Friday, 6 January 2017

Blimey! That Be Yer Last Harpoon, Sire.

The Harpoon is a sea-skimming anti-ship missile seen here being fired
from the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer DDG-56
USS John S McCain. Photo : USN

HMS Montrose, a Type 23 frigate of the Royal Navy fires its Harpoon missile
 in an undated photo. Source : RN

Running Out Of Missiles

In November 2016, the Royal Navy ( RN ) made it to the news headlines for the wrong reason - its frigates and destroyers will soon be running out of anti-ship missiles ( AShM ), all because of lack of funds complicated by poor planning, and perhaps as a consequence of having feeble-willed Sea Lords at the helm. The fleet is scheduled to have its helicopter-launched Sea Skua AShM going out of service in March 2017 AND have its Harpoon ship-to-ship missile withdrawn from service at the end of 2018 without any planned replacement. The untimely retirement of the Harpoon and the Sea Skua will cause the RN to have a capability gap in over-the-horizon anti-ship warfare between 2018 and 2020. The warships will regain some form of long range strike capability only in late 2020 with the planned introduction of the Anglo-French Sea Venom / ANL lightweight AShM on the Wildcat HMA.2 helicopters.

Now wait a minute. Did anyone mention THE Royal Navy? I would have very much wanted to believe that it was an April Fool's joke of some sort, only it ain't April. Nobody would have been surprised if this debacle had involved a third rate navy of some Banana Republic. But it had to be the RN, of all navies? This piece of news might have been incredible and shocking initially because we had come to know the RN as one of the most powerful navies in modern history. However, look more closely and anyone would have realized that the once mighty RN had been in constant decline for the past century, yes, century, not decade. The writing had already been on the wall for a long time. That the RN would soon be running out of missiles for its workhorse frigates and destroyers could mark the beginning of a terminal demise, a race to the bottom from which it might never ever fully recover.

Read on to discover how the RN got itself into this latest mess which by the way is not its first and unlikely to be its last.

A Brief History Of The Royal Navy

The Royal Navy could trace its lineage of more than a thousand years back to the reign of King Alfred the Great ( AD 871 - 899 ) and earlier, although in those early beginnings it was not an organized force with dedicated fighting ships and men. More likely the flotilla was made up of a ragtag of requisitioned merchant vessels whenever the need arose, such as when the Danes invaded or raided the Anglo-Saxon lands. The ships carried militiamen, farmers and peasants called into military service by law and much of the naval battles were ramming attempts followed by savage hand-to-hand fighting when the soldiers board the enemy ship. King Alfred was credited for reorganizing the military and restructuring the taxation system which would ultimately devote funds for ship building, thereby creating a small standing fleet of longships that plied the rivers, estuaries and the coastal waters of Englaland. From such humble beginnings the RN gradually transformed itself into a professional maritime fighting force, built upon centuries old traditions and technological innovations.

The Battle of Trafalgar depicted by English marine painter Clarkson Frederick Stanfield.
 Admiral Lord Nelson won a most decisive victory against the combined
Franco-Spanish armada, destroying 22 enemy ships without losing a single
 vessel himself. He unfortunately died during the encounter, shot by
a French musketeer. Source : Wikipedia

Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, by Lemuel Francis Abbott.
Nelson would no doubt have flipped in his grave had he learnt
about the current state of affairs of the Royal Navy. Image : Wikipedia

It was the world's most powerful navy for much of the past 200 years, from the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 to the Battle of Jutland in 1916. It was said that for a hundred years after the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy maintained a presence in every ocean in the world and its dominance ensured freedom of navigation and trade. A powerful navy was a necessity during the colonial era as Britain depended heavily on maritime trade for much of its prosperity and even survival. Its supreme dominance helped shape the British Empire and its colonies and only came to an end during World War Two, overtaken by the United States Navy (USN).

Even to this day, the RN is still the second largest navy of the NATO alliance, complete with aircraft carriers ( under construction ), helicopter carriers, amphibious landing ships, nuclear-powered attack submarines, ballistic missile submarines and the works. The price to pay for maintaining its nuclear deterrence force and aircraft carriers was that its destroyer and frigate force had shrunken to a historical low. The RN could only count six modern but problem plagued Type 45 air defense destroyers and thirteen ageing Type 23 ASW frigates at its disposal.

Logo of the Royal Navy. Source : Wikipedia

Why Missiles Matter

Unless you are stuck in a time warp somewhere in the first half of the twentieth century, you would have realized that guided missiles have long since replaced large caliber guns as the primary long range strike weapon of choice for warships. In that bygone era, the main guns of battleships had barrel diameters of 14 inch, 16 inch and ultimately 18.1 inch ( 460mm ). The larger the caliber, the longer the range of the gun. The biggest guns could fire projectiles that weigh more than a ton out to a maximum range of 42km, though the effective range is a little less at 25km.

It was the reach of the big naval guns that determined which opponent would fire the first salvos during a surface encounter. And you would have a better chance of victory if you could achieve that way before you in turn come into the range of your enemy's guns.

However, the caliber of naval guns could not defy the laws of physics and keep increasing forever. Bigger caliber shells generate higher over-pressures when detonated which in turn would require a thicker barrel to withstand that pressure. Gun barrels are made of steel and steel has a high density, meaning it is heavy, in fact very heavy. Heavy barrels would require even heavier gun mounts which needed even bigger ships and bigger shipyards for their construction. And then there would be the cost factor.

Each gun mount of the Japanese battleship Yamato with triple 18.1 inch barrels was said to weigh 2510 tons, about the same weight as an entire destroyer of that era. And the Yamato, a 72000 ton monster of a battleship, sported three such gun mounts.

Clearly, naval architects would have to look elsewhere other than cannons and guns if they wanted to increase the strike range of their warships. That breakthrough arrived in the form of jet propulsion and rocket propulsion technologies that came of age during World War II. Though not exactly new especially with gunpowder having been invented by the Chinese in the 9th century and presumably used as a rocket propellant subsequently, the emerging sensor and guidance technology of WWII saw application in the earliest generation of guided missiles and rockets like Nazi Germany's V-1 cruise missile and V-2 rocket.

By the sixties, fueled by the Cold War, missile technology had rapidly matured permeated every branch of the military including the navies of many nations. With their superior range, accuracy and lethal payload, they quickly rendered the big guns obsolete in anti-surface warfare ( ASuW ). The effectiveness of anti-ship missiles as ship-killers was first demonstrated in 1967 when the Egyptian Navy Komar-class missile gunboats sunk their much bigger opponent the Israeli destroyer INS Eilat with three Soviet made SS-N-2 Styx AShM.

Ever since that first operational success, the role of guided missiles as the premier long range precision anti-ship weapon of choice was further affirmed during the Falklands War in 1982 when a single Argentinian air-launched AM-39 Exocet AShM sunk the Royal Navy Type 42 destroyer the HMS Sheffield.

Today, while warships of many types are still equipped with guns, these weapons have seen their prominence diminished and their caliber much reduced. The largest guns found on modern day man-of-war generally do not exceed 5 inches in caliber ( 127mm ). They still have limited use especially against low value targets that are not worth expending a missile on, for shore bombardment in support of an amphibious landing and some rapid firing types may also have anti-aircraft capabilities. Of course they can also be used to fire ceremonial rounds and the occasional warning shot across the bow against rogue elements if necessary.

The Type 23 Duke-class Frigates

The main class of warship affected by the RN's missile fiasco is the Type 23 frigate, also known as the Duke-class frigate as, you guessed it, the entire class is largely named after British dukes. Frigates form the backbone of the navy as they are the multi-role platform that are involved in anything from submarine hunting to patrolling and escorting duties and even in providing limited area air defense against hostile aircrafts and missiles. In recent years, many were also increasing tasked to conduct peace-keeping and maritime security operations as well.

The Type 23 was conceptualized at the height of the Cold War in the late seventies as a light anti-submarine frigate against the Soviet nuclear submarines operating in the North Atlantic. They were intended to replace the ageing Leander-class and the newer Type 21 frigates to be the new guardians of the famed GIUK Gap, the strategic underwater choke point for any Soviet Northern Fleet submarine trying to breakout into the Atlantic Ocean from their home bases around Severomorsk.

The Greenland-Iceland-UK Gap. Source : Wikipedia

In its original configuration, the Type 23 was to have a towed array sonar and carry an ASW helicopter to attack enemy submarines that it had detected. It would not be mounting any defensive armaments and was supposed to instead rely on the Sea Wolf missile system from its replenishment oiler for protection! In addition, it was intended that the Type 23 frigate would only have refueling and rearming capabilities for its helicopter and had to rely on the same oiler to provide servicing facilities.

It was with great fortune that the Falklands War broke out in 1982 before the plans for the Type 23 were finalized. The RN would have otherwise ended up with an entire class of lame ASW frigates that cannot operate independently even in low threat environments. Lessons learnt from that conflict included among other things the deadliness of aerial attacks even with unguided iron bombs, the astonishing ship-killing capabilities of modern guided anti-ship missiles and the need for an effective point defense system for self-protection. It was back to the drawing boards ( literally, since computer aided design technology was not available then ) and the future frigate grew in size, complexity as well as cost.

The Type 23 frigates were to eventually have new technology incorporated into their design like the radar cross section reducing stealth technology, extensive automation to reduce manpower requirements and enhanced damage control capabilities. Instead of relying on their oiler to provide an air defense umbrella, they would have their very own Sea Wolf surface-to-air missiles, a total of 32 missiles packed in a new vertical launch system ( VLS ) at the forecastle just aft of the main gun. That was in conjunction with additional tracking capabilities against low flying aircraft and sea-skimming AShM. A single 4.5 inch ( 127mm ) medium caliber main gun would be mounted to provide naval gunfire support. Smaller caliber guns like the 30mm autocannons and general purpose machine guns would also be mounted in greater numbers for self defense against small boats and aircraft. A set of Harpoon AShM in two quadruple launchers mounted just aft of the Sea Wolf VLS would provide long range strike capabilities against surface targets. A combined diesel-electric and gas ( CODLAG ) propulsion system would provide for very quite running during ASW operations and yet have the economy of an extended range and the power for a high speed dash whenever the need arose. The frigate would also have a flight deck and an enclosed hangar that was self-contained. The embarked Lynx or Merlin ASW helicopter would be armed with the Sea Skua AShM or torpedoes.

Originally projected to cost GBP75million each in 1980, the evolved Type 23 frigate would cost the British tax-payer GBP135million for the first of class HMS Norfolk and that did not include the cost of the organic ASW helicopter. Subsequent ships would cost slightly less. Eventually, a total of 16 Type 23 frigates were constructed and the RN got itself a very capable general purpose frigate that had at least a good chance of surviving the modern naval battle. ( Note : three Type 23 frigates had been paid-off and were sold to Chile due again to cost-cutting measures implemented by the MOD leaving the RN with the current remaining fleet of thirteen Type 23 frigates )

Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll underway at speed. Source : Royal Navy

HMS Argyll executing a hard-a-starboard. Notice the V-shaped quad Harpoon
launchers just behind the rather squarish looking VLS
 at the forecastle. Source : Royal Navy

In May 2015 the RN made the decision to replace the GWS 26 Mod 1 Sea Wolf surface-to-air missile of the Type 23 frigates with the naval variant of the Common Anti-Air Modular Missile ( CAMM ), also known as the Sea Ceptor. The Sea Ceptor has a range of more than 25km which is almost thrice that of the Sea Wolf. It could be packed four to the space occupied by one Sea Wolf missile in the VLS. The missile system utilizes much of the existing infrastructure of the Sea Wolf system but a much more powerful Type 997 Artisan 3D radar is required. HMS Argyll was the first frigate to be upgraded in late 2015.

Ultimately, these tired workhorses of the RN which have been in service for almost three decades now will be replaced by eight Type 26 ASW frigates a.k.a. Global Combat Ship some time after 2021 and perhaps by the lighter and cheaper Type 31 General Purpose Frigate in the far future.

You can watch videos of the Sea Ceptor by MBDA and the Type 26 Global Combat Ship by BAE Systems below :

The Type 45 Daring-class Destroyer

This is the other class of warship which are equipped with the Harpoon missile in the RN. There are six of these Anti-Air Warfare ( AAW ) destroyers serving in the RN whose primary role is to provide area defense for the fleet against hostile aircrafts and AShM. They were meant to replace the fourteen ( twelve, if not including HMS Sheffield and HMS Coventry which were sunk during the Falklands War ) Type 42 Sheffield-class destroyers. The first in class HMS Daring was commissioned in 2009 while the last ship of the class HMS Duncan was commissioned in 2013 just as the last of the Type 42 was being decommissioned.

Central to the Type 45 AAW destroyer is the PAAMS ( Principal Anti Air Missile System ) or Sea Viper air-defence system which utilizes the SAMPSON active electronically scanned array ( AESA ) multifunction radar and the S1850M long range radar. They are armed with Aster-15 and Aster-30 surface-to-air missiles in a 48-cell Sylver Vertical Launch System. The Aster missile is essentially an anti-missile missile capable of intercepting inbound super-sonic anti-ship missiles as well as precision guided munitions.

The Type 45s are each equipped with a 127mm main gun, two Oerlikon 30mm guns, two Phalanx CIWS, two Miniguns and six general purpose machine guns. They have a large flight deck and an enclosed hangar and can carry up to two AgustaWestland AW-159 Wildcat or one Westland Merlin helicopter. The Wildcat can be armed with four Sea Skua AShM or two torpedoes while the Merlin carries no Sea Skua but four torpedoes.

As they are primarily air-defence destroyers, the Type 45s were originally not meant to be armed with any AShM. However, plans had been formulated to have the Harpoon anti-ship missile system retrofitted onto four out of the six Type 45 destroyers and the integration process had already been completed on three ships so far ( HMS Daring, HMS Diamond and HMS Duncan ).

Type 45 AAW destroyer HMS Diamond with Mk7 Sea King
from 857 NAS. Source RN

Type-45 DDG HMS Defender. Source : RN

To understand why only four ( maybe just three from now on ) of the six Type 45 Daring-class AAW destroyers were planned to be equipped with Harpoons, we need to go further back in history to look at a previous class of ASW frigate that had long since retired, the Type 22 Broadsword-class.

The RN's fourteen Type 22s were procured in three separate batches over a period spanning eleven years between 1974 and 1985. Each succession batch was an improvement over the previous one. The first ten Batch 1 and Batch 2 ships were ordered before the Falklands War and were equipped with the Exocet AShM. The last four Batch 3 frigates were ordered after the conflict and incorporated the more advanced Harpoon AShM.

The Type 22 Batch 3 frigates were all decommissioned in 2011, just shortly after the commissioning of the first Type 45 destroyer in 2009. It seemed that some admiralty brass retrospectively decided to salvage the Harpoon missile system from the decommissioned frigates and mount them on the Type 45 for added anti-surface warfare ( ASuW ) capabilities.

While I have generally do not have an issue with the reuse and recycling of old equipment especially if they are still in good functioning order, to install an obsolete AShM system on a brand new destroyer for the mission critical purpose of taking out the surface fleet of your enemy at stand-off range may not be the smartest move. The development of the Harpoon missile started as long ago as the mid sixties and was at the cutting edge of technology when it was first deployed in the eighties. However, after more than three decades and no matter how many improvements had been made to each successive variant including the latest Block II Harpoon, the entire family is facing obsolescence with the emergence of whole new generations of long range super-sonic anti-ship cruise missiles from Russia, India and China.

We shall now take a closer look at the RN's Harpoons and Sea Skua missiles.

The Royal Navy's Anti-Ship Missiles

The RN has only two types of AShM in its inventory - the Boeing Harpoon missile and the MBDA Sea Skua missile, both of which are ageing and obsolete.

The Harpoon Missile

The Harpoon is an all-weather, beyond-the-horizon, anti-ship missile that was developed and manufactured by McDonnell Douglas ( now Boeing ). It was first introduced into service in 1977. To date, there are several versions that could be launched from different platforms such as aircrafts, warships, submarines and costal batteries.

Both the Type 23 frigates and three out of the six Type 45 destroyer are equipped with the GWS60 Harpoon AShM, essentially a Boeing RGM-84D Block 1C Harpoon ship-to-ship missile. The Block 1C Harpoon is an early version that was introduced in 1985 and equipped the US military and its allies. It is hopelessly outdated by today even by the USN's own standards, superseded by newer variants like the littoral warfare capable RGM-84L Harpoon Block II. It would fair even poorer when compared with foreign modern AShM like the ramjet powered supersonic BrahMos ( 290km range ) or the future hypersonic BrahMos II.

Harpoons Away! Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Gettysburg
( CG-64 ) fires a Harpoon missile at the ex-USNS Saturn
during a SINKEX in the Atlantic Ocean 27th Oct 2010. Photo : USN   

The Block 1C Harpoon has a maximum range of 130km and carries a 220kg high explosive - fragmentation warhead, considered a heavyweight in anti-ship missiles, enough to sink a frigate-sized warship. It has a long cylindrical body that measures 4.63m in length and 0.343m in diameter with a wingspan of 0.9m. It weighs 690kg and is propelled by a solid fuel rocket booster during launch and then followed by the Teledyne J402-CA-400 turbojet that enables it to cruise at the sub-sonic speed of Mach 0.9 at wave-top level. The missile depends on inertial navigation to reach its pre-designated target area and then switch to active radar homing for terminal guidance. Block 1C upgrade brought with it an increase in the missile's range and allows the operator to have programmable waypoints, selectable terminal flight profile ( whether to pop up from sea skimming during the final part of the flight path ) and improved electronic counter-countermeasures ( ECCM ).

The Mk 141 quad-packed Harpoon Guided Missile Launching System.
 Photo : Wikicommons 

The Harpoon missiles are packed in sealed canisters and stacked 2 x 2 in a quad-pack rack-mounted launcher known as the Mk 141 Guided Missile Launching System. Each ship usually has 2 quad launchers angled at about 45 degrees skywards and facing two opposing directions. In older and less stealthy ships like the Type 23 frigates, these canister launchers would be placed on the upper deck areas anywhere from the forecastle ( Type 23 ) to midship to the quarterdeck ( Ticonderoga-class CG ) areas. In modern stealth designs like the Formidable-class frigate of the Singapore Navy, the Harpoons are usually mounted midship out of sight behind high panels that shield the angular and protruding shape of the launcher from radar detection.

HMS Montrose, a Type 23 frigate of the Royal Navy fires its Harpoon missile
 in an undated photo. Source : RN

The active radar homing terminal guidance of the Harpoon missile meant that it is best used against warships in the open ocean far from any surrounding land masses that could lead to the interference of radar clutter. It would not perform well in a littoral environment nor would it be effective around busy sea lanes with lots of innocent maritime traffic as the seeker could home in on the wrong target.

It is important to remember that imperfect and obsolete as it is, the Harpoon missile still packs a greater punch and has a further reach than Sea Skua missile and the 5 inch gun of the Type 23 and Type 45 warships. However, repeated cuts in defense budget of the United Kingdom in the past decade have ensured that there wasn't a Harpoon replacement program in sight even as the Harpoons were slowing rotting away. Apparently the decision to abandon the Harpoon missile has been made by the Ministry of Defense as far back as 2010. Its eventual replacement may only come a decade later in the form of a future vertically launched heavy-weight AShM onboard the Type 26 Global Combat Ship.

Rather than facing a ten year capability gap in long range anti-surface strike, the RN could have elected to continue the maintenance and usage of the Harpoon missile until such time its replacement is available. This would probably be the cheapest option. Other options include upgrading to newer variants of the Harpoon like the extended range Harpoon Block II+ ER or some other advanced AShMs like the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile. These upgrades can then be transferred to the Type 26 when the Type 23 frigates are decommissioned.

The Sea Skua Missile

The Sea Skua is a British light-weight, all-weather, short range, sub-sonic sea-skimming AShM that is primarily launched by the Westland Lynx helicopter although variants could be launched from warships and coastal batteries. It was developed by the British Aircraft Corporation in 1972 and entered service with the RN in 1982, just in time to participate in the Falklands Conflict where it performed well, scoring seven hits out of nine missiles fired. Two Argentinian patrol crafts the Alferez Sobral and Rio Iguazuwere severely damaged with loss of lives and an abandoned cargo ship the Rio Carcarana was sunk. During the 1991 Gulf War, all the Sea Skuas that were fired hit their Iraqi targets and were credited to have disabled or sunk a total of fifteen patrol vessels and landing crafts.

The Sea Skua missile weighs 145kg at launch and carries a 28kg blast-fragmentation warhead or a 9kg semi-armour piercing warhead. A total of four Sea Skua missiles could be carried by each Lynx naval helicopter. It has an officially acknowledged range of 25km though it is widely believed to have a much further effective range. The guidance system is semi-active radar homing. When launched, the missile could be programmed to fly, depending on the sea state, at four pre-determined altitudes above the waves with the assistance of a radar altimeter. As it races towards its target at a high sub-sonic speed of Mach 0.8, it performs a pop-up maneuver to acquire the target which would be illuminated by the Lynx helicopter's Ferranti Seaspray radar.

A Royal Malaysia Navy Super Lynx 300 with Sea Skua missiles circa 2004.
 Photo : Andrew Simpson / JetPhotos.Net

An inert Sea Skua missile on the deck of a Kuwaiti warship
at a joint firing exercise with coalition forces during
Operation Enduring Freedom 12th Mar 2002. USN Photo. 

Although the Sea Skua had an impressive operational history, its Achilles' heel was its relatively short range and its small warhead. As the range of modern ship-borne anti-air missiles increased over the years, so has the stand-off range for any naval helicopter to launch its AShM without getting itself into harm's way, meaning the range of its AShM has to be correspondingly increased. The Sea Skua is already obsolete in that sense. Its feather-weight warhead also meant that it could only be effectively used against warships of low tonnage or else multiple direct hits have to be scored to disable a bigger vessel. Therefore after an illustrious service of close to 35 years with the RN, the admiralty had decided to retire the Sea Skua missile by March 2017.

The unfortunate thing is that the Sea Skua's successor, the MBDA Sea Venom / ANL missile system is still in its final development and will not see service until at least sometime in late 2020, that is if things happened on schedule which is rarely the case.

MBDA Sea Venom, previously known as the FASGW(H)
 - Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon ( Heavy ) or the
Anti-Navire Léger (ANL) missile on the RN
AugustaWestland AW159 Wildcat HMA2 helicopter.
Image : MBDA

The Sea Venom or in this case the Anti-Navire Léger (ANL) missile
fired from what looks like a French Navy AS565 Panther helicopter.
 Image : MBDA

The Immediate Future of the Royal Navy

Looking at what is currently happening to the once proud Royal Navy, without any fleet carriers, may not have F-35Bs to populate the carriers even when they are commissioned in the future, with frigate and destroyer numbers at an all time low, and with them about to lose all of their long range anti-surface strike capabilities, one cannot help but wonder what are the possible consequences that could arise out of this almost criminal neglect of the navy.

It is precisely because the RN is in such a poor state that social media campaign groups
like existed. 

To start off with, the RN may not be able to fulfill its obligations to NATO as the guardian of the GIUK Gap to contain the Russian navy in the North Atlantic. Without long range heavy-weight AShM, the frigates and destroyers will simply be sitting ducks that can be taken out by their Russian counterparts from stand-off distances without having a chance to strike back. No doubt the newly installed Sea Ceptor anti-air missiles might protect the ships but they are purely defensive in nature and the enemy only has to be lucky for once and you are dead. And nobody could win a war by purely defensive moves!

The other issue with a weakened RN is its capability to uphold the United Kingdom's sovereign claim on the Falkland Islands. As we all know, the Argentinian government had never given up its claim on the Falkland Islands even after narrowing losing the Falklands War in 1982. Had they been able to sink one of the aircraft carriers or the Fearless-class amphibious assault ships instead of the Type 42 destroyers and Type 21 frigates, the war would have had a very different outcome.

Today, with the light carriers decommissioned and their Sea Harriers retired, Vulcan bombers long gone, and the shrunken surface fleet that will soon be stripped of their AShM, the UK will not be able to mount a similar expeditionary force to the South Atlantic should the Argentinians decide to cause trouble. All these cost cutting moves taken by the British MOD in the past decades could only be viewed as a lack of resolve to enforce Crown sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, just as the decision to decommission the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes and the planned withdrawal of the Antarctic Survey Ship HMS Endurance from the South Atlantic did in the early eighties. Also, as the United States become increasingly inward looking with the new Trump Presidency, the UK may not necessarily get all the assistance they enjoyed previously from their once staunchest ally during the Falklands War, like the intense diplomatic brokering, the massive support within the Security Council of the United Nations, timely military intelligence and emergency ordnance resupply using borrowed NATO stockpiles.

If the lack of funds was the reason why the Harpoon and the Sea Skua systems are to be removed from service prematurely, I would suggest the UK MOD not to upgrade the Sea Wolf system of the Type 23 frigates and instead use the GBP 253 million or so that they have spent on the Sea Ceptor to maintain the older missile systems for another few years, until a suitable replacement can be put into service.

Sir Michael Fallon should seriously ask himself this before he retires the Harpoon and the Sea Skua : Would the Junta view the year 2019 or 2020 as the best time for another Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands? Does the UK wish the Falklands to be renamed the Islas MALVINAS, again, ever? Or never again? Tough choices indeed. God save the Queen ... and the Royal Navy.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

From Jet Ski to Missile Frigate : Philippine Navy Modernizes

South Korean Navy Incheon-class guided missile frigate underway.
A variant will soon be equipping the Philippine Navy. Photo Korean DoD.

No To Jet Ski Yes To Frigates

The Philippine Navy ( PN ) has finally woken up from its delusion that a charging Duterte on a Jet Ski could help reclaim the Scarborough Shoal, or the Mischief Reef, or any of the numerous disputed low tide elevations, rocks and islands in the Spratly Island Group. For the first time in many decades, it is actually coughing out serious dough to acquire new build GUIDED MISSILE frigates, a.k.a. FFG, proper modern surface combatants that can at least stand a chance of surviving a hostile encounter with the ultra-advanced frigates and destroyers of the South Seas Fleet of the People's Liberation Army Navy ( PLAN ). More importantly, the possibility of afflicting real damage to any belligerent enemy naval unit means that the new frigates will bring some deterrent value to the PN.

Two frigates will never be sufficient to counter an entire fleet but it is a step in the right direction. Admitting that Jet Skis would not work is an important and brave move on the part of the PN. Look at it this way, any soldier who dares to stand up against the words of his presidente and tell the truth while risking his own rice bowl or maybe even his life is commendable. We have a glimpse of what the future holds for the courageous men and women of the PN, who unfortunately are lead by a NSB ( Not So Bright ), d***headed and foul-mouthed commander-in-chief.

The State of the Philippine Navy

As mentioned before, the Philippine Navy operates a mishmash of obsolete warships donated by friendly nations or bought second-hand on the cheap, some of which have histories going back to World War II! Up to now, their most impressive man-of-war is a trio ( PF-17 BRP Andres Bonifacio was transferred to the PN on 21st Jul 2016 ) of the ex-US Coast Guard Hamilton-class cutters bought from the Unite States under the Foreign Military Sale program through the Foreign Assistance Act. These so called high endurance cutters have already seen more than 40 years of service with the USCG before being retired and have all been promoted to frigates in the PN! This despite the fact that they are only armed with a 76mm Oto Melara gun, a 25mm autocannon and half a dozen Ma Deuce type machine guns ... limited anti-submarine warfare ( ASW ) capabilities, no missiles, no close-in weapons system ( CIWS ).

Seal of the Philippine Navy. Wikipedia

Without the proper equipment and support, a tall order for any admiral or sailor.

The two ex-USCG Hamilton-class high endurance cutters reincarnated as PF-15 and PF-16
 with the USN's guided missile destroyer DDG-56 USS John S. McCain during
CARAT 2014. PF-17 had only been commissioned on 21 Jul 2016
and of course would not have been in the photo. USN Photo

A ragtag flotilla of small boats belonging to the PN and PCG during CARAT 2012.
From front to back coastal patrol craft BRP Salvador Abcede (PG 114),
the corvette BRP Miguel Malvar (PS 19), the Philippine coast guard patrol boat
PCG Pampanga (SARV 003) and BRP IloIlo (PS 32).
The biggest ship in the back ground is the USS Vandegrift ( FFG-48 ),
an Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigate of the USN. Photo USN

It has been considered the weakest among the South East Asian navies for years, partly a victim of successions of corrupt and/or ineffective leadership that had emptied the coffers of the nation. It didn't help when at one time the Philippines decided to focus its military resources on internal security and fighting Islamic insurgents at the expense of countering external threats to its exclusive economic zone ( EEZ ) and sovereignty.

It was only after losing Mischief Reef and Scarborough Shoal to China that the Filipinos finally realized the dire state of their military and resolved to embark on a renewed Armed Forces of the Philippines ( AFP ) modernization program, the previous effort having failed during the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997. In Dec 2012, under the administration of Benigno Aquino III, Congress passed the Republic Act No. 10349, a.k.a. the revised AFP modernization act which extends the modernization program for another 15 years with a budget of PHP 75 billion for the first 5 years. All 3 services of the armed forces would benefit from this upgrading effort. Now, almost 4 years on, we are beginning to see the results of some of these early efforts. The Philippines Air Force had began receiving some of their brand new FA-50 fighters from Korea ( 12 ordered, more considered ) and also their AugustaWestland AW-109 helicopters ( 8 ordered ). The Philippines Army meanwhile gets 114 M-113A2 armoured personnel carriers from ex-US stocks and tens of thousands of new M-4 carbines, RPGs and howitzers.

The PN's newest and biggest vessel the Landing Platform Dock LD-601 BRP Tarlac
 17th May 2016. The A-gun looks missing. Fitted for but not with?  Photo : PN 

SSV number 2 has been launched and christened the BRP Davao Del Sur
( LD-602 ) at the dockyard of PT PAL (Persero) in Surabaya, Indonesia
on 29th Sep 2016. Source PN

BRP Davao Del Sur ( LD-602 ) at the dockyard of PT PAL (Persero)
 in Surabaya, Indonesia on 29th Sep 2016. Source PN

For the PN, modernization came in the form of a brand new Landing Platform Dock, the BRP Tarlac, built by Indonesia based on their successful Makassar-class LPD which in turn has Korean origins. It is relatively huge at 11583 tons full load but is only armed with guns and does not have any CIWS installed. The first-in-class LD-601 BRP Tarlac was delivered to the PN only in May this year and was commissioned on 1st Jun 2016 while the second-in-class BRP Davao Del Sur ( LD-602 ) had just been launched on 29th Sep and will be due in 2017. Each ship is said to cost $46 million sans weapons and sensors. They are also known as Strategic Sealift Vessels ( SSV ) in the Philippines.

Also, just last month the Philippine Department of National Defense ( DND ) revealed that the frigate acquisition program launched in Oct 2013 was being finalized. The PN will be getting two modern guided missile frigates or FFGs based on Hyundai Heavy Industries' HDF-3000 multi-purpose frigate design which has been used as the basis for the Republic of Korea Navy's ( RoKN ) Incheon-class frigate. The Incheon-class is also collectively known as the FFX-I frigate.

ROKS Gyeonggi ( FFG-812 ), an Incheon-class frigate of the Republic of Korea Navy,
 fires its main gun while leading a pack of smaller vessels 15th Jan 2016.
 Photo Korean DoD.

It is also worth mentioning that the PN is due to receive a decommissioned Pohang-class patrol combat corvette the ex-ROKS Mokpo ( PCC-759 ) as a recognition of the contribution of Filipino troops during the Korean War. This anti-surface warfare ( ASuW ) version of the Pohang-class corvette is armed with the Aerospatiale ( now MBDA ) MM-38 anti-ship missile ( AShM ), an obsolete version of the Exocet AShM made famous during the Falklands War. Depending on how soon it can be refurbished and handed over, supposedly with all the weapons and sensors intact, this can become the PN's first missile armed combatant. In any case, the PN will soon be entering the missile era, close to fifty years after the rest of the world realized the potential of AShMs with the sinking of the Israeli destroyer INS Eilat by Egyptian fast attack missile boats. Like they always say, better late than never.

ROKS Jinju ( PCC-763 ), a Pohang-class corvette in a photo dated 19th Oct 2015.
Photo : Korean DoD.

HDF-3000 Multi-purpose Frigate

The HDF-3000 multi-purpose frigate is Hyundai Heavy Industries' winning design for the Republic of Korea Navy's ( ROKN a.k.a. South Korean Navy ) Future Frigate eXperimental ( FFX ) Program. The ROKN has a requirement to replace its fleet of ageing Ulsan-class light frigate, Pohang-class general purpose corvettes and Donghae-class coastal corvettes, a total of 37 vessels all commissioned in the early eighties and rapidly approaching the end of their service life.

The original plan was to build a smaller number of more capable ships to replace the older vessels, namely 24 guided missile frigates ( FFG ) in the 3000 ton class. And just like their earlier destroyer acquisition project the Korean Destroyer eXperimental ( KDX ) Program, the ROKN decided to split the procurement of their future frigates into 3 batches, with each successive generation incorporating the lessons learnt during the construction of the previous batch.

The FFX Program was initiated in the early 2000s and by the time the Batch I ( FFX-I ) design was finalized, the frigate had its tonnage reduced to 2300 tons. A total of 6 ships will be produced and the construction of the first frigate was awarded to Hyundai Heavy Industries ( HHI ) in 2010. Today the FFX Batch I frigates are of course known as the Incheon-class FFG following the naming of the first-in-class the ROKS Incheon. It was launched on 29th Apr 2011 and commissioned on 17th Jan 2013. HHI would also go on to build the second and third frigate but the construction of the last three ships was awarded to STX Offshore And Shipbuilding. The first 5 frigates are already in active service with the ROKN while the last frigate will be commissioned by the end of the year. Each FFX Batch I frigate is said to cost USD 232 million.

Meanwhile, construction of the first FFX Batch II frigate ROKS Daegu had already commenced at Daewoo Shipbuilding And Marine Engineering in 2015. The eventual number of FFX frigates procured will be between 18 to 24 vessels, all by the year 2020.

The Incheon-class FFX-I has the following specifications :

Displacement :                       2300 Tons ( Empty )
                                               3251 Tons ( Full Load )

Length :                                 114m
Beam :                                   14m
Draft                                      4m

Propulsion :                           Combined Diesel or Gas ( CODOG ), 2 Shafts
                                              2 x MTU 12V 1163 TB83 Diesel Engines
                                              2 x GE LM2500 Gas Turbine

Speed :                                  30 knots ( Maximum )
                                              18 knots ( Cruising )
Range :                                  4500 nautical miles
Complement :                       145 to 170

Sensors :                               SPS-550K Search Radar
                                              SPG-540K Fire Control Radar
                                              SQS-240K Hull-mounted sonar
                                              Electro-Optical Targeting System
                                              Infra-Red Search and Tract System

Processing Systems :            Samsung Thales Naval Shield Integrated Combat Management System

Electronic Warfare :             LIG Nex1 SLQ-200(V)K SONATA EW Suite

Decoys :                               KDAGAIE Mk2 decoys

Armament :                          1 x Mk45 Mod 4 127mm/L62 Naval Gun
                                             1 x 20mm Phalanx Block 1B CIWS
                                             1 x RIM-116B Rolling Airframe Missile Launcher with 21 rounds
                                             2 x 4 SSM-700K Hae Sung ( C-Star ) Anti-Ship Missiles
                                             2 x 3 K745 Chung Sang Eo ( Blue Shark ) Torpedoes

Aircraft :                              Super Lynx or AW-159 Wildcat
Aviation Facilities :             Flight Deck and Hangar for 1 x Medium Lift Helicopter


ROKS Incheon ( FFG-811 ), the first of Korea's FFX-I guided missile frigate class.
Photo : Korean DoD.

FFX-I Capabilities

The HDF-3000 frigate has only a somewhat stealthy hull and superstructure design with reduced acoustic and infrared signatures due to cost constrains. Compared to the older corvettes and frigates that it is supposed to replace, these next generation frigates are definitely much more capable, especially in the area of self-protection. In Mar 2010, the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan by a torpedo from a North Korean submarine is a stark reminder of the importance of ship defense systems. The Cheonan is a Pohang-class corvette which the FFX was meant to replace.

The new frigates will have both gun and missile based close-in weapon systems against precision munitions, AShMs, hostile aircrafts, UAVs and small boats. Batch I vessels will however not be installed with any torpedo and acoustics countermeasures ( TACM ) system. That will have to wait till Batch II and beyond.

The relatively large 5 inch ( 127mm ) main gun with its greater range is good for providing naval gunfire support during amphibious landings by the Marines.

A hull-mounted sonar and two triple torpedo launchers plus the naval helicopter gives these frigate credible ASW capabilities. The addition of a towed array sonar system ( TASS ) in Batch II will further enhance the submarine hunting capabilities of these frigates.

The two quadruple launcher for the LIG Nex1 C-Star ( Hae Sung ) AShM gives the frigates a long range strike capability against surface vessels up to 150km away, a slight increase in range compared to the Harpoon missile. Batch II frigates will be installed with the Hae Sung II which features GPS/INS guidance and land attack capability. The ROKN has now also decided to retrofit the Batch I frigates with the Hae Sung II.

In essence, just by looking at the technical specifications, the Incheon-class FFX Batch I frigates can be considered low-end inshore general purpose frigates, built specifically for the ROKN to counter the North Korean threat which is largely littoral in nature. Apart from the lack of a TASS and a TACM system, the other glaring shortfall is their lack of medium or long range surface-to-air missiles to provide a broader air defense capabilities beyond self-protection. Then again, these frigates are supposed to operate in coastal waters close to home where they can enjoy the protection of the Republic of Korean Air Force ( ROKAF ) and ground based air defense units. They can also rely on the air defense umbrella provided by the ROKN's better equipped KDX destroyers and the FFX Batch II frigates which will have the longer ranged K-SAAM missiles in vertical launchers.

The C Star AShM being fired from a corvette. Photo : LIG Nex1

The C Star emerging from its canister launcher. Photo LIG Nex1

The C Star missile. Photo : LIG Nex1

The Philippine Navy's Frigate Acquisition Project 

Having considered and eventually dropping the idea of buying two refurbished Italian Navy Maestrale-class frigates due largely to the perceived increase in maintenance costs for older ships, the Philippine Department of National Defense launched this two-ship Frigate Acquisition Project in October 2013 to fulfill the PN's long-range maritime surveillance, patrol, and interdiction requirements. It had been allocated PHP 18 billion in total for the project, PHP 16 billion for the construction of the frigates and PHP 2 billion for the munitions. Credit has to go to the previous Aquino Administration for initiating this long overdue revamp of the navy.

There were several contenders for the project initially and they include Navantia of Spain with its Avante 2200 Combatant , STX France with its modified Floreal-class offering, Garden Reach Shipbuilds and Engineers of Kolkata with its modified Kamorta-class ASW corvette, Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering with ? FFX-II and of course Hyundai Heavy Industries with the modified HDF-3000 Incheon-class FFX design.

Indian Navy ASW corvette INS Kamorta during sea trials. Wikipedia
All had to modify their designs one way or other to suit the operational requirements and the budget of the PN. Needless to say, each have their own strengths and weaknesses and it was up to the PN to evaluate and decide which would be of most value.
The program had already gone through the first round of bidding in Dec 2013 but suffered the usual delays commonly encountered in the defense procurement processes in the Philippines, namely administrative and financial hurdles. After two years of waiting, it somehow got kick-started again in December 2015 when then President Aquino gave the final approval for the DND to initiate a new tender process with a revised technical specifications list that filled 71 pages. Here's a summary of what the DND wanted.
Two new construction multi-mission frigates for Anti-Air Warfare ( AAW ), Anti-Surface Warfare ( ASuW ), Anti-Submarine Warfare ( ASW ) and Electronic Warfare ( EW ) operations. They must be at least 95m in length and not less than 2000 tons. They must have an endurance of 4500 nautical miles at 15 knots and able to sustain 30 days of operations at sea.
For engines, the DND asked for Combined Diesel and Diesel Configuration ( CADAD ). The frigates will have to incorporate stealth characteristics to reduce their radar, infra-red and acoustic signatures. The vessels will also have additional space and power to cater for the future installation of an 8-cell vertical launch system ( VLS ) for surface-to-air missiles ( SAM ), close-in weapons system ( CIWS ) and a Towed Array Sonar ( TAS ) system. They will have a hangar to accommodate a 10 ton and the ability to embark a 12 ton helicopter.
They will be armed with the following :
76mm main gun capable of engaging air and surface targets at a burst rate of 120 rounds per min.
30 to 40mm secondary gun with Electro-optical fire director that can be remotely operated
4 or more 0.5 inch machine guns
Surface-to surface missiles with a range of 150km in two twin launchers
Surface-to-air missiles with a range of 6km in two trainable twin launchers
Light weight torpedoes in two triple launchers
Of course there were the usual combat system and sensors and counter measures specifications, like a 3D search radar with a range of 100 nautical miles for air and 40 nm for surface targets ...
There were only four bidders for the second and final round. The outcome of the bidding was such that Daewoo and Navantia were eliminated early due to their failure to submit all necessary documents. GRSE submitted the lowest bid, at PHP 15.047 billion ( then USD 324 million ), but was disqualified for failure to comply with the Net Financial Contracting Capacity requirement, an indicator used by the government to gauge a contractor's ability to fulfill a contract. HHI was the second lowest bidder at PHP 15.744 billion ( USD 341 million ) and survived the post qualification scrutiny and thus was declared the winner.

FFX Minus

There is a saying, when you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. The Incheon-class frigates cost USD 232 million each. The DND is paying USD 341 million for two frigates, so some features had to be given up for sure. 
What the final configuration of the frigates will be only the PN and Duterte knows for now. The specifications list contained all the signs of penny pinching, like having all-diesel engines instead of the more common and versatile gas turbine-diesel combination. Gas turbines may be more expensive to operate compared with diesel engines but they are essential for the rapid acceleration and the high speed dashes during combat. Some of these cost cutting measures may even have a direct impact on the ability of the frigates to fulfill their intended roles, like asking for very short range air defense missiles ( 6km ?! ) when the frigates were supposed to conduct Anti-Air Warfare? The 8 cell VLS is a distant proposition that may or may not happen, depending on you guessed it, available funds. All it takes is another monster typhoon to crush that future upgrade. And with global warming these once in a century super storms are occurring two or three times annually. Also, with the frigates fitted for but not with a CIWS, they are just sitting ducks for the YJ-8 ( C-802 ) and YJ-18 AShM from the Chinese fleet at the outbreak of hostilities. It could be a case of being penny wise but pound foolish, or shall we say, sentimo wise but piso foolish, where failure to install a USD 8 million Phalanx CIWS ( or other missile-based CIWS ) might have resulted in the loss of a USD 170 million frigate.
The Phalanx CIWS in action onboard USS Stout ( DDG-55 ).
It is unwise to omit the installation of a CIWS just to save a few pennies. USN Photo
That said, even a watered down FFX-I frigate is a vast improvement on the current line up of the guns-only vessels of the Philippine Navy fleet. When they are delivered, hopefully by the year 2020, the PN will have to rapidly integrate the new frigates into the fleet and attain proficiency in operating the new weapon systems that come with the frigates. The admiralty will have to develop new tactics and joint operations doctrines and put the newly acquired frigates to good use. A stronger PN is not only good for the Philippines but also good for the stability of the region, and will be a useful deterrence against further Chinese expansion in the South China Sea.
Lastly, it's just as well the PN frigates won't be equipped with land attack cruise missiles. The constant worry is that Madman Duterte, having lost his beloved Jet Ski, might decide to appropriate the frigates and use them against the estimated 3 million drug peddlers and petty criminals of his own country. Death by 76mm HE. That for sure will escalate the War against Drugs of the Philippines to a whole new level.  

Friday, 14 October 2016

The Yamato Museum of Kure 呉市大和ミュジアム

The Imperial Japanese Navy battleship Yamato. Source : Revell

Visiting The Yamato Museum

The Yamato Museum is the more popular name for the Kure Maritime Museum ( 呉市海事歴史科学館 Kure Kaiji Rekishi Kagakukan ) in Kure City, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan. It is the World War II Imperial Japanese Navy super battleship IJN Yamato that the museum got its name from. And by the name of God, who hasn't heard of the Yamato!

After a stopover at Hiroshima City where I visited the Peace Memorial Park with the iconic Genbaku Dome on 8th June 2016, I proceeded to the nearby port city of Kure the next morning where two naval attractions awaited, the Yamato Museum and the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force Kure Museum. They were located at the wharf area adjacent to each other. As Kure was barely 26km away from Hiroshima, it only took 34 minutes and ¥500 ( USD 5.00 ) by rapid train service to get there.

At Kure Station, prominent signs indicated the directions to the naval museums. Visitors would have to walk another 5 to 10 minutes along an elevated covered walkway that linked the station to the museums. The pillars of the walkway were adorned with banners commemorating the 10 millionth visitor to the Yamato Museum last year, exactly ten years after the museum opened its doors. It had by May 2016 surpassed the 11 million visitor mark.

So you must be wondering, what is the relationship between Kure and the IJN Yamato? Unless stated otherwise, all photographs taken by the author.

The Yamato Museum celebrated its 10th anniversary
 last year.

Arigatou!! 10 million visitors banner hanging by the
walkway connecting Kure Station to
the Yamato Museum.

11 million visitors milestone achieved by May 2016.
 Source : Kure Maritime Museum.



The modern history of Kure is deeply intertwined with the Imperial Japanese Navy. It really started in 1870, two years after the Meiji Restoration, with the formation of the modern Japanese Navy. Because of its strategic location within the Seto Inland Sea, the Navy chose Kure to set up a major base.

In 1889, the Meiji Constitution of Japan was promulgated and the Navy also had a major restructuring, after close to two decades of rapid growth from a coastal force to a respectable naval organization. Kure was designated the second of the four Naval Districts ( 鎮守府 Chinjufu ) of Japan. The other three were, in chronological order, Yokosuka ( 横須賀 ), Sasebo ( 佐世保 ) and Maizuru ( 舞鶴 ).

By 1903, the Kure Naval Dockyard or Kure Arsenal had been established and would eventually evolve into Japan's biggest arsenal town. It was instrumental in propelling Japan to become a naval power in Asia.

Some of the warships built in Kure included the aircraft carriers Akagi ( 赤城 ), Soryu ( 蒼龍 ), Unyo ( 雲鷹 ), Chuyo ( 冲鷹 ), Shinyo ( 神鷹 ), Katsuragi ( 葛城 ), seaplane carriers Chitose ( 千歳 ), Chiyoda ( 千代田 ), seaplane tender Nisshin ( 日進 ), battleships Yamato ( 大和 ), Nagato ( 長門 ), Fuso ( 扶桑 ), Aki ( 安芸 ), Settsu ( 摂津 ), battlecruisers Tsukuba ( 筑波 ), Ikoma ( 生駒 ), Ibuki ( 伊吹 ), heavy cruisers Nachi ( 那智 ), Atago ( 愛宕 ), Mogami ( 最上 ) and the seaplane carrying submarine I-400. 

It suffered heavy bombardment by the USAAF during the closing months of WWII but was largely spared the direct effects of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as it was 26km away. After the War, Kure would evolve into a major ship building center and it still remains an important naval base for the JMSDF. It is also known as Yamato no Furusato ( 大和のふるさと ) which could be translated as " Hometown of the Yamato ".

Modern day Kure is a major base for the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force.
 Source : Wikipaedia

The Kure Maritime Museum

The Yamato Museum is located at Kure's wharf area right across the bay from the shipyards that built the battleship Yamato almost eighty years ago. It is diagonally across the road from another major attraction of Kure, the JMSDF Kure Museum which specializes in undersea warfare, meaning submarines and anti-submarine warfare, mines and mine hunting.

Assuming that you are arriving on foot like I did, as were the majority of the visitors, the first thing that you will notice even before reaching the main museum building is a larger than life statue of Neptune in his glorious birthday suite and holding a trident, standing proudly at the main square. This God of the Seas is generally much more muscular looking compared to his many other iterations elsewhere in European cities.

A larger than life statue of Neptune at the main square
 in front of the Yamato Museum.

Still outside the museum but adjacent to the main square and next to the motorway is a narrow strip of land, the outdoor exhibit area, with several large sized artifacts from the battleship Mutsu ( 陸奥 ). The main anchor, the aft jackstaff, the propeller, the rudder and even the 16.1 inch main gun ( 410mm ) from turret number 3 is displayed. The IJN Mutsu was a Nagato-class battleship that entered service with the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1921 and was sunk in 1943 after it suffered a mysterious internal explosion at the Hashirajima Anchoring Area at Hiroshima Bay. Large portions of the battleship was salvaged in later years after the War and the relics are displayed in various parts of Japan. Although the Mutsu was constructed not at Kure but at the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal near Tokyo, it sunk in the waters within the Kure Naval District and its artifacts are still relevant for the Yamato Museum.

Main anchor (主錨 ) of the battleship Mutsu

41cm ( 16 inch ) main gun from Mutsu's number 3 turret.

The breech of the 41cm main gun of the Mutsu.

The propeller of the Mutsu

The rudder of the Mutsu across the road fom the JMSDF kure museum

General Layout

The Yamato Museum is housed in a four-storey building that is rather non-descript. Unlike the JMSDF museum across the road with its " Iron Whale " the decommissioned JDS Akishio diesel submarine as its main facade, the Yamato Museum has nothing externally to scream about.

Inside the museum, the ticketing counter is located by the main entrance and it would set you back ¥500 ( US$5) for the admission ticket. The ticket itself is printed on art paper and would make a good book mark, if you have not gone the way of the e-book that is. Non-Japanese speaking visitors may obtain headsets that will provide translation of the exhibit write-ups free of charge.

The first floor is where you will find the museum shop and the History of Kure exhibits. It includes a large section devoted to the battleship Yamato. At the centre of the building is the Yamato Hiroba ( Square ) where the 1 : 10 scale model of the Yamato is displayed, the main attraction of the museum. The Large Object Exhibition Room is also on this floor where a Zero fighter, a midget submarine and a Kaiten human torpedo is displayed.

The second floor is mainly viewing decks and interconnecting passageway where some scale model of warships are on display while the third floor has a section on ship building technology and the Yamato theatre where movies and features are screened.

The fourth floor is where the library is located and there is also a viewing terrace where visitors may view the shipyard and wharf around the museum.


My Ticket

The first thing a visitor sees after entering the museum is the museum shop!
Stacks of naval and Yamato themed Japanese snacks on display.

The History of Kure Section

In this exhibit area are all the photographs and artifacts relating to the growth of Kure from a small seaside town in feudal Japan into one of the most important naval base and arsenal during WWII and its ultimate postwar adaptation to become a ship building hub.

As you enter this section, a life-sized mockup of the coal-fired boiler of the battleship Kongo greets you, complete with the figures of two seamen shoveling coal! As you move along, the exhibits progress chronologically from the early years of the Kure Naval District ( 1889 ) to the formation of the Kure Arsenal ( 1903 ) and then to the post WWI economic depression of the twenties, the Washington Treaty of the thirties which limited the tonnage of capital ships that each major naval power was supposed not to exceed, the development of the ( naval ) aviation industry, Kure and the Pacific War ( WWII ), civilian hardships during the War and the firebombing raids of 1945, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the post war recovery and transition to civilian shipbuilding and finally the transformation of Kure into the modern port city of Japan that we see today.

There are many scale models of WWII naval aircrafts, warships and submarines and personal items belonging to long deceased commanders of the Imperial Japanese Navy like ceremonial swords and name seals, uniforms, documents etc.

An entire wall had even been plastered with photograph after photograph of all the ships ever built at the Kure Arsenal among which the Yamato is the most famous. The museum curator made sure you would never leave this section without having at least some understanding of the significance of Kure in the history of the Japanese Navy.

Life-sized replication of the boiler of the
IJN battleship Kongo.

Close-up of the above. Signboard reads Yarrow Type Boiler ( ヤーロー式ボイラー )
not surprising as IJN Kongo was built by the Vickers Shipbuilding Company.
 It was laid down at Burrow-In-Furness, in 1911.

Wall display on the creation of the Japanese Navy ( 1870 ),
promulgation of the Meiji Constitution ( 1889 ) and
the establishment of the Kure Naval District ( 1889 ).


Wall display and artifacts including engineering blue prints to illustrate
the industrialization of Kure at the turn of the 20th century.
The infusion of British ship building technology was crucial to the
transformation of Japan into an East Asian Maritime Power.

Beautifully constructed scale model of the battleship Kongo displayed in this section. 

1:100 scale model of Japan's first domestically constructed submarine
 the Type 6 ( modified Holland-class ).
Submarine Number 6 sank during training at Hiroshima Bay
on 15th Apr 1910 with the loss of all hands.

1:100 scale Japanese Navy submarine models.
 Note piggy-backed Kaiten human torpedo on I-16 ( top ).
A Watkin Clinometer and a submariner's old shoe from I-52 is also displayed!

A section on the naval aviation factory in Kure.

Close-up of the 1:24 scale Zero reconnaissance seaplane.

All 133 ships built at Kure Arsenal plus special attack crafts
are listed here, most with accompanying photographs.

The Battleship Yamato Subsection

This subsection of the History of Kure Exhibit gives a detailed history of the battleship Yamato, the then cutting edge technology that was applied in the design and construction of such a humongous warship and its operational history throughout WWII.

The focus was on the Yamato's last mission to Okinawa in the spring of 1945, the oneway suicide mission known as Operation Ten-Go to fight the American invasion fleet and defend the last of the Japanese territories before the Home Islands. On display are letters, postcards and even the wills of the Yamato's sailors who knew that they were unlikely to survive the coming battle.

The names of the entire crew of the Yamato as it headed for its last mission, many of which perished when the Yamato was sunk, is displayed prominently on the wall.

The many cutting edge technology that went into the design and
construction of the Yamato explained.

The super battleship Yamato on sea trials off Sukumo ( 宿毛 ), Kochi,
 on 30th Oct 1941. Wikipaedia.

Operation Ten-go : The last mission of the Yamato.

X marks the spot. The Yamato sank in 430m of water
off Kyushu,  20 miles west of Tokunoshima,
 way short of her original destination of Okinawa.

The Yamato Today Subsection

This subsection is dedicated to the discovery of the wreck of the Yamato which lies on the seabed 430m beneath the surface some 290km south of Kyushu Island. Many photographs are on display showing the battleship broken into many pieces scattered on the seabed.

Some salvaged artifacts are also on display, like corroded 25mm anti-aircraft cartridges, glass bottles, boots and other everyday items of that era. A diorama of part of the Yamato wreak is also displayed, showing how the toppled 18.1 inch gun turret was resting on the bottom of the sea.

A 9 min clip of the latest survey to the wreckage in May 2015 using digital technology is being screened at the Yamato Theatre on the 3rd floor.

Artifacts from the wreck of the Yamato : L to R electric lamp stands,
beer bottles, tiles from the officer's heads, donburi ( rice bowl ).

More artifacts : Bugle, Seawater Hose Nozzle and Battery.

1:350 scale diorama of the Yamato laying on the seabed in two pieces
and the ripped out turrets.

Photos from previous underwater survey of the Yamato wreck.

The 1:10 Scale Model of the Battleship Yamato

At the centre of the museum is its main attraction, the 1:10 scale model of the battleship Yamato. It is constructed by the Yamamoto Shipyard Company ( 山本造船株式会社 Yamamoto Zosen Kabushikigaisha ) of Kure, as proundly proclaimed by an inscribed metal plate attached to the pedestal. Since the actual battleship measured 263m in length, the scale model is exactly 26.3m long. It is HUGE. Simply the biggest model ship that I've ever seen and will likely ever see. The first warship model that I had as a child was the 1:426 scale Revell classic, the USS Arizona. That was subsequently followed by the Hasegawa and Tamiya 1:700 Waterline series, USS Enterprise, IJN Junyo, Mogami ... all nothing compared to this monster. You can see for yourselves how this model was constructed back in 2003 here.

It was constructed based on whatever information was available of the Yamato and photographs and data collected during the 1999 diving expedition to the wreck of the Yamato. The Japanese had deliberately destroyed the plans and any documents and photographs of the Yamato at the end of World War II and not much reference material was available for such a reconstruction.

The giant model ship occupies a recessed area in the middle of the museum building called the Yamato Hiroba ( Yamato Square ), sitting on top of a pedestal of sorts. Museum visitors can only view it from afar and will not be able to touch it. Every detail is taken care of and as accurately represented as possible, above and below the waterline. Even the seaplane is included.

1:10 scale Battleship Yamato. Builder : Yamamoto Shipyard Company Limited.
A an impressive 1:10 scale model of the IJN Yamato is displayed in
 the main hall of the museum.

You can appreciate the size of this model ship when compared to the man
standing next to it.
Every detail is painstakingly reproduced, from the seaplane to the propellers and rudder 
The superstructure and the anti-aircraft guns. Note the human figure on the right.

Visitors can go to the basement level and view the parts of the ship that is
below the waterline.

The Yamato model viewed from level 3 of the museum.

A close-up view of the upper deck with the 18.1 inch guns

The Large Objects Exhibit Room

This is the other interesting area of the museum, a large open space with high ceiling and an array of WWII relics like a Mitsubishi A6M7 Type 62 Zero Fighter, complete with engines and 13mm machine guns. Also on display are the Type 93 torpedo, a prototype of the Kaiten Type 10 suicide submarine, a late model Kairyu ( Sea Dragon ) midget submarine with hydroplanes that enabled it to be controlled like an airplane and shells of various types and caliber ( 18 inch and 16 inch ) from the Yamato and the Mutsu.

 The Kaitens are suicide submarines piloted by a single officer. The word kaiten ( 回天 ) itself means " return to heaven ". These special mission attack crafts were the result of Japan's desperate attempt to turn the tide of the war during the last two years of the Pacific War. A total of 6 models were developed, Types 1,2,4,5,6 and 10. Early models were modified from the very large Type 93 ( aka Long Lance ) torpedoes. Only the Type 10 displayed at the Yamato Museum was derived from the Type 92 torpedo and only the Type 1 actually saw combat.

The general layout of the Large Objects Exhibition Room.

Special Attack Weapon : Kaiten Type 10 Prototype.
This is a human torpedo kamikaze submarine.

The propellers of the Kaiten Type 10 and the write-up.
The relative size of the Kaiten Type 10 can be gauged from this photo.
Ceremonial short sword of a Kaiten operator and his written will.
The Type 93 torpedo on display adjacent to the Kaiten.

Mass production type Kairyu special attack midget submarine.
Kairyu ( 海龍 ) means sea dragon.

The Kairyu has hydroplanes that allowed it to be controlled like an aircraft.

16 and 18 inch shells of various types on display.
Also a cutaway gun barrel showing the thickness of the steel used in its construction.

The Zero Type 62 fighter with a 250kg bomb.

The Zero's Sakae 31 Ko-Type engine is also displayed.

the Zero Fighter's 13mm machineguns.

The gun sight of the Zero, engine parts and pilot's accessories.

Ship Building Technology Exhibit

This 3rd floor area looks more like a science museum than a history museum. It has all the hands on setups that will appeal most to young children, all to do with the principles of ship building and the technology of navigating the high seas.

You can learn about the most fundamental science behind what makes ships float on water or try peeping through a working periscope that looks out to the busy bay next to the museum. What I liked was the ship simulator with three large monitors where you can play captain and try to pilot your ship from the port out to the bay, not with the mouse and keyboard but with throttle and wheel. It was not as simple as it seemed, and collision avoidance was very much part of the game. Its free and you can try it as many times as you wished.

Ship Simulator. Source : Kure Maritime Museum.

Learning about floatation. Sourse : Kure Maritime Museum

The Future Hall / Yamato Theatre

This 3rd floor area is where the mini theatre is located and also where materiel related to the Japanese science fiction anime Space Battleship Yamato is displayed. In case you are not aware, this film was released back in 1974 and has since spawned numerous sequels. The story had it that in the year 2199 Earth was bombarded with radioactive meteorites by an alien race and was left barren with even the oceans evaporated. Humans retreated underground but faced extinction within a year. They obtained blueprints for a faster-than-light engine from a message capsule found in a mysterious spaceship which crashed on Mars, technology of another superior alien race from the Large Magellanic Cloud. They built the space warp drive ( Wave Motion Engine ) inside the ancient hull of the sunken but now exposed and partially buried battleship Yamato to hide it from the orbiting aliens and also installed an incredibly powerful Wave Motion Gun at the bow. Their mission was to go to the LMC, 170000 light years away, and obtain a device than would clean Earth of its radiation  ..... . It has been released as Star Blazers in the US. Its creator, Leiji Matsumoto, is now an honorary director of the museum.

Box art of the 1/500 scale Space Battleship Yamato 2199. Source Bandai

1/1000 scale plastic model of the Space Battleship Yamato 2199. Source Bandai.

The Yamato Theatre screens movies related to the Yamato daily


Other Attractions Of The Museum

There is a library on the 4th floor where you can find all sorts of reading material on Kure and the Yamato, books, maps, photos etc. There is also a rooftop viewing terrace where you can enjoy a panoramic view of Kure Port and its surrounding shipbuilding facilities and wharves. A park along the waterfront area behind the museum where you can view passing ships is shaped like the upper deck of the Yamato. Don't forget to check out the Museum Shop at the entrance before you leave. You will find scale model kits of the Yamato from various brands, some are limited edition and 1:350 scale premium kits.

Viewing Terrace at Yamato Museum. Source : Kure Maritime Museum

This waterfront park has a layout that is a dimensionally accurate reflection
 of the forecastle / upper deck of the Yamato. Note the rising area behind the two girls
which represents the bow. See image below. Source : Kure maritime Museum.


Look carefully. This seafront park has the shape of the Yamato's
port side forecastle complete with the A and B turrets.
Note also the JMSDF Kure Museum with its decommissioned Akishio
hunter-killer submarine.

A Unique Military Museum 

Let us be honest. The Kure Maritime Museum is more about the naval history of Kure and especially of the Imperial Japanese Navy battleship Yamato than it is about the shipbuilding industry of Kure. It is nothing but a naval museum, despite its formal name suggesting otherwise. It is much better known as the Yamato Museum, locally in Japan as well as internationally and among the foreign visitors to Japan. In fact with so much of the exhibits focusing on the Yamato, the museum might as well just call itself the Yamato Museum of Kure from now on.

The Yamato was a war machine operated by a brutal military regime that had been defeated many years ago. It has been resting peacefully on the ocean floor for the past seventy one years, going nowhere, certainly not to the Large Magellanic Cloud. It is now a cold, dark and watery war grave.

The Yamato Museum does a good job in enabling the younger generation to understand the brutality of the War and to marvel at the advance technology that went into the construction of the world's biggest battleship, ever.

The era of the battleship is long over and there will never be another ship like the Yamato or its sister ship the Musashi. Like the Mitsubishi Zero Fighter, this is one of the few things that the Japanese can still be proud of and it continues to live in their hearts and minds.

This one of a kind naval museum is highly recommended especially for fans of WWII and naval history and definitely worth a visit if you happened to be in Hiroshima. After the Yamato Museum, walk across the road and hop over to the adjacent Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Kure Museum. It cannot be missed with its huge albacore-hulled submarine at its front. It is just as unique and even better - less crowded and with free admission! That will have to be covered in another article though.

CGI of the Imperial Japanese Navy Battleship Yamato as it appeared in 1945.
大日本帝国海軍戦艦大和( 昭和二十年 )