Tag Archives: terminated weapons

Terminated Weapons: PARS 3 LR/Trigat

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Three big European nations, all washed-up, has-been powers, decide to collaborate on a project. They threw everything including the kitchen sink into it. The end of the cold war meant a reduction in ordered numbers, a boatload of delays, and the sort of cost increases that make legislators hold angry hearings. Somehow the project didn’t get cancelled, and now one of the three actually has some.

It’s the PARS 3 LR ATGM. Also known as Trigat, this was supposed to be the cool new missile of choice for attack helicopters in France, Germany, and the UK. The Europeans had their own TOW equivalent, called HOT. The latest version, HOT-3, was rather better than the TOW-2A as far as range and armor penetration were concerned. The Americans decided that they wanted something better. They buckled down, said “Hughes, get ‘er Done!” and got the awesome Hellfire missile for their helicopters, starting in 1984. The Europeans stuck with the wire-guided HOT for quite a while, but eventually decided that they needed a new missile too. No problem. They’d team up. Hey, the ECC was still cool back then. They hadn’t figured out that these multilateral programs were nothing but goat rope.

Of course, in 1991 the Soviet Union broke up. Goodbye Cold War. Hello vengeful legislatures. As we’ve seen before, lots of stuff got frozen as is. Big projects died. So the Americans, who had Hellfires in production, got to keep them. Funding for PARS 3 was cut, which brought delays.

Let’s look at the missile before resuming our history lesson. It’s about Hellfire-sized, weighing 49 kg and measuring 1.6 m long and 159 mm wide. It’s got the usual tandem shaped-charge warhead that we’d expect. Guidance was an imaging infrared system, something like what you’d find on some Maverick missiles. Nothing wrong here, but it was new ground for the Europeans. Definitely something that would drive cost up. Remember, basic Hellfires have semi-active laser homing guidance. Which is quite a bit easier and cheaper. I’m all for fancy fire-and-forget, but the perfect is the enemy of the good enough. And getting away from wire-guided missiles is much more important for missile range and helicopter survivability.

The Hellfire is cheaper, combat proven, and comes with some alternative warhead options, including thermobaric and fragmentation warheads. There’s also the radar-guided AGM-114L version, which is pretty fancy, and gives that fire and forget capability. It’s been combat proven all over the world. Get rid of the stupid PARS. It’s overpriced and doesn’t do anything the competition doesn’t.

But don’t just take my word for it. Two of the three partners backed out. First was the UK. They didn’t much care for the project, or the Eurocopter Tiger (a wise decision). They went with Apaches and Hellfires. They even got the fancy Longbow fire control radar for their Apaches, and the AGM-114L version (among others). Awesome. Good on you, GB! Even the French, who stuck with the Tiger (Tigre?) project, got sick of the issues. They bought Hellfires for their Tiger(re)s, like the Australians did. Look, when the French back out of a project because it’s too expensive and not delivering, you know you’re done. The French are as protectionist as they come, and work hard to keep a native arms industry as best they can. But even they have limits.

Somehow the Germans actually bought the darn things. Very silly. I’m sill confused about the utter foolishness of it. Just. Buy. Hellfires. Even the French agree.

Terminated Weapons: XM-25

The keen reader may accuse me of cheating here, since the XM-25 is still, well, experimental. To that reader I would say that the US Army has placed an order for a lot of the damned things, which is close enough for government work. And this stupid “wondergun” is in dire need of killing. Let’s talk a little bit about the history, and then see why I think it should get taken out with the trash.

The XM-25 is an outgrowth of the failed XM29 OICW. The OICW was an attempt to increase the lethality of the infantryman by combining a short-barreled1 5.56 carbine with a detachable box magazine fed 20mm airburst grenade launcher. Sort of a next-generation M4/M203 combo. Of course, there were many problems. The resulting weapon was bulky, expensive, and heavy. Loaded, it weighs 8.2 kg, or a trifle over 18 pounds, if you live in a country that’s put men on the moon. This is about as much as a BAR weighed, and is absolutely ridiculous for a non-support weapon. This is not a weapon that is going to allow you to assault alongside your M4-equipped squadmates. What’s even worse is that it didn’t work.

More specifically, 20mm airburst grenades weren’t meeting lethality requirements. Duh. They were tiny. There’s only so much explosive content you can pack in there. Not enough explosive, and the system was already stupidly overweight. In a burst of wisdom at the Pentagon, the XM29 program was cancelled. But the wisdom didn’t last and the two components were split into new weapons.

I’m going to take a brief moment to talk about the XM8, which still has its fanboys, despite looking like a fish. This was the 5.56 carbine portion of the XM29. But there were problems. Every other gunmaker cried foul at this becoming the new carbine of choice without a competition. And they were right, though they needn’t have worried. The XM8 was crap. Garbage. It was significantly heavier than the M4 that it was supposed to replace, fundamentally is no more lethal since it was still a 14.5″-barreled 5.56mm carbine, was compatible with exactly zero accessories currently in the US Army inventory because it somehow had no picatinny rails, and had a tendency to melt under sustained fire. Since it had no picatinny rails, it was wedded to a brand new optic that was supposed to be a magnified red dot with laser sight, which also had problems. The XM8 was also cancelled, much to the chagrin of HK fanbois and M4 haterz everywhere. Good riddance to a lousy gun.

The XM25 is the split off grenade launcher portion, now it’s own weapon. In an effort to increase lethality, the caliber was increased to 25mm. Spoiler alert: they still don’t have the sort of lethality they want. It’s got plenty of shock value, but that mostly comes from the fact that it’s a bang near your head. I am aware of exactly zero confirmed kills for the XM25 on deployment in Afghanistan. Ze-ro. None. Nada. Yeah, it’s a “game changer”.

But wait, it gets worse. The XM25 weighs 14 lbs. (6.4 kg), costs $35,000 a unit2, and fires rounds that cost $55 a piece. It still uses a detachable box magazine, but that magazine only holds five rounds. So a soldier’s individual load is tiny. Also, note that standard doctrine for IFVs with airburst autocannons is to fire a burst of three to five rounds to neutralize an enemy position. That’s basically a magload, and those rounds are bigger (and hold more HE, duh) than the rounds on the XM-25. We’ll never see great lethality out of this system, and it means taking a carbine (or two!) out of the squad.

We’re already back in the land of small professional armies rather than big conscript ones. Infantry are scarce, and taking the always-useful rifles out for a heavy system with a small combat load of carried rounds that is only sometimes useful is a bad idea. We need all the riflemen we can find. Even though our riflemen are much more effective man-for-man than their grandfathers in the Second World War thanks to optics, modern carbines, night vision equipment, and ceramic body armor, each man can only engage one point or area target at a time. We don’t need to cram more support weapons into an eight or nine man infantry squad, and we certainly shouldn’t issue such limited-persistence things as the XM-25 generally. It can’t replace the M4/M203 combo, since that still lets you bring a carbine to the close fight.

We also shouldn’t bother issuing them at higher levels (e.g. at the platoon level). At this level, we’re competing with proven weapon systems: mortars. In terms of support systems, a 60mm mortar is better in every possible way than the XM25. It’s significantly cheaper, can be broken into smaller loads and distributed so that light infantrymen can carry it and still have carbines for close-in fighting, and has larger, more effective rounds. It does require some training, but what weapon system doesn’t.3 Mortars work, and provide better range and true indirect-fire capability. What’s not to like?

On the other hand, that XM25 has also had consistent development problems, and it eats batteries. More logistics burden, hooray. It’s also seriously injured at least one tester in a nasty malfunction. This system is not ready for prime time. It needs to go. Somebody call the NKVD, see if we can get someone over here to give this thing a quick show-trial and a bullet in the back of the head.

So there you have it. Don’t bother with a new, expensive, heavy system that doesn’t work. Buy proven systems, like mortars, and save!

1.) About 9 inches long, which is pretty darn short.
2.) Supposedly this is after cost savings in production. Supposedly. It’s still too damn much.
3.) Yes, the XM25 also requires training. Duh.

Terminated Weapons: Eryx

It’s no secret that I’m a big armor guy. I like tanks and armored warfare, which means I spend a lot of time thinking about how best to kill enemy tanks, which means analyzing antitank missiles. Time to tear one apart: the Franco-Canadian Eryx. It’s not very good. I don’t see the niche that it fills as being all that useful, and it doesn’t fill it well.

Eryx was designed to replace the short range LRAC F1 rocket launcher. The LRAC F1 is a light, reusable rocket launcher, and as such, is unguided. This means that it’s cheap and cheerful, and can be used against bunkers and other emplacements. But it’s range limited, since it’s really hard to engage a moving vehicle at any kind of distance. And it’s old, and since the rocket must be fully contained in the launch tube, it’s penetration is somewhat limited too.1 So the French wanted something new, with more range and armor penetrating power. They enlisted the Canadians to increase the orders and defer costs. The result is a weapon that fills an odd niche.

The Eryx is decidedly range limited: it’s only good to 600 meters. Compared to the Milan, which is older, the Eryx comes up short. Milan has a range of 2,000 meters, and an extended range variant is available that pushes the range to 3,000 meters. Milan penetrates more armor than Eryx, and has a better sighting system as well. Both Milan and Eryx are Saclos-guided, but Milan just does it better. And Eryx really doesn’t offer much in the way of weight savings, which leaves me confused. Why bother bringing it along? Why not just issue more Milans to your anti-tank teams? Unlike the LRAC F1, it’s not light enough to issue to the average infantry squat, unless they’re mechanized and have weight to spare, in which case the Milan is the better choice.

Of course, we have better missile systems than the Milan now, like the Javelin and the NLAW. Both of these come in around the same weight as Eryx, and are top attack, so they’re stupidly more effective. Javelin and NLAW are both fire and forget weapons too, which means the operators can leave the launch site after launching, since the launch signature of any antitank weapon insures it will be counterattacked immediately.

It might not seem fair to compare the SACLOS Eryx to the fancy new Javelin, but the Eryx was introduced in 1994, and Javelin was introduced in 1996. Unlike Milan, Eryx is not an old legacy system that we have significant warstocks of. It hasn’t been produced in large numbers. I’m not sure why France and Canada didn’t wait a little more and focus on getting a modern fire and forget ATGM system that was top-attack capable. It’s time to kill one of the few things the Peace Dividend failed to get rid of.

1.) A decent first order approximation for HEAT warhead penetration is that it’s proportional to the diameter of the warhead. This serves as a pretty good comparison metric, provided that we’re comparing warheads of the same generation/sophistication.

Terminated Weapons: Eurofighter

Yes, dear readers, I look at European defense procurement in addition to American procurement. And I weep for Europe. Or, I would, were I an emotional pansy and capable of shedding tears. Really though, it’s hilariously bad. For those of you who have been following the Joint Strike Fighter project trying to get three armed services to agree on things, and thought to yourself “Gee, self. This is a clusterfuck. Joint projects suck. They’re stupid. No one could possibly be worse at this then us silly Americans,” you’d be wrong. A quick hop across the pond tells us that if the JSF is a clusterfuck, the Eurofighter, is a horrific, colossal goatfuck. It’s a shining example of What Not To Do, because if you thought that three armed services of one nation had a bunch of stupid ego problems and annoying bureaucracies, you haven’t seen anything yet. National pride thrice over and three constituencies makes those problems even worse.

Look upon the project and despair. This project arose in the 80s, when the nations of Western Europe, specifically the UK, France, Germany, and Italy thought they needed a new fighter. And they were correct! They did need a new fighter. We’re going to single out France here for a second. No, it’s not because I hate them. I do like the French. And alone among these nations, the French had a native aircraft manufacturer with fighter aircraft experience. Dassault. Dassault had (and still has) plenty of export success, especially for a country that isn’t as politically as well-heeled as the United States or the Soviet Union. Dassault makes good things. And, some work-sharing disputes eventually convinced France to make the decision to go it alone. This would result in the phenomenal Rafale, which we’ll revisit more later. Spoiler alert: French pride saved them an awful lot of trouble.

Okay, so now there were three. Germany, who had built such fabulous fighters as the Messerschmitt 109 and 262, had lost most of its aircraft manufacturing capability after the war. It certainly hadn’t made any fighter aircraft since. Eventually, Messerchmitt Bolkow Blohm would produce some interesting experimental designs. But nothing properly military. They did collaborate with the British and some others in the Panavia Tornado, which will be the subject of another post. Yes, they collaborated with the British who had enforced all those silly disarmament provisions. But wait, it gets worse. Britain was victorious after the war. They made excellent fighters, like the Supermarine Spitfire and the Hawker Tempest. Then the liberals got ahold of things. Those idiots decided that everything would be better if all of those evil companies merged into a national firm. Goodbye talented designers, go do something else with your lives. They had made a few jet fighters into the 50s, but that was it. As for the Italians, they never had an aircraft industry worth talking about.

We should also deal with the elephant in the room: ‘Murica. This project was ostensibly designed to hold on to what little fighter design experience remained in Europe. Had this been true, everyone would have waited for Dassault to make something cool and then bought those. But really, this was about Germany, England, Spain, and some others making their own fighters. Because if they were willing to by COTS, they could have just bought some F-16s or F/A-18s. The Hornet in particular stands out as being an almost perfect match for the requirements. The avionics on 80s-vintage Hornets were significantly better than those on the Viper. Lack of range for either wasn’t an issue, as Europe is an itty bitty place, and they already had Tornadoes for the deep-strike mission. But neither the Hornet nor the Viper was made in Europe, so such sensible ideas of getting a fighter right away to counter those pesky new Sukhois wasn’t going to be a thing. I’m totally serious here. Just as the Eurofighter design team was getting serious about working without the departed French in 1986, the Hornet was seeing combat when the US Navy was bombing Libya. They were right there, on the shelf, with a competitive price tag, but it was not to be.

Of course, the French were working on their design. They only had one parliament to appease, and despite the reduced orders and slowed timelines from that pesky fall of the Soviet Union they got their fighter prototype in the air ten years before the Eurofighter bunch did. And it’s easy to see why. Setting up complicated work-sharing agreements and having to agree on design goals is hard. It leads to lots of silly arguments. It leads to delays. It leads to friction when the biggest partner wants to leave (Looking at you FRG). Oh, and it’s hard to rebuild that fighter design experience once you’ve lost it.

What do we have, now that the Eurofighter flies? Well, we have a very pretty fighter. But it doesn’t really do anything it’s competitors don’t, as we’ve seen in the Fighter Procurement pieces I’ve written. It’s also very expensive. It’s about as expensive as the F-35, but isn’t properly stealthy1 like the F-35. Worse, procurement requires approval by three governments. Those three governments make for more problems when it comes to new features, because Europeans don’t spend real money on defense and the Germans are pansies, and spend even less on defense. So the Eurofighter stands alone amongst modern fighters in not having an AESA radar option ready to go. It is getting limited integration with guided bombs. It’s not carrier capable. It’s defensive suite has been gutted by cuts thanks to the Germans. Oh, and the RAF kicked around the notion of deleting the internal gun. Buyers have shied away accordingly. Why buy something that the builders aren’t going to support with upgrades? Everyone else is doing a good job of keeping their designs upgraded. Everyone else has cool optional extras like conformal fuel tanks. The Eurofighter has the options list of a Yugo.

So the Eurofighter Typhoon was a bad idea from the beginning and it’s a bad idea now. It’s overpriced, underfeatured, and overpoliticized. Buy something else.

1.) If you are a pedantic moron and wish to point out that the Eurofighter is a “low observability design,” shut up and go eat some paste. Marketing guys can write what they like. The Eurofighter does not have radar absorbent coatings, it doesn’t have provision for internal weapons carriage, and it doesn’t exhibit aligned angular surfaces. Therefore, it isn’t stealthy. It may have design elements to reduce it’s radar signature, but so does the Avro Vulcan, and that’s clearly not a stealth bomber.

Terminated Weapons: TOW

Here’s another one for the chopping block. The BGM-71, Tube-launched Optically-sighted Wire-guided (TOW) missile. It’s been a classic antitank missile of the United States and its allies since 1972. It is time for it to go.

The TOW was a solid performer in its day. It’s killed plenty of tanks, and its received plenty of upgrades. Current versions have either a tandem-warhead, or a flyover-top-attack flight profile, with explosively formed penetrator warheads. So they’re reasonably capable of dealing with modern tanks with their fancy explosive reactive armor (or tons of composites). All that said, they’re obsolete and it’s time to give them the boot.

The TOW is heavy. Modern versions weigh 22.6 kg (just shy of 50 lbs) and that’s only the missile. You also have to add in the weight of the launch tube, its tripod mount and the sighting unit, which comes to about 93 kilos (204.6 lbs) altogether. So it’s really pushing the term ‘man portable’. Plus, it still uses SACLOS wire guidance. A Javelin missile has a lighter launcher and is fire and forget, so the missile team can move after launching. Which is good, because they’re position is painfully obvious due to the massive cloud of missile exhaust. Even if the team is killed, the Javelin will still track the target; killing a SACLOS missile crew (or even getting them to flinch) by shooting back at them is a great way to spoil their missile shot. Another bonus feature for the Javelin is that it doesn’t have a massive backblast, so it can be fired from enclosed spaces, or if there’s some stuff behind the missile that you’d rather not expose to hot exhaust (dry grass comes to mind). Even though TOW has a range advantage on Javelin, the Javelin is still a much more effective weapon system for the combat infantryman. The range limitations of Javelin are due to limitations of the command launch unit, not the missile itself; we can probably expect Block 2 improvements to rectify this shortcoming. Plus, depending on the theater of operations, long sightlines may not be available for this to become an issue. The Javelin’s range limitations are unlikely to be an issue in cities or in the forests of Central Europe.

The heavy TOW makes a lot more sense on a ground vehicle, where the weight matters a lot less. Here though, it faces stiff competition from Javelin (and Spike). The fire-and-forget capability of these missiles allows them to move after launching, which is nice if you’re shooting from something thin-skinned and an enemy tank has taken notice of the massive launch signature. While guiding a TOW, a launching vehicle is forced to be immobile. First, the TOW tracker isn’t really set up to handle a moving launch platform and a moving missile in its target track. It is designed around a fixed point of reference. While a vehicle could move slowly and not screw up the guidance too badly, this won’t help them live much, and may cause the wire to snag on some obstacle as the missile attempts to correct for launch platform movement and the target track. Breaking the wire gives you a rather slow rocket, which isn’t overly helpful either.

What about on helicopters? Aerial platforms were a very common user of the TOW missile in Vietnam and elsewhere. However, we now have the vastly superior Hellfire missile, which uses either semi-active laser homing or millimeter-wave active radar. The active radar version (‘Longbow Hellfire’) gives us the cool fire-and-forget capability of the Javelin or the Spike, which lets the helicopter switch targets or evade enemy fire. Even the semi-active laser homing version has advantages over the TOW, though. The Hellfire missile has about twice the range of the TOW, travels about half again as fast as the TOW, and even with the SALH version, multiple targets can be engaged very rapidly. Hellfire variants also have alternative warheads, including versions with fragmentation-augmented shaped charge warheads and thermobaric warheads. This means that the Hellfire missile family can engage more types of targets on the battlefield.

For even more ways to kill tanks, we can look to the UK’s Brimstone missile. This missile is roughly Hellfire sized, and can be fired from helicopters or fixed wing aircraft, even fast movers. It distinguishes itself by being able to fly to a designated area and seek out armor using an active radar seeker. From a rotary winged platform, it has almost three times the range of TOW. And, unlike TOW, it can be fired from fixed wing aircraft (for even more range).

So there we go. TOW really doesn’t fit in anymore. It was a good system in the 70s, and upgrades did a good job of keeping it relevant (unlike the Harpoon). But there are contemporaries that fill its roles better now, so it’s time for TOW to tap out.

Terminated Weapons: Harpoon

At Fishbreath’s suggestion, I’ve decided to combine some of my resurrection posts with some terminations. Weapons that really should have been cancelled a long time ago, that are in desperate need of replacement. To use a sports metaphor, if I’m calling some up from the minors, I should relegate some others back from the majors. First on the chopping block: the Harpoon antiship missile.

Harpoon has been the western standard antiship missile since its introduction in 1977. It’s got submarine launched, ship launched, and air launched versions, a good active-radar seeker, and you can fit it on most anything. Great. And in the late 70s, it was a good weapon. It gave the warships of the USN some much needed anti-surface punch, and you could retrofit it onto almost any platform.

Looking at it right now, the harpoon sucks.

There are plenty of current market competitors that are better. The harpoon is subsonic; there are plenty of competitors (e.g. SS-N-22 Sunburn and SS-N-27 Sizzler) that are supersonic at least for the terminal phase to reduce reaction time. Is it long ranged? No, the Harpoon is almost painfully short range. Again, the Russians have some really cool long range missiles like the SS-N-19 that have tons of range. Oh, and the Harpoon isn’t stealthy either. Nope.

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear. This isn’t me hating on weapons for not being new. There are plenty of weapon systems that I like that are rather long in the tooth, but have appropriate upgrades to stay current. The C-130, B-52, M-16, and AIM-9 have all received upgrades that keep them useful and competitive with more modern contemporaries. The B-52 and M-16 are particularly good examples of this, having beaten a number of attempts to replace them. There’s nothing wrong with an old weapon per se, but we have to keep it relevant and competitive with contemporaries. Upgrade or replace. Up or out. It’s not that hard.

Let’s look at some weapon systems that we could use to replace the harpoon. Two come to mind. One is the Brahmos, a joint Russian-indian antiship missile system. It’s launchable from surface ships, aircraft, trucks, and submarines. It has an operational range of 300-500 km. Even if we take the low end, that’s more than twice the quoted range of the Harpoon (“more than 124 km”). Oh, and it can go faster than Mach 2.8 terminally. Pretty awesome missile. It is, however, rather heavy at 2,500 kg for the air-launched version and 3,000 kg for the other versions. The Harpoon weighs a svelte 691 kg. So the Brahmos isn’t a perfect replacement; there are ships that we might want to give antiship capability to that can’t fit the big Russo-Indian missile. And Fishbreath will surely start complaining if I only choose a Russian system as a Harpoon replacement, and get upset if I demand bigger ships. Fishbreath likes his wee ships, you see.

An even better Harpoon replacement on a one-for-one basis is the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM to you acronym-loving cool kids). The NSM is lighter than Harpoon at 410 kg. It’s range of 185 km is better than Harpoon (at least as far as quoted range goes). It’s got GPS integration. There’s a version that fits in the internal bays of our F-35s, which gets even more range (about 290 km or so). Most importantly, it’s stealthy. So the enemy will have less warning to react to it. It’s also cleared for a bunch of aircraft, ships, and land based vehicles already. Big gain right here as far as stealth goes, since the Russians have finally wised up and mounted CIWS on their ships. This is important, as NATO ships don’t usually carry enough Harpoons to overwhelm point defense systems.

There are a couple of experimental weapon systems of note that might be worth pursuing, namely the Anglo-French Perseus and Lockheed Martin’s LRASM (an antiship variant of the AGM-158 JASSM-ER). Both of these are stealthy, have good range, and are vertical launch capable. I prefer the LRASM a bit more since it’s based on an existing missile platform. Neither is available yet, but we’re content to get some NSMs now and wait for the fancy new developments from MEADS and LockMart for VLS tubes or longer range aerial strike missions.

Oh, and if we needed VLS integration to give our DDGs a big punch, or needed a lot more range than NSM, we could always go buy some BGM-109Bs again. Tons of range, fits in a VLS Tube. Another good choice while you wait for the fancy new stuff, and you can at least fit enough of them on a DDG to have a decent chance of overwhelming the air defenses of an opposing battlegroup.

I’m sure one last objection is coming from some of you. “But wait, Parvusimperator!” I hear you say. “What if I believe that I control the sea, and don’t really care about antiship missiles.” Well then. First, I would tell you that you’re an idiot. Even during the height of the British Empire, they maintained their position by having a navy stronger than the next two navies put together. You maintain your dominance by being able to crush all opposition, not by taking it for granted and going through some stupid hippie draw-down. But if you really didn’t care, no antiship missiles is lighter and cheaper than a battery of old crappy ones. Though, again, this is stupid. Antiship missiles are good.