This is a continuation to my previous blog, “Missile Naval Battle Lessons”, except this time I am summarizing battles involving larger missile-armed ships of least 1,000-tons, or what most navies would call as “Frigates”. By summarizing results from actual battles, I am hoping we could get valuable information on how weapons and equipment performed in actual battle conditions.
There aren’t that many major battles in modern times involving these large ships, in fact it seems there are only 2: The Falklands War, and Operation Praying Mantis. Because of this I have slightly relaxed the criteria for the examples of battles to be included in this summary to as follows:
– Must involve at least 1 missile-armed large ship;
– Must involve a ship having been sunk, or heavily damaged enough to be stopped dead in the water, or put out of commission for the duration of the conflict.
– Also included examples of ships shooting down aircraft or missiles.
I’ve decided to focus on ships and aircraft for this blog, and did not included event involving submarines as I intend to do 1 or 2 separate blogs about them later on.
(NOTE: Some of the data available right now involving these examples contradict with each other, like the number of planes shot down, for example, hence I just try to resolve them by cross referencing with other sources and/or just using my own judgment to confirm which information I think is correct).
* Sinking of HMS Sheffield, May 4, 1982, the Falklands Islands off the Coast of Argentina
– Background: Argentinian aircraft attack the 4,800-ton Type 42 class Destroyer HMS Sheffield as part of the Falklands War.
– Battle Accounts:
+ 2 Argentinian Super Etendard Attack Aircraft were vectored by a Neptune SP-2H Surveillance aircraft to the location of the Sheffield. The Super Etendards then attack the ship with 2 AM39 Exocet Missiles, 1 of which hit the ship causing massive damages.
+ Sheffield’s radar was off since she was using her satellite communications equipment due to compatibility issues with the radar, and was unable to detect the incoming aircraft or missiles until it was too late.
+ The ship sank a couple of days later under tow due to rough seas.
* Attack on HMS Brilliant and HMS Glasgow, May 12, 1982, the Falklands Islands off the Coast of Argentina
– Background: Argentinian aircraft attack the 4,400-ton Type 22 class Frigate HMS Brilliant and 4,820-ton Type 42 class Destroyer HMS Glasgow as part of the Falklands War.
– Battle Accounts:
+ The HMS Brilliant shoot down 3 of 4 attacking Skyhawks with its Sea Wolf Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs).
+ Another 3 Skyhawks attack the Glasgow, 1 bomb hit but did not explode, although damaging the Glasgow’s fuel system and 2 engines causing it to miss the rest of the war.
* Sinking of HMS Ardent, May 21, 1982, the Falklands Islands off the Coast of Argentina
– Background: Argentinian aircraft attack the British ships 3,200-ton Leander class Frigate HMS Argonaut and 3,250-ton Type 21 class Frigate HMS Ardent as part of the Falklands War.
– Battle Accounts:
+ 6 A-4B Skyhawks attack the HMS Argonaut with 10 bombs, 2 of which hit but did not explode. The bombs caused massive damages to the Argonaut, causing the ship to be put out of action for the rest of the war.
+ 3 Argentine A-4Q Skyhawks attack the HMS Ardent striking her with 7 227kg bombs causing massive damages which eventually led to the sinking of the ship.
* Sinking of HMS Antelope, May 23, 1982, the Falklands Islands off the Coast of Argentina.
– Background: Argentinian aircraft attack the British ships 3,250-ton Type 21 class Frigate HMS Antelope and 4,400-ton Type 22 class Frigate HMS Broadsword as part of the Falklands War.
– Battle Accounts:
+ 4 A-4B Skyhawks attack the HMS Antelope, hitting it with 2 454kg bombs that failed to explode. Attempts to defuse the unexploded bombs resulted in an accidental explosion that sank the ship.
+ 1 out of the 4 Skyhawks above was shot down by a Sea Wolf SAM from the HMS Broadsword.
* Sinking of HMS Coventry, May 25, 1982, the Falklands Islands off the Coast of Argentina
– Background: Argentinian aircraft attack the 4,800-ton Type 42 class Destroyer HMS Coventry as part of the Falklands War.
– Battle Accounts:
+ The Coventry shoots down 2 A-4 Skyhawks with Sea Dart SAMs
+ Another 4 Argentine A-4 Skyhawk aircraft hit the Coventry with 3 bombs, 2 of which exploded and causing the ship to sink. The aircraft flew at low altitude over ground and the Coventry’s radar was unable to detect them until it was too late. The Coventry was only able to launch 1 Sea Dart SAM against her attackers which missed.
* Attack on the Carrier Battle Group, May 30, 1982, the Falklands Islands off the Coast of Argentina
– Background: Argentinian aircraft attack the British Carrier Battle Group which included the 16,000-ton Invincible-class Aircraft Carrier HMS Invincible, 3,250-ton Type 21 class Frigate HMS Avenger and 4,800-ton Type 42 class Destroyer HMS Exeter as part of the Falklands War.
– Battle Accounts:
+ 2 Argentine Super Etendard launches 2 Exocet missiles at the Carrier Battle Group. Supporting warships for the Invincible launches Chaff to decoy away the missiles, which then passed in between the HMS Exter and HMS Avenger. Unfortunately the missiles hit the undefended Atlantic Conveyor causing damages which eventually led to her sinking.
+ Later that day, 2 out of 4 Skyhawks attacking the HMS Avenger with bombs were shot down by Sea Dart SAMs from the nearby HMS Exeter.
* Attack on the USS Stark, May 17, 1987, Off the Coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf
– Background: An Iraqi F-1EQ mistakenly attacks the 4,100-ton Oliver Hazard Perry class USS Stark.
– Battle Accounts:
+ An F-1EQ is detected by the USS Stark which it did not consider as a serious threat as US-Iraqi relations then were decent. The F-1EQ mistakes the Stark as a tanker, and fires 2 AM-39 Exocet missiles at it. For some reason that was never revealed up to now, the Stark was unable to detect the incoming missiles on radar.
+ The Stark took no evasive or countermeasure actions against the missiles, both of which hit but whose warheads failed to detonate. The unburnt fuel from the missiles caused massive fires, but the excellent firefighting skills of the crew managed to save the ship from sinking.
* Operation Praying Mantis, April 18, 1988, in the Persian Gulf
– Background: US Carrier Naval fleet attack military installations in Iran in retaliation of Iran’s mining of the Persian Gulf which led to the damage of an American naval ship.
– Battle Accounts:
+ The 1,100-ton Alvand class Frigate IIS Sahand fires Anti Aircraft Artillery (AAA) and Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) at 2 A-6E Intruders, which fired back 2 Harpoon Anti Ship Missiles (AShMs) and 4 AGM-123 Rocket-powered Laser-Guided Bombs, severely damaging it. An Adams class Destroyer also joined in on the attack on the Sahand using another Harpoon Missile, and the effects of the combined weapons finally causing the Sahand to sink.
+ The Sahand’s sister ship, the IIS Sabalan, later also fires off AAA and MANPADS at another A-6 Intruder which the Intruder was able to avoid. The Sabalan was heavily damaged using a laser-guided bomb by the counter-attacking Intruder, but was not finished off.
* Silkworm Attack on US Ships, April 18, 1988, in the Persian Gulf
– Background: The American ships 4,100-ton Oliver Hazard Perry class Frigate USS Gary, the 3,280-ton Charles F. Adams class Destroyer USS Joseph Strauss, the 4,100-ton Oliver Hazard Perry class Frigate USS Jack Williams and 8,000-ton Spruance class Destroyer USS O’Brien are attacked with Silkworm missiles by Iran as retaliation for sinking of their ships as part of Operation Praying Mantis.
– Battle Accounts:
+ A Silkworm missile is detected attacking the American Mobile Sea Bases (MSB) in the Persian Gulf. The guard ship, the USS Gary moves in between the missile and the MSBs and tries to shoot down the missile. Radar limitation keep the Gary from using its SAMs thus had to rely on its 76 mm cannon. At around 13 km the missile splashes into the sea and the Gary claims a kill, but this is never officially confirmed.
+ The USS Joseph Strauss, USS Jack Williams and USS O’Brien are attacked by 3 waves of at least 6 Silkworm missiles while transiting the Straits of Hormuz. All the missiles miss due to the ships’ use of evasive maneuvers, ECM and sophisticated decoys such as the SeaGnat System (IR, Chaff and Active decoys), Torch (IR decoy) and AN/SLQ-49 (floatable, inflatable radar-reflecting decoy). 1 Silkworm missile was seen by multiple witness missing by passing in between and then behind the ships.
+ Iran used a helicopter with Electronic Surveillance Measures (ESM) and a C-130 to spot the location of the ships and relay targeting information to their missile batteries.
* Shooting Down of a Silkworm Missile, February 25, 1991, Off the coast of Faylakah Island in Iraq
– Background: American ships shelling the Faylakah Island are attacked with Silkworm missiles by Iraq as part of the Gulf War.
– Battle Accounts:
+ Iraqi Silkworm missiles based on shore platforms were launched at American ships. A Sea Dart SAM from the HMS Gloucester shoots down 1 of the missiles in the first and only known case so far of a SAM shooting down an Anti-Ship Missile.
+ The Phalanx CIWS of the USS Jarrett mistakenly attacks at a chaff cloud launched by the USS Missouri, causing minor damage on the battleship.
* Hesitance to Commit Large Ships to Combat – If you’ve noticed, there are no large ship versus large ship example in the battles above, its usually between aircraft or shore-based platforms versus large ships, and one main reason for this is that large ships are expensive so navies tend to afford only a few of them at a time and thus there might be a reluctance to field them for most navies, except for those that can afford to lose them.
In the case of Argentina, for example, who only had 11 major surface combatants fielded in the theater of operations during the Falklands War, of which only 5 were only truly modern (2 Type 42 class Destroyers, 3 Drummond class Corvettes) while the rest including their aircraft carrier were World War 2 relics. So when their 2nd largest ship, the ARA General Belgrano was sunk by the nuclear attack submarine the HMS Conqueror, all their ships promptly went back to their ports to hide, leaving the fighting to their Air Force and Army which suffered heavy losses. The Iranian Navy was even worst off, having only 4 Frigates and committing only half of them piecemeal against the US Navy. It seems only the richest and most powerful countries like that of the US and the UK have the numbers and deep pockets to commit large navies into battle.
* Better SAMs Effective at Shooting Down Aircraft – Armed with longer-ranged SAMs with heavier warheads enabled larger ships to be effective at shooting down aircraft. Frigates and Destroyers were able to shoot down at least 8 aircraft (all A-4 Skyhawks, 4 by Sea Wolf missiles and another 4 by Sea Dart missiles), plus a couple more helicopters, propeller-driven attack aircraft, etc. which I did not include in the examples as I only considered the more difficult targets and/or those that posed a direct threat to ships. Also not included are a couple more aircraft shot down by ships which have contested or shared claims with other weapons. In comparison, Missile Boats equipped only with Man Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) were only able to shoot down 2 aircraft or 4 times LESS than that of larger ships.
* Aircraft Continue to be a Problem even for Larger Ships – Despite the fact that larger ships have better air defenses and have shot down more aircraft, it has not been enough of a deterrent as aircraft still accounted for 9 ships sunk or heavily damaged, broken down to 3 Destroyers and 6 Frigates. This is specially true for the Type 42 Destroyers which were the state-of-the-art Anti-Air Warfare ships with some of the best SAMs and best naval radar systems of its time, and yet 3 of them were sunk or put out of action by the aircraft they were supposed to shoot down. In terms of attrition, the numbers doesn’t bode well for ships in that ship losses in terms of COST and DEATHS are higher than aircraft losses because each ship costs a lot higher and has a lot more crew to lose than aircraft.
However, not mentioned in the accounts above is the fact that carrier-based aircraft in the Falklands War accounted for shooting down more than 20 jet attack aircraft, or more than twice the number of aircraft shot down by ships. Hence, if you have an aircraft carrier, you can expect to make attacking aircraft pay a higher price for sinking or damaging ships, but most navies around the world like ours can’t afford to own and maintain a single aircraft carrier (let alone multiple aircraft carriers), although we have to note that our opponent China has them and shows how much of a problem we have going up against them.
* Active Radar Guidance Susceptible to Softkill Systems – Anti-Ship Missiles with active-radar Guidance systems seems to be “overrated” in that they are susceptible to missing their targets if “softkill” systems such as Electronic Counter Measures (ECMs) and Decoys are used against them. They work VERY WELL against targets NOT using softkill defensive systems (like the attacks on the USS Stark, HMS Sheffield and the IIS Sahand), but when softkill defenses are up (like in the case of the attack on the British Carrier Group in the Falklands War or the US Ships in the Persian Gulf), they end up MISSING their targets each and every time. This goes way back to the Missile Boat examples, and it doesn’t matter which missile is used, be it a Styx, Silkworm, Exocet or Harpoon, they have problems finding their targets if a combination of ECM and decoys are used.
Take the Exocet missile hits so far, for example. Argentina only had 5 missiles during the Falklands War, and 4 missiles scored hits on 3 targets. But all 3 targets either did NOT have decoys, or for one reason or another were not able to activate their decoys. In fact, the 2 Exocets that hit the Atlantic Conveyor were decoyed off other ships which then hit the biggest target it could find that was not armed with decoys. If you include the Exocet missiles that hit the USS Stark, then that’s 6 missiles hitting 4 targets not using decoys.
* Hard Kill Systems Have Limited Effectiveness Against Missiles – So far there has only been 2 instances of missiles being shot down by hardkill systems over the 4 decades of use of Anti-Ship Missiles (AShMs), and that is a probable by the USS Gary using its 76 mm guns, and the HMS Gloucester using its Sea Dart SAM, both times against Silkworm missiles. In instances where the British Carrier Force in the Falklands War and US Task Force in the Strait of Hormuz were attacked by missiles and tried to shoot it down using SAMs and CIWS, they have been unable to do so, indicating the limited effectiveness in actual combat of these as of now. At the time of the Falklands War, the British ships did not have any gun-based CIWS and relied mostly on their SAMs and main guns, but the American ships that participated in Operation Praying Mantis already had the Phalanx CIWS.
* Fleet Build Up – We will really need to build up on our fleet because if not, there might be a hesitance to commit enough of them into battle to make a difference, as in the case of Argentina and Iran. Right now we have 5 modern ships, broken down to 3 Jacinto-class and 2 Hamilton-class ships. Another Hamilton-class ship could be added plus the 2 new Frigates would put our modern surface combatants to 8. However, the Jacintos and Hamiltons needs to be improved to make them more combat capable, like adding sophisticated decoys, decent-ranged SAMs and Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) capability. If those 2 classes will not be improved, we will then only have 2 capable ships in the new Frigates.
If we can have 8 modern and capable combat ships, then we could add a couple more Corvette-sized ships as “force multipliers”, to have enough ships to commit for combat. However, an even better option would be SUBMARINES as they are arguably the most effective naval combatant after aircraft carriers. If we could get 4-6 Diesel-Electric propulsion Submarines into our fleet, I feel this would be enough to make an effective threat to intimidate China. The topic of Submarines will be discussed more in a future blog.
* Airborne Surveillance Support is Critical for Ships – One reason why aircraft continue to be a problem for ships is first because their radar are hampered by the Horizon problem (for more on this, see my blog “Radar Detection and The Horizon Distance” about this), enabling aircraft and/or missiles to fly low above the surface of the sea mostly undetected. Second, if the ships are near the shore, aircraft can hide behind terrain (i.e., mountains, hills, etc.) when making their attack. In both instances, ships then have less warning and reaction to counter the attack.
Aircraft are less susceptible to the horizon problem and low-flying aircraft/missiles hiding behind terrain because they and their radars can operate at much higher altitudes, and thus could give ships earlier warning of an attack, allowing the ships to deploy their countermeasures properly. Hence I feel AIRBORNE EARLY WARNING (AEW) support is critical for ships. All the American Ships during Operation Praying Mantis had air warning support which helped them survive the Silkworm missile attacks.
Aircraft can also be used offensively to spot the location of enemy fleets and provide targeting information to various weapons platforms including ships. This is how the Argentinians were able to direct their Exocet armed Super Etendards, and also how the Iranians directed their Silkworm attacks on the American ships. The Philippine Air Force is acquiring Maritime Surveillance aicraft, it wouldn’t hurt for the Philippine Navy to acquire some of their own to specifically support their ships.
* Softkill and Hardkill Systems – Even with AEW cover, ships will still need the proper weapons to employ against AIRCRAFT, hence SAMs with good range and decent warhead size will still be needed. I did mention a 12 km range minimum for SAMs as acceptable in my last blog about missile boats, and I think that still stands for now, although the longer the range of the SAMs, the better. The US Navy seems to have adopted the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) as their minimum point defence SAM with its 50 km range, but these missiles of course cost more than shorter-ranged missiles. CIWS so far has shown limited effectiveness against missiles, but they are still useful as another weapon for use as part of a LAYERED defense system.
Against MISSILES, softkill weapons seems to be the best systems to use, and right now in our navy only the Del Pilar-class ships have a decent decoy system with their Mk 36 Super Rapid-Blooming Off-Board Chaff (SRBOC). I think our ships will need to use ECM equipment also and more sophisticated types of decoys like “active” or radar-reflecting decoys in order for them to have better protection against missiles.
* AShMs Limitations – AShMs with active-radar guidance systems does seem to be vulnerable to softkill systems, but unfortunately all large AShMs available in the market right now in the west uses this type of guidance. They do work, but only against ships NOT using softkill systems (like in the case of the IIS Sabalan and other Missile Boat examples), or if a ship is SURPRISED and is unable to employ her softkill systems in time (like in the case of the USS Stark or HMS Sheffield).
Hence for now, if we are going to get large AShMs, no choice but to get those with active-radar guidance systems. Sometimes I do think it would be better to just put 1 or 2 more rapid-firing 76mm gun turrets instead of AShMs, but then again doing that means you wouldn’t be able to exploit some tactical situations where AshMs would still work, plus the fact that large AShMs still have much longer ranges than guns (for now).
* Better AShMs Needed – A better guidance system is needed for AShMs, one that is more reliable and not easily fooled by decoys, like one which puts a man-in-the-loop when the missile is homing in on the target. This probably explains the trend of using Semi-Active Laser Homing (SALH) systems among naval vessels nowadays as it is one such type of guidance system where an operator need to manually designate a target with laser which the missile homes on to. But SALH missiles does have weaknesses also in that it the operator won’t be able to take aggressive evasive maneuvers while designating the target, and only one target at a time can be designated. It is also susceptible to fog or other weather conditions, and to thick smoke.
Another example of a guidance system with a man-in-the-loop is the AGM-65 Maverick’s Electro-Optical Imaging Infra-Red (EO-IIR) system, and the fact that we are buying them seems to show that we made the right decision. However these Mavericks only have limited range, and their EO-IIR has not yet been adopted to larger and longer-ranged missiles, and it remains to be seen if they will ever be.
Another solution would be LONG-RANGE, STEALTH AShMs because even if they use active-radar guidance systems, their combination of range and stealth speed means ships won’t know they are under attack until it is too late, giving ships less chances to deploy their countermeasures properly, increasing the chances of the missiles scoring a hit. But availability of these missiles is still at least half a decade away as of now.
To summarize the lessons that I feel were gained from the above exercise:
– The PhN will need to improve the capability of its existing modern ships and acquire more naval vessels to have enough ships to commit effectively in combat.
– Airborne Surveillance support for ships is critical for both defensive (protection of ships from aircraft and missiles) and offensive (locate enemies and direct weapons platforms) purposes.
– Sufficient protection from aircraft using SAMs with at least 12 km range is needed, and so is the use of more sophisticated decoy systems for protection against missiles
– Current AShMs are effective only in certain tactical situations, stressing still the importance of naval guns in major battles.
– The development of more effective long-range stealth AShMs need to be followed closely as once they go into service they will expand the range of tactical situations where AShMs would be effective, and could tip the balance of technology in favor of the AShMs slightly.
There has been no large ship versus large ship in the engagements I have gathered so far, but I would imagine that if a modern ship-versus-ship battle does occur, it would be something like this: Say for example 2 ships of EQUAL sophistication face off, each with AShMs, decoys, ECM, SAMs, CIWS and guns, and each with sufficient airborne observation support. They are aware of each others attack and start the engagement with their longest ranged weapons, usually the AShMs. Most of the AShMs will be decoyed off, some will be shot down by the SAMs and CIWS.
Ultimately both run out of missiles and thus have to close the gap between them to use their guns. In such a scenario, the ship with the bigger gun seems to have the advantage, but large modern fast-firing guns are prone to fouling, as the US Navy ships with their 125 mm guns found out during encounters with Iranian Swarm Boats, and once the main gun stops firing, the ship will be in trouble as most only carry 1 gun. Hence the ship with the more reliable gun will win. 76 mm guns use less gunpowder and thus could be more reliable and less susceptible to fouling, and it may pay to have more than just one of them.
If such a scenario will hold true, then it is ironic that in this day and age of missiles, naval ships could STILL end up firing cannon broadsides at each other in major naval battles, only their guns would be more accurate with their stabilized mounts and computerized fire control system …
* USS Stark incident, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Stark_incident
* Type 42 Destroyer, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_42_destroyer
* HMS Antelope (F170), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Antelope_(F170)
* HMS Coventry (D118), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Coventry_(D118)
* HMS Brilliant (F90), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Brilliant_(F90)
* HMS Glasgow (D88), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Glasgow_(D88)
* HMS Plymouth (F126), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Plymouth_(F126)
* HMS Antrim (D18), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Antrim_(D18)
* HMS Argonaut (F56), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Argonaut_(F56)
* HMS Invincible (R05), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Invincible_(R05)
* USS Jack Williams (FFG-24), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Jack_Williams_(FFG-24)
* USS Joseph Strauss (DDG-16), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Joseph_Strauss_(DDG-16)
* USS O’Brien (DD-975), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_O’Brien_(DD-975)
* USS Gary (FFG-51), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Gary_(FFG-51)
* Argentine naval forces in the Falklands War, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argentine_naval_forces_in_the_Falklands_War
WEAPONS AND SENSORS:
* Silkworm (missile), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silkworm_(missile)
* Seagnat, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seagnat
* AN/SLQ-49 Chaff Buoy Decoy System, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AN/SLQ-49_Chaff_Buoy_Decoy_System
* Exocet, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exocet
* Sea Wolf (missile), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_Wolf_(missile)
* Sea Dart (missile), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_Dart_(missile)
* TAB H — Friendly-fire Incidents, http://www.gulflink.osd.mil/du_ii/du_ii_tabh.htm
* Operation Praying Mantis, “America’s First Clash with Iran: The Tanker War” by Lee Allain Zatarain
* Argentine Skyhawks in the Malvinas, http://a4skyhawk.org/2e/argentina/falklands-malvinas/argentina-malvinas.htm
* Naval History, Part 54 – Argentine Aircraft Lost, http://www.naval-history.net/F64-Falklands-Argentine_aircraft_lost.htm