time the eye-in-the-sky –  satellites – can see everything, day and night. Is there a method of blinding or disabling satellites ?

Panzerschiffe flaw ?

As we have seen, littoral surface vessels are armed, almost universally, with a single forward facing main gun, backed up by electronics, torpedoes and missiles. There is no doubt that the BAe Mark 45 naval gun. for instance, which is widely used (including by the USN) has rapidity of firing and flexibility in its targeting of threats. Nevertheless, would or could such vessels be overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers or clever littoral_panzerelectronic wizardry ? Faced with multiple targets we know what happened to the Graf Spee.

Would it be fair or reasonable to compare the armaments of the pocket battleship of the 1930s with littoral craft today ? At first sight perhaps not but both concepts features a single turret / gun platform (11”), with secondary armaments along the hulls, eg 8 x 6” guns.

The Panzerschiffe was supposed to out-gun anything that could catch it and out run anything that might vaguely out-gun it. In the final analysis that is not how things worked out – albeit for external reasons. But the main argument against the Panzerschiffe concept was that it could not HMS_lionsuccessfully engage multiple targets, even when augmented with its eight 6” guns. Is there a scenario where this same dilemma will face littoral surface vessels ?

Left: Battle damage to the battlecruiser HMS Lion. Turret damage after the Battle of Dogger Bank, Jan 1915

There must come a time when the barrel needs to be changed, ammunition runs out, the electronics have taken a direct hit and all air defence missiles have been fired. What happens then ? Does one cut and run knowing that any speed advantage over your adversary might no longer exist  ?

RighNew_orleanst: USS New Orleans after Guadalcanal 1942, the bow and turret A were completely blown off. Seen here is what remains of Turret B. [9]

Historically, naval engagements have seen ships have some or all of their main turrets knocked out of action leaving them with the option to flee or close in and use their secondary fire power.

Holed hulls, internal fires, wrecked engine rooms,  compromised  auxiliary systems, jammed rudders and shredded superstructures are all to be expected in larger vessels, and can be managed in the majority of cases.



Left: pocket battleship Lützow

However, on much smaller inshore craft  will such back-up system still be operable ? One suspects not.

It is perhaps ironic to learn that the first generation in-shore craft, the American PT boat, ended up being slower than the top speed of the Japanese destroyers and cruisers they were designed to harry and sink. This was in part due to a built up of algae and debris on the hulls and part due to rudimentary forward servicing facilities.

PT_109Many will be familiar with the fate of PT 109, cut in half by the bow of a Japanese destroyer at night, and captained by John Kennedy, later to be US President (see artist impression left).

Limited to 20 mm and 37 mm cannon PT boats were not a match for the larger calibre guns carried by destroyers and nor could they out pace them because destroyers had a much longer effective range.

In order to have a chance of hitting their target, PT boats (and the British original the MTB boat) had to close to within 2 miles (3.2 km) to make telling shots – well within the gun range of destroyers, frigates and corvettes etc. Compare that with today’s weaponry capable of hitting a 16 ft target from 20 miles away.

A far more formidable adversary was the German E-boat which was about twice the size and had twice the range (920 miles), of PT boats (range 500 miles). German E-boat were thoughtfully armour plated and not solely reliant on a plywood construction and had better rough weather handling.. In addition they had another edge – that of a then secret rudder system utilising what was known as the ‘Lürssen Effect’. This gave the E-boat the advantage of more efficient turning (better manoeuvring) at high speeds over MTB boats.

NB. More recently during the Falklands War, the Battle of Goose Green (28th to 29th May 1982)  demonstrated the shortcomings of relying in a warship armed with only one single barrelled turret. The  4.5 inch (114 mm) Mark 8  single barrelled naval gun of HMS Arrow (3,250 tons), was supposed to provide supporting and suppressing gunfire for the attack led by ‘2 Para’ and which ended in a higher than expected casualty list. HMS Arrow, a type 21 Frigate, had been assigned the task but her gun became jammed after just a few rounds.  Her only other useable armaments were her two Oerlikon 20mm cannon of elderly 1939 design (range approx. 1,000 yards)  or her very expensive Exocet missiles, of which she had four. This calls into question the preponderance of naval designs which favour only one traditional shell firing emplacement. Covering fire could have been provided by FIM-92 Stinger missile with a range of 5 miles, or, and more cheaply,  a Mk 19, 40 m/m grenade launcher mounted on deck, with a range of 2,000 yds. Or there could have bene some belt-fed self-stabilising 20 m/m heavy cannon which also would not have needed deck penetration to install.


Overriding these technological advances is the synergy in strategic warfare thinking and the realisation that 1). the old ways are history, and 2). cost control has to be smarter – not more brutal.

Battle_philippHence, we see a common supplier, e.g. the prolific use of the BAe Mark 45 deck gun, and the dual use of propulsion units, e.g. the same Rolls Royce power plant that is used in aircraft is also used in large ships.

Propulsion systems are converging on diesel engine, pump-jet which give a high-speed and/or hydrogen in pure combustible form or for use in fuel cells. The need for specialist and sophisticated high-tech engines has gone – a motor car’s V-8 is enough for many of these craft and commercial diesel for many others.

The trend in armaments is that it should be rapid-firing and of medium calibre, say, a 35 m/m or 76 m/m cannon, accompanied by anti-ship missiles.

The materials used for stealth craft to shroud their location are used by aircraft, helicopters, ships of all sizes and GEVs. Further, the conning tower on the Swedish A26 submarine uses the same material to avoid detection when on the surface.

To underline the changes required, this a map of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, 1944 (shown right),  illustrate the nuances of fleet inter-island fighting and potential for ambush

One of the latest developments is in the use of the Brimstone missiles. Originally an RAF air-to-ground “fire and forget” missile intended for formations of enemy armour and moving targets; it is now proven effective when fired by aircraft at shipping. Rationally, its “fire and forget” potential may eventually see it being used in purely ship-to-ship encounters.

Dropping paratroopers behind enemy lines runs the risk, as at Arnhem, of them being picked off by ground fire before they hit the ground. Many of the craft her mentioned could perhaps deliver paratroopers and marines more safely.

It took the military a long time to accept that hovercraft widely used in civilian roles could be a useful addition to frontline vehicles. Currently GEV broadly fall into that category and their adoption into military usage will depend on strategic thinking and on perceived future threats. In the mean time many of the craft listed in this article, e.g. GEVs, would be ideal as coastal taxis, coast guard cutters, and patrolling off-shore oil rigs. Delivering staff to off-shore oil rigs using GEVs would have none of the fatalities normally associated with engine failures in helicopters crashing into the sea.



Update: The Baltic, Tuesday 21 October 2014.

Swedish PM ups defence spending as the search for ‘Russian submarine’ continues

The Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven, has said that the country will increase its spending on defence, following reports that a suspected Russian submarine had been spotted of its coastline.
Mr Lofven also spoke of Russia’s increasing military presence in the region but added that “we do not regard that as an immediate threat to Sweden”.
After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Nordic country scrapped some of the resources it had been using to hunt Russian submarines, including helicopters equipped with sonar and anti-submarine weapons.
The Swedish military have confirmed none of the helicopters used in the current search have that equipment.

Ref. .





Battle of Leyte Gulf,  23 – 26th October 1944,

Battle of the Coral Sea, 4 – 8th May 1942, where neither side’s ships sighted or fired directly upon the other.

Battle of the Philippine Sea, June 19 – 20th 1944


Appendix 1

WIG ( Wing In Ground) Technology

WIG Wing in ground effect crafts skim very low over the surface. Typical at a height of 10 % of the wing span. At this height the aerodynamic drag is almost diminished. Due to the pressure increase under the wing at this low height about 80 % more lift is generated compared to a wing out of ground effect.
This double effect makes wing in ground effect craft extreme efficient vehicles. Because of this the use about 50% less fuel in relation to an aircraft. No very fast ship can match the speed of a big WIG-craft (about 210 miles per hour). WIG-craft settle between aircraft’s and very fast ships. Depending on the type of WIG-craft, the can use normal harbor facilities. For medium distances the can match the overall traveling time of air transport.  WIG-crafts are no aircraft’s and can be certified as boats. Actual, our Skimmer 2 is provisional certified as boat.

Why use WIG-craft’s  

Wing in ground effect crafts skim very low over the surface. Typical at a height of 10 % of their wing span. At this height the aerodynamic drag is almost diminished. Due to the pressure increase under the wing at this low height about 80 % more lift is generated compared to a wing out of ground effect.
This double effect makes wing in ground effect craft extreme efficient vehicles. Because of this the use about 50 % less fuel in relation to an aircraft. No very fast ship can match the speed of a big WIG-craft ( about 210 miles per hour). WIG-craft settle between aircraft’s and very fast ships. Depending on the type of WIG-craft, the can use normal harbor facilities. For medium distances the can match the overall traveling time of air transport.  WIG-crafts are no aircraft’s and can be certified as boats. Actual, our Skimmer 2 is provisional certified as boat.



[1] September 18, 2014

[2] She was also the first capital ship to be powered by steam turbines, making her the fastest battleship in the world at the time of her completion. In itself this sparked an ‘arms race’, esp. with a Germany run by a Kaiser envious of the Royal Navy.

[3] See

[4] See,%20Fritz%20COMPLETO%20%28Mexico%29.pdf

[5] ‘Ground effect vehicle’ “International Maritime Organization.” International Maritime Organization. (30 Dec 2011).

[6] After the First Gulf War, when British Lynx helicopters armed with short ranged Sea Skua anti-ship missiles flying below the radar destroyed or damaged 12 Iraqi ‘Osa’ Mk.I fast patrol boats (250 tons), the Soviets realised the need for a replacement for their 1950s era craft which would have to be larger, more seaworthy and have better guns and air search radar.

[7] Taking an average of 25 rounds per kill, see

[8] See  and also

[9] See,13506,701841|704537,00.html

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