Sea SLICE Tests 21st Century Naval Technology (Sept 2002)

(c) K.B. Sherman, 2002

On 12 October 2000, a small rubber boat carrying two terrorists and approximately 550- pounds of explosives closed to within several feet of USS Cole (DDG-67), a Burke-class guided missile destroyer then docked in Yemen for refueling. While this was suspicious, Cole was operating under orders not to fire upon any vessel unless first attacked, and in any case, Cole’s weapons systems were neither loaded nor particularly suitable for dealing with such a threat. As soon as the rubber boat was along side Cole, the terrorists detonated their bomb, blowing a 40-foot wide hole through the hull of the AEGIS destroyer. Seventeen US sailors were killed and 39 more were wounded. Only through near superhuman efforts by the crew was the ship saved. If the US had needed a clear message that the threat to its fleet had changed dramatically from the days of the Cold War, this was it.

Since then the US Navy has been playing marathon catch-up to the threats of the 21st century. With threats like that faced by Cole and ever greater likelihood of naval warfare becoming one of supporting wars waged ashore in the Third World, the Navy has been investigating a number of non-traditional ships and weapons systems likely to lend themselves to fighting in the new century. As we went to press, Millennium Challenge 2002 was completing its three-week run. Millennium Challenge 2002 combines 13,000 officers and men, ships, aircraft, and a high degree of computer simulation to conjure-up a fight between the combined US armed forces and an unnamed adversary in the year 2007.

The Navy part of Millennium Challenge 2002 is Fleet Battle Experiment – Juliet, involving Lockheed Martin’s Naval Electronics and Surveillance Systems Group (Clearwater, FL). A large part of FBE-J is a test of the Sea SLICE advanced technical demonstrator, a unique prototype combat vessel. Sea SLICE is a high-speed catamaran-type hull designed to carry modular, mission-specific war-fighting packages that address the specific areas of mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare, force protection, and time-critical targeting. Other Lockheed Martin business units, including NE&SS-Tactical Systems, NE&SS-Radar Systems, NE&SS-Surface Systems, Missiles and Fire Control, Mission Systems and Information Systems, have contributed technologies to be included aboard Sea SLICE and subsequent vessels.

Sea SLICE carries a number of swappable payloads as well as a node-based, network-centric data processing and communications suite. Lockheed Martin's Sea SLICE technology is a patented Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull (SWATH) design that allows unusually stable motion characteristics during high speed (“shoot and scoot”)operations. The 106-foot Sea SLICE prototype is diesel-electric powered, running two variable-pitch propellers, and yielding a 400 NM range and top speed of 30 K.

“Modular design and modification is key to the Sea SLICE concept, and during the three week test, five major elements will be tested for modular suitability and combat effectiveness: Hull Design and Seakeeping; Weapons Systems; Command and Control; Time Sensitive Strike Capability; and Maritime Sensors,” said Thomas Greer of Lockheed Martin’s NESS-Marine Systems.

During FBE-J, Sea SLICE was to operate within 100 miles of the San Diego coast in a cluttered littoral combat environment against surface, sub-surface and air threats. Modules had been fitted to perform Mine Countermeasures (MCM), Anti-submarine Warfare (ASW), Force Protection and Time Critical Targeting. In MCM and ASW experimentation, Sea SLICE was to be integrated into the operation of two REMUS Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (Office of Naval Research), a Klein 5000 side-looking sonar (Klein Associates, Salem, NH), and a simulated torpedo system. A modular Combat Information Center (CIC) in the deckhouse was to provide command and control and systems integration.

Weapons tested were to include the joint Lockheed Martin/Oerlikon Contraves 35mm Millenium Gun and the NetFires System and launcher, with a planned launch of the Lockheed Martin-developed Loitering Attack Munitions (LAM). A key to Sea SLICE’s operation is a set of integrated sensors to manage its weapons and defense systems. These include a Lockheed Martin's Silent Sentry passive radar system and three optical systems that provide infrared, electro-optical and laser ranging capabilities. One such system is the Sea Star SAFIRE II (FLIR Systems, Inc., Portland, OR), which delivers long range, multi-sensor imaging via an advanced 3-5 mm lnSb focal plane array with 3 fields of view through a laser rangefinder, daylight TV, TV spotter scope, laser pointer and CALI laser illuminator. SAFIRE can be interfaced with radar, GPS, or fire control and can be removed or installed in under one hour, according to Lockheed, as a roll-on-roll-off asset. A second system is the SeaFLIR long-range FLIR system (FLIR Systems, Inc.), which is capable of contact identification close-in or to the horizon. Finally, Sea SLICE carries the MSP-500 Modular Sensor Platform (Lockheed Martin Naval Electronics & Surveillance Systems – Radar Systems, Akron, OH). The MSP is an integrated target detection and tracking system for the Millenium Gun. It contains a thermal imager with two fields of view, a CCD camera with zoom optics, an eye safe laser range finder, video tracker, and fire control console with joystick. It operates day/night and low-visibility conditions and integrates with other ship’s systems. It can operate in passive mode while acquiring data for navigation and fire control; can track targets in azimuth, elevation and range; and accepts target indication from external sources such as radar. As with the other elements of Sea SLICE, it is modular in design and can be quickly installed or removed.

Aside from Sea SLICE, the Navy component of Millennium Challenge 2002 includes the Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS Benfold (DDG-65) and USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62), the command ship USS Coronado (AGF-11), the Los Angeles-class attack sub USS Salt Lake City (SSN-716), and several other unnamed vessels. Air assets include E-2C, F/A-18, and EA-6B aircraft operating from several coastal bases.

“The Sea SLICE vessel is designed for littoral combat, where much of 21st century naval warfare is expected to occur,” said Greer. “(In this exercise, Sea SLICE) will serve as a shooter against coastal diesel-electric subs, small boats, helo “swarms,” and other fast-moving, time-critical threats. It will be self-protected during missions against air, surface, and sub-surface threats.” “Once Millennium Challenge 2000 has been completed,” continued Greer, “analysis will be done in four main areas.” These include how well high-speed, modular-equipped vessels and unmanned vehicles performed; how well air and surface forces integrated information and worked together; how well real-time target data was shared between ships and aircraft; and how well the different services shared time-critical targeting information. Lockheed next plans to build a scalable prototype of the Sea SLICE. This vessel will be nearly twice as large -- 200 feet in length, with a 1,500 NM range and top speed of 45 K in waters up to Sea State 6.

Following the conclusion of FBE-J, Sea SLICE will be returned to its role as an advanced technology demonstrator for both the military and commercial sectors, with further military testing and prototyping expected.