Modern Naval Warfare | UMVs – A game changer for the Indian Navy
Unmanned missile vessels (UMVs)
Major navies around the world are exploring and evaluating surface/submersible unmanned missile vessels (UMVs) and their possible use in modern naval warfare. UMVs can carry large number of missiles with it. Making it unmanned takes away the risk factor for any human error and casualties from the users’ side while also helping in making the design work easier as there’s no extra thought to be given to human complements on board. Here we take a look at what unmanned missile vessels (UMVs) can bring on to the table.
Here are some of the possible uses of UMVs in modern naval warfare.
- The UMVs can complement the carrier battle group (CBG) in high risk operations and provide the CBG with more SSM and SAMs required following the distributed lethality doctrine. UMVs will not replace cruisers, destroyers, frigates or corvettes in the battle group but will complement the mentioned assets.
- UMVs can also be used to bombard enemy assets on land without risking a human life on the users’ side.
- It can be used to guard strategic assets ashore with permanent deployment. For example, oil rig installations etc can be protected by autonomous UMVs deployed at the installations.
- The unmanned missile vessel can act as a mothership for other unmanned surface and subsurface vessels (USVs) performing surveillance and reconnaissance, anti submarine/mine warfare etcetera. Working as a formidable battle group at sea.
Suicide missions like attacking a carrier battle group can be performed by several mini UMVs launching AShM and crashing into the group.
Making an unmanned ship is not an easy task to do, it would require highly reliable data link, sensors to operate it from shores or writing complex algorithms for carrying out autonomous completion of operations. It also requires willingness to invest in a new concept that isn’t battle proven yet. UMVs carrying great number of missiles like >128 risks them going offline when hit, damaged or sunk.
Some of the advantages offered by UMVs over manned ships or missile batteries at shores can be said as below:
- The cruising missile carrier is safe from possible ballistic missile attacks from enemies that may neutralise land based fixed assets.
- With no humans on board, the ship can either use the space for more fuel resulting in more range or carry more missiles with it with the former being more reasonable.
- With less equipments required and a simpler design will result in lesser time to construct and outfitted, while significantly reducing the maintenance, repair, overhaul time, thereby resulting in better availability.
Several UMVs carrying missiles can make sure that the lethality is distributed resulting in less loss if sunk or damaged during conflict. The advantages offered by UMVs outweigh the challenges or disadvantages that may occur while building or operating such ships, making it a viable part of naval fleets in the future.
Potential Conceptual Design
Considering the time that it would take to get approval, design and construct, we assume that the UVLS, VLSRSAM, HyperSonic cruise missile (based on HSTDV) etcetera have been tested and inducted as they are supposed to by 2025, with others taking time.
Dimensions and size
Our design of an Unmanned Missile Vessel would be around 98-110 metres long, 15 metres wide and deep, displacing around 3,000-3,500 tonnes. It can switch roles between carrier escorts and mothership variants while half of this can be scaled down to the order of 300 tons carrying a few missiles as well as charges within the hull, thereby enabling a potential last ditch suicide mission capability.
Propulsion and range
Integrated Electric Propulsion system (IEP) should be the obvious choice for any future surface vessels given the power required for the future needs, it can be powered by 1× MT-30 or an indigenous marine engine based on the >110 kN engine to be made, allowing enough power to the ship for a speed of >35knots and powering equipment on board. With more space for fuel (or weapons), the ship can feature a range of more than 10,000 nautical miles (18,520km) at economical speeds, more than enough to compliment a carrier battle group. Being unmanned, it is only limited by its’ range meaning at economical speed it can stay offshore for months without the need of refuelling. The mini versions however need to be able to reach speeds of 45 knots so as to achieve the potential last ditch suicide mission with significant impact.
Armament, Sensors and Aviation
The UMVs can feature 64-80 Universal VLS depending upon the need. A 127mm naval gun and 2× Directed energy weapons based close in weapons system are already under development at DRDO, which shall also to be fitted on the Next-generation destroyers. As usual sonar will be used for surface and subsurface detection of threats such as enemy torpedoes. 4× 533mm torpedo tubes inside the hull at both side (2 tubes each) and a towed array sonar can ensure enhanced detection and defence. The purpose of “Universal” Vertical Launch System is to ensure that it can fit any missile in any configuration that the user wants to carry, an Indian UVLS needs to fit BrahMos (and upcoming HyperSonic missiles) from which we can expect the UVLS to be 800mm in diameter and 9-10 m in height. With these dimensions, it is possible to see a quadpacked VLSRSAM in the UVLS.
The missile carried by UMVs are supposed to be guided by other Frigates, Destroyers or Cruisers through cooperative engagement capability when complementing the CBG, with optional scaled down variant of LR-MFR and compulsory SATCOM when performing solo operations. The UMV needs to have autonomous decision-making capabilities to avoid losing the ship if jammed by enemy jammers. Electronic warfare suite by BEL and HANSA NG Sonar for anti submarine warfare. A small 15×15 metre deck for emergency landing of small UAVs or several swarm drones to protect the UMV from missiles launched at the ship. Note that there is no hanger but a lift to store UAV/UCAVs inside. As there are 80 “Universal” VLS, any configuration is possible.
Here is the most likely configuration for CBG complement and land bombardment:
CBG complement configuration
- 2×8 cell for 16 BrahMos/II or HSTDV based HyperSonic missile.
- 2×8 cell for 64 quadpacked VLSRSAM.
- 4×8 cell for 32 LR-SAM.
- 1×8 cell for 8 BMD.
- 1×8 cell for 8 LRLACM.
UMVs with other destroyers, frigates and corvettes will work as a force multiplier in Vikrant/Vikramadityas’ carrier battle group. 2-3 UMV can provide 256-384 more missiles to the carrier battle group.
Land Bombardment configuration
- 3×8 cell for 24 BrahMos/II or HSTDV based HyperSonic missile.
- 2×8 cell for 64 quadpacked VLSRSAM.
- 4×8 cell for 32 LR-LACM
- 1×8 cell for 8 LR-SAM.
Several ships of the kind can be built at decent costs complementing the fleet and performing solo operations when needed.
Details about the US Navy’s X-USVs can be found here.
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