All right, armchair admirals: Deal with a small-boat swarm

How can today's U.S. Navy ships, aircraft and equipment best respond to the dreaded 'swarm attack?'

Chris Rawley has a great call-out for comments today at Information Dissemination, where he asks readers to try to solve a tricky naval problem: How do you handle a “swarm” of small, fast attackers using the ships, aircraft and equipment in today’s fleet?  This is the scenario he’s laid out:

You’ve got 1) a single FLT II destroyer with armed MH-60 Seahawk helicopters; OR 2) A pair of littoral combat ships equipped with the surface warfare module (assuming the Griffin surface-to-surface missile); MH-60 and two armed Fire Scout unmanned helicopters; OR 3) a squadron (say 10) of offshore patrol craft (use the River Class for consistency) with embarked (armed) Fire Scouts.

The threat: a multi-access swarm of 15 inshore attack craft (mostly crew-served weapons/RPGs) and 5 fast attack craft with modern-ish anti-ship cruise missiles. Assume no external support in this case other than embarked organic air. How would you defend against/defeat this threat using each of the given force structures? … Go.

My two cents: You do not want to let these swarming attackers close to within gun range, because that’s going to be messy at best and deadly at worst if their crews are willing to blow themselves up. (They will be.) So the idea of a “Waterworld”-style furball between your offshore patrol vessels and the swarming bad guys will hurt you more than it will them, because the attackers won’t treat it as a fair fight — they’ll ram anyone they can and set off their explosives while your guys are trying to fight boat-to-boat. So the best bet, of these choices, is a DDG or LCS.

The rest depends on the effectiveness of the LCS’ surface-to-surface missiles. In the golden LCS scenarios of yesteryear, the ship was able to wheel around at standoff range while firing its missiles at attackers it targeted with its Fire Scout, and this seems like the most effective strategy here. The ship has plenty of weapons aboard and you’ll only need one hit per attacker for at least a mobility kill — assuming, of course, the missiles are available and they work as advertised. But LCS’ first SSM, the Non-Line of Sight missile, was cancelled, and its new one, the Griffin, is years away at best. The Fire Scouts and MH-60s from either the LCS or the DDG don’t carry that many missiles, so even if they get a kill with each shot, you’ll still wind up with, say, 10 swarming attackers left to deal with. Then, for the LCS, you’ll need to put the “Thunder in Paradise” doctrine into effect, get the ship up to full speed and see how well you can finish off the stragglers with guns while everyone is turning, bouncing and splashing.

As for a DDG, you’ve got no choice but to let your helos do their magic at standoff range, and then get ready to try engage with the 5-inch while keeping as much distance as possible between you and the swarm. CIWS Block1B in surface-sweep mode also will be your friend here, but many of the newer DDGs only have one, and those things break a lot. The best weapon for this scenario, although it wasn’t one of our options, is probably an AH-1 Cobra. Then again, do Marine gunship pilots train for this kind of scenario? Maybe they should…

What do you think?