Title: Rheinmetall MASS: Tackling emerging anti-ship threats.

Sub-title: Naval strategists love to study lessons learned from battles like Trafalgar, Coral Sea and Jutland. However one company is building counter measure soft kill defences against future threats.


Two summers ago, an Israeli Navy corvette was hit by a C-701 anti-ship missile, while conducting ground support operations for that country’s attack on South Lebanon. The missile, which hit just above the waterline, killed four people, caused extensive damage and forced the vessel back to port.  For security reasons, Israeli armed forces officials to this day remain cagey about what happened. However the missile launch apparently came as a complete surprise to senior officials.


But Frank Woodcock, Program Manager, (Protection Systems/Soft-kill Navy) at Rheinmetall Defence, wasn’t surprised at all that such a seemingly low-level threat could exist. But then again, it’s his job to worry about such things.


Rheinmetall designs and manufactures the MASS (Multi Ammunition Softkill System), naval protection system, which the Canadian Armed Forces are currently studying. As a result, like many experts, Woodcock has long been following emerging threats to naval vessels.  And high on that list have been potential asymmetrical attacks from non-state actors such as pirates and terrorists.


Increasing asymmetrical and guided missile threats

“Around the globe, guided missiles pose an increased threat to civilian and naval shipping,” says Woodcock. “That’s why I believe that Canada needs a system that protects ships from attacks on the high seas, in coastal zones as well as from asymmetric threats.”


In fact, the Hanit incident is only one among many that have placed emerging asymmetrical threats increasingly on Woodcock’s mind.  For example in many areas of the world, particularly off the coast of Somalia and in the Straights of Malacca, piracy is on the rise and practiced by increasingly armed and sophisticated bandits. The United States studies asymmetrical threats closely too.  The country has war-gamed numerous scenarios involving mass attacks by small speedboats against larger ships stationed in the Persian Gulf.


Canada too takes asymmetrical threats to its ships seriously. The CF is currently considering upgrading its naval counter-measure decoy launcher systems, through such initiatives as the Plessea Shield Replacement Program for the Halifax Class ships.


According to Woodcock, Canada would do well to study the Hanit example. In all fairness to the Israeli Armed Forces, while few senior commanders took seriously the possibility that the few Hezbollah guerillas would have access those C-701 missiles (an Iranian version of the Chinese C-802 missiles), reports said that staffers had in fact given detailed presentations about asymmetrical threats, years before actual attacks, but were quietly ignored.


Elements of a modern counter-measures system

While that news comforts some, Woodcock isn’t among them.

“It often seems like armies are always gearing up to fight the last war,” explains the wily veteran. “While you can always find sharp minds out there that are able to predict potential threats, convincing public officials to spend the money on proper safeguards is a different story. In today’s budget-strapped days, many policymakers are tempted to believe that if they haven’t encountered a particular threat already, then it can’t possibly exist.”


That said, according to Woodcock, naval countermeasures technology is evolving rapidly and needs to adapt quickly to take on emerging blue water anti-ship radar and infra-red autonomous guided missile threats as well as littoral/asymmetric man-in the loop threats.


 “A modern system must offer a scenario in which the seeker-head of the attacking missile detects characteristics that are similar to an actual ship’s,” said Woodcock. “Then a decoy cloud needs to be deployed close to the ship, with a gradual separation then occurring, similar to when a Matador’s cape pulls away from the bullfighter. The upshot is that as a result of the mixed signals, the attacking missile gets gradually drawn towards the wrong target.”


Rheinmetall’s MASS system: tailored for Canada’s naval needs?

So which system should Canada integrate into its Plessea Shield Replacement Program when the Canadian Armed Forces issues its Request for Proposal later this summer? Not surprisingly, Woodcock has some ideas of his own on the subject.


The least one could say is that the decision on how to best protect those 12 Halifax Class frigates is expected to be a big one. In fact the implications of the new countermeasures solutions acquisition extend far beyond the immediate effect of this expected $30 million to $70 million contract for the frigates. That’s because the Canadian Navy is also currently looking for solutions for the upcoming Joint Support Ships and Canadian Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessel Programs. And the winner of the Plessea Shield replacement contract will have a leg up on both those future initiatives.


Not surprisingly, Woodcock has a good idea who the new solutions provider should be. “Our Multi Ammunition Soft kill System provides an integrated ammunition concept that deploys chaff, smoke and flare decoys, which counter a broad range of threats,” says Woodcock.  “We have already deployed this technology in seven countries, on 14 classes of vessels, ranging in size from patrol boats to corvettes to frigates. That shows how widespread acceptance is of the system’s benefits.”


According to Woodcock, Rheinmetall’s MASS system, with its proven superior efficiency in test trials against advanced anti-ship missiles using the most effective electronic counter counter measures offers substantial benefits. These include an elevation-trainable launcher with individual firing angles, as well as pitch and roll launcher compensation and variable deployment distances for individual decoy ammunition.


The MASS system is both programmable and omni-spectral and its innovative ammunition offers protection in all wavebands, including UV, EO, laser infrared and radar. The fact that the MASS system can be installed on all vessel types, integrated into existing combat management systems or operated as a stand alone system and would also work well with existing NATO deployment initiatives in several other nations are also considered big pluses.


A system supported by Rheinmetall Canada

Despite the fact that Rheinmetall Canada’s head office is in southern Germany, Woodcock refuses to call the MASS a solely German system. “We remain highly conscious of the Canadian government’s industrial and regional benefits demands,” says Woodcock. “For any work we get, you can rest assured that we will execute a big portion of the value added chain right here in Canada.”


That said, Woodcock’s primary focus remains on benefits that he believes that Rheinmetall’s Multi Ammunition Softkill System can bring to the Canadian Armed Forces, and not just to the ships themselves …but to combined forces operations as well.


For example, during the 2006 campaign, Israel’s entire operations into southern Lebanon took a major turn after the INS Hanit was disabled. The Israeli Navy was forced to pull back further from the Lebanese coastline and to adopt a more defensive posture. And as a result, the navy was less effective in providing support operations to troops on the ground there. To what degree this reduced support was responsible to the debacle that occurred to Israeli troops in subsequent weeks, including that country’s inadvertent killing of four UN observer troops, the substantial civilian casualties inflicted on the local population and to its subsequent pullout from southern Lebanon, remains open to question.


One thing that is not open to question is that in combined forces operations, a battle group is only as strong as its weakest link. For the CF that means protecting its ships against all types of threats, will remain a key priority in the years to come.




Sidebar: Rheinmetall Multi Ammunition Softkill System


·      Computerized and trainable launcher that offers substantial pitch and roll compensation for operations in unsteady waves or temperature environments.

·      Effective in a wide range of spectrums

·      Light, STEALTH design and light weight fiber construction mean that the MASS system can be adapted for use on a broad range of ship types.

·      MASS system can be easily integrated into all existing combat management systems.

·      MASS is also available as an optional stand-alone version that features a unique sensor suite that can detect radar, laser and electro-optical threats.



Peter Diekmeyer (peter@peterdiekmeyer.com) is Canadian Defence Review’s Quebec bureau chief.




Home | Economics| Foreign Affairs | Magazine/Government| Gazette | Books |



  © 2008 Peter Diekmeyer Communications Inc.