Friday, April 19, 2013

One of Don Quixote's Broken Lances - US Navy Vertical Launch Systems


Reflecting back upon my dual “career” as a weapons systems engineer/threat analyst and naval intelligence officer, I recently conducted an internet search for some of the projects I worked on, and can actually talk about. I’m certain that many readers of this blog page will have had similar Don Quixote  moments with the “windmills” in their respective lives and careers. Others may recognize "Broken Lance" as a play on words of either a "Broken Arrow" or "Broken Spear", a military code term for a serious, but non-lethal, mishap involving a nuclear weapon.

In 1963, I was an engineer working for Freeman M. “Steve” Stephens (Section Head, Advanced Missile Development Group) at then General Dynamics/Pomona, Pomona, California. I developed and proposed in a meeting with military and civilian personnel of the then Bureau of Naval Weapons (BuWeps), a modified configuration of the Missile Ejector Group, Mk 18, as a vertical launch system for integration into the Advanced Surface  Missile System (ASMS) which was to evolve into the Aegis Missile System in 1969. The system which employed a sabot powered by high pressure steam generated by a solid grain rocket propellant, had already been developed and employed in the Navy’s Polaris Missile/Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine Program. This was a deployed, fully operational system. It was effectively a “cold launch” as opposed to a “hot launch”, where the missile rocket engine is ignited in the launch tube. I had learned of the system while working at General Dynamics/Electric Boat Division, Groton, Connecticut, prior to transferring to Pomona.

At that time GD/Pomona was producing both the Tartar Missile (RIM-24) and Standard Missile (RIM-66), and was teamed with RCA Moorestown, Cherry Hill, NJ, who were simultaneously developing a fixed planar array radar for ASMS, which was to become the AN/SPY-1, and the nucleus of the AEGIS Weapon System. Steve Stephens would frequently meet with the RCA Project Manager, William V. “Bill” Goodwin, who was later promoted to a RCA Vice President over their entire Missile and Surface Radar Division.

The Guided Missile Launching Systems Mk 7, Mk 9, Mk 10, Mk 11, Mk 13 and Mk 22 (Mk 26 was yet to come) were already well established and installed in US Navy surface ships. Like conventional naval gun systems, all of these launchers were trained in azimuth and elevation with complex amplidyne drive systems, and reloaded from protected magazines. Even though by every measure of combat effectiveness (reaction time/reload speed, reliability, survivability, maintainability, safety, design/manufacturing simplicity, reduction of rotating machinery, simultaneous multi-warfare/multi-target engagement,  lower CG, volumetric efficiency, concealment, and cost, to name a few) the vertical launch concept was clearly superior, the ultra-conservative minds of the Department of the Navy remained entrenched, rejecting the concept. I would come to call them “cannon-cockers”. In addition a contributing factor may well have been a highly effective lobbying effort by Northern Ordnance and FMC Corporation, manufacturers of the existing launching systems.


GMLS Mk 9 with a pair of tactical Terrier Missiles (RIM-2)
 on the launch rails in the USS Providence (CLG - 6) 

GMLS Mk 13 with a tactical Standard Missile (RIM-66)
 on the launch rail

GMLS Mk 26 with a tactical Standard Missile (RIM-66)
on the launch rail with early Tomahawk Missile (BGM-109)
launchers seen on the fantail

Then in June 1973 the Soviet Navy laid the keel for the first of four hybrid steam/nuclear propelled battle cruisers (CBN), the “Kirov” Class (Project 1144.2). Integrated in the ship's extensive and diversified weapons suite  were 20 SS-N-19 vertical launch tubes (P-700 #M-45 Granit or ‘Shipwreck’ missiles) and 16 SA-N-9 vertical launchers for a surface-to-air missile defense system. The lead ship of the class the Kirov entered operational service with the Soviet Northern Fleet in September 1980. Three more ships of the class, Frunze, Kalinin, and Yuri Andropov, were to follow.

Then pride of the Soviet Navy a Kirov Class Battle Cruiser

Aerial view of the forecastle and fore deck of a Kirov Class (CBN) 

A close-up of the hatch arrays of the SS-N-19 (green circle)
and SA-N-9 (blue circle) missile systems

Scale drawing of SS-N-19 'Shipwreck' (P-700 #M-45 Granit)

A detailed cutaway of the SS-N-19 'Shipwreck' missile

Suffices there was a mad scramble within now Naval Ordnance Systems Command to catch-up, with the Vertical Launch System Mk 41 being “conceived” (according to Navy records) in 1976. That was fully 13 years later! (more than the span of a full procurement cycle). The first operational VLS Mk 41, after test and evaluation in the USS Norton Sound (AVM-1), was installed in the USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) commissioned 20 September 1986. More than 11,000 Mk 41 VLS missile cells have been delivered, or are on order, for use on 186 ships and 19 ship classes, in 11 navies around the world. The system currently serves with the US Navy as well as the Australian, Canadian, Danish, Dutch, German, Japanese, New Zealand, Norwegian, South Korean, Spanish, and Turkish navies.

Typical fore deck array of the hatches of a Vertical Launch
System (VLS) Mk 41 in a US Navy guided missile cruiser 

A Tomahawk (BGM-109 series) guided missile launch from
 a VLS Mk 41showing the venting of the missile engine
 exhaust plume in a hot launch

USS Lake Champlain (CG-57) a Ticonderoga Class guided
missile cruiser showing both fore and aft VLS Mk 41 missile
batteries and the AN/SPY-1 radar planar arrays

I still have the scale model of the vertical launched missile system proposed to the US Navy in 1963. It was built from a toilet paper tube (thicker cardboard back then) , and incorporated a inner sleeved shipping canister containing a plastic model of a Standard (RIM-66) surface-to-air missile. The majority of the protruding fittings seen on main launch tube were safety and fire suppression systems, as well as positive constraints on the missile to insure adequate launch pressures. Many of these features would have proven unnecessary, simplifying and streamlining the final design configuration. It's unfortunate that there currently isn't a quick, accurate and reliable forensic dating method that could be applied to the model. Unfortunately all my analyses, drawings, reports, and other presentation materials were left at GD/Pomona. This was due to the fact that most of it was both proprietary and classified information. The green maze background is an intentional "freudian slip" representing the "long green table" symbolic of a Navy Board of Inquiry, which was obviously never held.

In all fairness to the Navy, some of my other efforts, many of which I still can't talk about, were recognized and appreciated. In a matter of what is termed "due course", I was promoted, and after 29 years of service I retired as a Captain.

Overall view of early proposed VLS
system showing the propellant combustion
 chamber to the side of the launcher 

View with deck hatch rotated exposing the tip of the missile
within the launcher

View of launcher showing shipping canister removed from
the launcher

Scale model of a Standard Missile (RIM-66) contained
within the launcher model

Another view of the launcher, shipping
canister, and missile

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