Magazine article National Defense

Navy's Fire-Support Weapon Programs Lag: Long-Range Naval Guns, Precision-Guided Projectiles, Are at Least a Decade Away

Magazine article National Defense

Navy's Fire-Support Weapon Programs Lag: Long-Range Naval Guns, Precision-Guided Projectiles, Are at Least a Decade Away

Article excerpt

A protracted debate on how the Navy should best provide long-range fire support to ground forces will not be settled any time soon.

Since the battleships were decommissioned after the Cold War, the Navy has been criticized for failing to provide a substitute capability, in the form of long-range artillery aboard surface combatants.

The 5-inch guns available today fire projectiles that can hit targets up to 13 miles away. But that is not enough to satisfy the Marine Corps' requests for long-range gun support, nor does it satisfy the Navy, which would rather not deploy its destroyers and cruisers too close to the shore and expose them to enemy fire.

The only weapon in the fleet today that can reach long distances from a ship is the Tomahawk missile. But the Marines would prefer to have rapid-fire artillery and claim that the Tomahawk, though a powerful and precise weapon, is too expensive, each costing more than half-a-million dollars.

The Navy has spent more than $100 million so far to develop a new 5-inch satellite-guided munition, called ERGM, with a promised range of 63 nautical miles. But that weapon is years behind schedule and may not be ready for fleet operations until the end of the decade.

The Marines' best hope for big guns may be the DDX next-generation destroyer, scheduled to begin construction in 2005 and be deployed by 2011.

The Navy requested $1.05 billion for DDX-related technologies in fiscal year 2004, and will be seeking $15.1 billion for the program through 2009. DDX will have a 155 mm gun, designed to fire guided projectiles--at a rate of 12 rounds per minute--from 100 miles away.

The Marines have built their future war-fighting doctrine on the assumption that they will have gun-fire support from ships as far away as 200 miles from the target, said Marine Maj. Gen. James Battaglini, the Navy's director of expeditionary warfare. "Our requirement is based on ship-to-objective maneuver," he said during a recent industry conference. "It's not fires on the shoreline. It's deeper inland."

But rather than having the Navy supply all the firepower, the Marines are looking for a "combination of capabilities," said Batraglini. That includes naval surface fires, tactical aviation, mortars and ground-based artillery.

Battaglini deemed to comment on the DDX. "Discussions are ongoing," he said. "I can't speak on where we are on that."

Rear Adm. Henry G. Ulrich III, director of naval surface warfare, said he was disappointed by the Navy's poor record in surface-fire support. "We'll work with the Marine Corps to better define the requirements for volume, precision fires," he told the conference. "We'll press forward with Tactical Tomahawk"

In recent years, he said, "we have made a huge investment in extended-range munitions, [but] the return on this investment is simply not there yet. It is a great disappointment."

Ulrich noted that the DDX was "designed with fire support foremost in mind."

The electric propulsion planned for DDX "sets the foundation for electromagnetic rail guns and hypersonic projectiles," Ulrich said. "That is where we need to go."

Asked whether the Navy would fund a new land-attack missile program, Ulrich said that would be unlikely.

"We are working with Marines at every level to determine what their war-fighting requirements are," he said. "We will look at fulfilling those requirements through a series of programs."

In addition to the ERGM, the Tactical Tomahawk and the DDX advanced gun programs, the Navy is funding the development of an electromagnetic rail gun.

"We are going to see if those systems meet the requirement of the Marine Corps," said Ulrich. "We will have a debate on whether or not something else is required. It's too early to tell you whether we've reached that decision."

The Navy budgeted $100 million in 2004 to build an electromagnetic gun prototype. …

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