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Phalanx Has A Future

File photo: Phalanx.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Nov 03, 2006
When tactical missiles are fired at close range the best U.S. weapon to shoot them down may be a good old-fashioned machine gun. Except there is nothing old-fashioned about Raytheon's Mark 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapons System, or CIWS. An article published Friday by Defense Industry Daily spells out the formidable capabilities of the Phalanx CIWS and explains why it is already the BMD weapon of last resort of the U.S. Navy and why so many other countries are interested in having it too.

Interest in the Phalanx CIWS has spiked in recent months following the massive Katyusha rocket mortar bombardment of northern Israel by Hezbollah in their brief conflict this summer. The Katyusha attacks followed an escalating series of less intense and formidable, but still potentially dangerous, attacks against Israel by relatively low-tech, very short-range Qassem missiles fired by Hamas and its allies from with in Gaza, which Israeli forces evacuated in summer 2005.

Both sets of attacks led to a revival of interest by U.S. congressional appropriators as well as by Israel in the development of laser weapon defenses against very short-range missile attacks.

The Phalanx, however, has several striking advantages over laser BMD systems against short-range missiles.

First, it is already operational and being produced and deployed in relatively large numbers.

Second, it is the outgrowth of an already-mature technology, super-powerful, ultra-high speed machine guns have been a key element of the U.S. armed forces for decades. The awesome Gatling gun was used to devastating operational effect in Vietnam.

The radar-guided, rapid-firing Phalanx CIWS is a worthy successor to the Gatling. The DID report Friday stated it can "fire between 3,000-4,500 20mm rounds per minute, either autonomously or under manual command, as a last-ditch defense against incoming missiles and other targets."

"Phalanx uses closed-loop spotting with advanced radar and computer technology to locate, identify and direct a stream of armor piercing projectiles to the target," DID said.

Defense Industry Daily noted that the Phalanx CIWS is already installed "on approximately 187 US Navy ships and is in use in 20 foreign navies."

Third, the Phalanx CIWS is vastly more flexible than the ambitious and promising, but still experimental THEL laser systems we discussed in these columns on Aug. 24.

DID cited Paul Gilligan, head of platform integration for Raytheon's British subsidiary, as saying that the Mark 15 Phalanx Block 1B upgrade was "vitally important, especially in the context of the evolving threats worldwide ... . It provides protection to ships and their crews against an increased number of threats including small, fast gunboats; standard and guided artillery; helicopters; mines and a variety of shore-launched, anti-ship missiles."

DID said the MK 15 Phalanx Block 1B would "also be the base platform for the new SeaRAM short range anti-air missile system, in use by the USA, Germany, Korea, and others."

The Phalanx is also believed capable of defending U.S. bases from mortar attacks, already a real concern in Iraq and a probable requirement in any significant land combat operations for the foreseeable future. DID noted that in June 2005, it had reported on the U.S. Army's land-based version of the weapon, unofficially but widely referred to as the R2D2 after the cute, but street smart and endlessly adaptable little robots in the "Star Wars " movies that they remarkably resemble.

"Originally developed to defend U.S. bases against mortar attack, these adapted weapons could also provide defensive options against the kinds of rocket attacks encountered in Round 1 of Israel's recent war with Hezbollah," DID wrote.

It noted that on Sept. 13, Raytheon received a contract for $129 million in funding for this system. This "suggests that rapid growth is on the way" in Phalanx CIWS production and further development, the article concluded.

The success of the Phalanx CIWS is a demonstration of how even in the most ambitiously cutting edge fields of military technology, sometimes the best forms of defense employ simple, low tech principles combined with modern high tech ones.

A gun employs far simpler principles than a laser or a rocket and is far less romantic. But even the most remarkable, high tech super-guns like the Phalanx CIWS far less likely to suffer development and operational failures than sci-fi like new super-weapons. Because they have been in production for years or even decades, they are usually far cheaper to produce en masse. The developmental costs have either already been paid long in the past or are minor compared with the ones for new weapons. There is already a potentially large arsenal of replacements and spare parts available for them. And there is already a large cadre of serving manpower in the U.S. armed forces experienced in operating and maintaining Phalanx guns.

Finally, expanding use of the Phalanx CIWS in a BMD role against very short rang missiles also fits with the development philosophy that Lt. Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering has so successfully applied at the U.S. Missile Defense Agency of focusing resources on weapons systems that are already operational or show the promise of being so in the shortest periods of time, rather than funding far more ambitious but far off and speculative technologies.

Therefore, for the Phalanx CIWS, the future continues to look bright.

Source: United Press International

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