Navy Overhauls Phalanx Ship Defense Weapon

091227-N-1291E-121The U.S. Navy is pursuing a massive, fleet-wide upgrade of its shipboard defensive weapon designed to intercept and destroy approaching or nearby threats, the Phalanx Close in Weapons System, service officials said.

The Phalanx, or CIWS, is an area weapon engineered to use a high rate of fire and ammunition to blanket a given area, thus destroying or knocking threats out of the sky before they reach a ship. The Phalanx CIWS, which can fire up to 4,500 rounds per minute, has been protecting ship platforms for decades.

The weapon is currently on Navy cruisers, destroyers, aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships, among other vessels. The upgrades are designed to substantially increase capability and ensure that the system remains viable in the face of a fast-changing and increasingly complex threat environment, Navy officials said.

The overhaul includes numerous upgrades to the weapon itself, converting the existing systems into what’s called the Phalanx 1B configuration. At the same time, the CIWS overhaul includes the development and integration of a new, next-generation radar for the system called the CIWS Phalanx Block IB Baseline 2, Navy officials explained.

The Navy is currently installing both Phalanx CIWS upgrades on ships. The plan is to have an all CIWS Phalanx Block IB fleet by fiscal year 2015 and an all CIWS Phalanx Block IB Baseline 2 fleet by fiscal year 2019, said Navy spokesman Lt. Kurt Larson.

An upgrade and conversion of an older CIWS Phalanx configuration to Phalanx Block IB averages around $4.5 million per unit and a Block IB Baseline 2 radar upgrade kit averages $931,000 per unit, Larson said.

The Phalanx Block IB configuration incorporates a stabilized Forward-Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) sensor, an automatic acquisition video tracker, optimized gun barrels (OGB) and the Enhanced Lethality Cartridges (ELC), Larson said.

“Block IB provides ships the additional capability for defense against asymmetric threats such as small, high speed, maneuvering surface craft, slow-flying fixed and rotary-winged aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles,” Larson said. “The [forward-looking infrared sensor] also improves performance against anti-ship cruise missiles by providing more accurate angle tracking information to the fire control computer.”

The OGB/ELC combine to provide tighter dispersion and increased first hit range, he added.

“The Phalanx 1B fires Mk 244 ammunition, the Enhanced Lethality Cartridge specifically designed to penetrate anti-ship cruise missiles,” said Al Steichen, Business Development, Raytheon Naval and Area Mission Defense.

The Mk 244 ammunition is engineered with a 48 percent heavier tungsten penetrator and an aluminum nose piece, according to information from General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems.

The Phalanx Block IB Baseline 2 radar upgrade is a new digital radar that provides improved detection performance, increased reliability and reduction in sailor man-hours for system maintenance, Larson said.

“It mitigates obsolete components inherent in the existing analog radar by introducing COTS-based signal processing coupled with a new signal source and mixer,” he said.

The Baseline 2 radar also provides the Phalanx CIWS with “surface mode,” meaning it adds the ability to track, detect and then destroy threats closer to the surface of the water compared with previous models of the weapon, Steichen explained.

“It now gives the warfighter the ability to address surface threats which we have not had before,” he said.

In practice, this means the Phalanx equipped with Baseline 2 radar will have an increased ability to defend against fast-attack boats and low-flying missiles, projectiles and aircraft.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • sickunclesam

    Sounds as if the US Navy is concerned about Chinese anti-ship cruise missiles, and small fast attack boats. At least they are trying to get a head of it. I would feel better if we would also suddenly hear about how the navy is once again taking anti-submarine warfare seriously again too.

    • Rest Pal


      more like “scared to death”

      • As should any enemy of the United States should be. The Chinese are still working out technology we had over 40 years ago. I do not think the Chinese are something to be trifled with, but please, you are not even considering the technology that we hold as secret. If you look at most advances in the Chinese military, they are mostly copies of what we did decades ago.

        • Rest Pal

          yeah, I remember how the Vietnamese were so scared of America that they kicked the meddling American ass out of their country.

          • james

            If you believe that the US military had anything to do with the S Vietnamese defeat in 1975 , then you may want to avail yourself of the data hidden from you in books.

        • PissedOffAmerican

          You mean the technology the Chinese STOLE from us…..

    • BRASS

      Yes, and increasing reports of Irans’ drastically increased avionic technology and drone and capability since Iran recovered intact one of our most sophisticated platforms; which immediately was offered to Russian and Chinese intelligence sources for examination in return for production data to aid Irans’ nuclear weapons grade production and general electronic capability and knowledge of US capability and methods.

      • Rest Pal

        Why is the US so hesitant in making another illegal invasion against Iran?

        It would be fun to watch how well the US navy can withstand the supersonic Sunburn ASCMs or its equivalents in a full blown naval conflict in the Persian Gulf.

    • brownie

      You’re 100% correct. This is probably the fastest reaction the USN has had to an unexpected but very specific threat (weapon system) only identified within the past 12-18 months. The rapid response to upgrade has been to an as yet unidentified Chinese anti ship missile. The only question is subsonic or supersonic?

    • brownie

      The concern is over a Chinese anti-ship missile, and emerged within the past 12-18 months max. We con’t know if it’s a subsonic or supersonic weapon, but it’s capable of defeating standard CIWS systems – even on Aegis equipped Burke destroyers! This is a very serious threat that demands an expeditious (low key) response by the USN. Kudos to the navy for a rapid response.

  • Captain Obvious


    • blight_

      Not Huntington Ingalls, Bath Iron Works, Newport News?


    US NAVY will soon be as TOUGH as ADMIRAL “BULL” HALSEY!!!

    • shipfixr

      ….Whose real nickname was “BILL”….

  • Big-Dean

    yep, it seems that the Navy has awaken from it’s 15 year slumber (after the Russian fleet went away)

  • joe

    The key phrase in thw whole thing is probably “mitigates obsolete components”. Capability enhancements are a bonus no-one will turn down, but if the thing ain’t supportable its gotta be refitted or replaced.

    Faster, lower antiship missiles and big (relatively), slow-moving (relatively) rotorcraft and small boats are such a wide target variety that I’d just file the improvements under “just plain better” rather than necessarily saying it’s being optimised for a specific role.

  • samuel wilson

    Cant they just have drones that sit out in the ocean about 100 meters from the ship and when a missile attack comes in the drones take flight and lift a net up 100m so all missiles will just hit the net? The drones can be cheap and recoverable. The net can be cheap and recoverable and repaired easy. A light elastic super strong material. Then you could put the nets up either side of the carrier like a corridor which would still allow the aircraft to take off.

  • d. kellogg

    The only real shortfall here is that the Phalanx is still a 20mm system.

    For the performance gain in just stepping up to 25mm, as is standard in USMC LAVs, the USN Mk38 gun (or any system using the M242 Bushmaster chain guns), and now the F-35 (if/when they actually have a gun),
    the Phalanx woulda been better served stepping up to use the same 25x137mm NATO ammo.
    The 25mm gun family currently is the tried-and-trusted 5-barrel GAU-12 of the USMC Harrier, and the 4-barrel GAU-22 that select F-35s will get.
    It would be little effort to engineer 6- or even 7-barrel optimized designs to get even higher rates of fire suitable for CIWS roles.

  • Joe Lupinski

    While the upgrade is nice are they finally going to pull their heads out of their behinds and start fully equipping ships with this system? A lot of the new Arleigh Burkes didn’t even have them installed claiming that newer missiles will be able to shoot down any incoming threat….. no offence thats fine but I would think you want a back up if that doesn’t work. In the end they ended up putting at least one on the rear of almost all of the ships. That’s great so if the missile is coming at you from head on you need to turn 180 degrees as a last resort to do anything about it? Great planning guys.


      Actually you only need to make a 30-45 degree turn and you are set.

  • franklin

    COTS signal processing likely means faster but more delicate, almost certainly not the least bit EMP hard, possibly using materials not approved for mil parts, eg pure tin solder…there may be reliability reductions over time.

  • Alvin, US Navy (R)

    About time the 1B’s are finally getting to all of the ships. The COTS upgrade has been in the works for some time. COTS is needed to phase out a very good system but an older high maintenance system. The lower the maintenance the fewer personnel required for the ship to have onboard. Which means fewer of our sons and daughters in the line of fire.

    As far as upgrading to a 25 mm, this would defeat the purpose of having a self-contained small foot print system that can be replaced in short notice in time of conflict. Take a look at the Goal Keeper which utilizes the GAU-8/A Avenger 30 mm (A-10 gun) for example that requires two decks and a magazine 3 times the size and weight. There really is no compromise with the 25mm. 20mm is the optimal size round. besides the round is actually smaller since the round is in a sabot. It just uses the punch of the larger 20mm cartridge.

    • d. kellogg

      The footprint (cubic volume, deck space) the 20mm Phalanx occupies could easily accomodate a model with either the current 4-barrel GAU-22 or 5-barrel GAU-12 25mm guns.
      Having lower rates of fire than the 4500rpm M61 20mm, (fires in bursts, not continuous for minutes on end, not enough ammo), the recoil impulse should not exceed the 20mm gun by too much to overburden the mounting.
      And the key reason I’d switch to 25mm,
      in addition to commonality, is the extra range and damage.
      Naturally the ammo drum will be slightly larger in diameter, the feed chutes a tad wider, but the additional weight should be tolerable.


    I’m glad they still have the Phalanx CIWS,weren’t they talking a few years ago with replacing all Phalanx with Sea Sparrows as CIWS?

  • Matt

    One thing never mentioned is the ammunition load. I think it is a great asset but carries very few rounds for what we are told these days will be a very saturated environment. How long does it take to reload? Seems impossible to add more ammo base on current configuration.

    • Frank

      CIWS System hold sufficient ammunition for 3 engagements. The CIWS in the Green Zoe killer three separate mortar runs in a single engagement. All flying simple ballistic arch’s. The bigger question is can the System handle multiple supersonic maneuvering targets…!

    • orly?

      As a former operator of this system, I can say 15 minutes optimum each system.

      Real battlefield conditions, probably 30 minutes each system.

  • hibeam

    An automated robotic system. I thought they were too dangerous? Why not a few sailors inside that dome to make it safe for all mankind?

  • pleuris

    One word…Goalkeeper….

  • john

    The problem has never been the effectiveness of the Phalanx. The problem has been making sure it’s turned on. The ships that have been hit by missiles have had their CIWS turned off most of the time.

  • Big-Dean

    I prefer the 2BXL version they used on “Battleship” they never seems to run out of ammo ;-P

    I think the USS Sampson could’ve use one ;-P

  • tr-usnr

    we need it for phillipine navy ships

  • Mark

    How about use changeable magazines of this system.

    • blight_

      I wish metalstorm would die.

  • DB Cooper

    COTs mean commercial off the shelf. It cuts down developmental time. Sounds good but the military typically doesnt test the crap before they issue it. I see it on the military commo all the time. They buy it and no one ever tests it to see if it works as billed or where its going to fail. I have no doubt that to save money and time the navy didnt bother with testing.

    • blight_

      COTS works when COTS is “close enough” or “good enough” for military applications. I’m sure a number of electronics in commercial use can be made available to specifications that closely overlap military requirements. In those cases, reinventing the wheel is a waste of time. For instance, if the Army wanted to buy automobiles, it would be a waste of time to issue an RFP for a new design of automobile instead of buying a fleet of Ford or Chevy vehicles. But there is no COTS for thinks like tanks and strategic bombers, in which case they must be built to suit, possibly with COTS bits and pieces.

  • d. kellogg

    COTS components are nice,
    but we need also consider where the near-term future can go as well.

    Query Mobile Centurion, it’s the HEMTT-mounted Phalanx utilized in the C-RAM role defending military bases.
    Now look at this EAPS system, under development (and looks good so far),
    but the actual weapon mount occupies the same footprint of the Phalanx, complete with AESA modules that have the potential to replace the Phalanx “R2D2” dome.

    Steerable 50mm shells have a considerable range and damage advantage over anything 20-30mm.

    • Amarjit Singh Bajwa

      If one is looking at 50 mm, then why not save costs by adapting the currently available 57 mm from BAE ? It should also reduce development costs for miniaturization of various components. However, the basic question is whether one wants a target kill with a “direct hit” into the target that achieves warhead destruction / detonation, or a “proximity”burst that causes damage through blast and fragmentation. The latter may not stop the incoming threat “dead in it’s tracks” So, what will be the “end objective” of the steerable projectile fired from this 50 mm, or 57 mm gun ?

      • d. kellogg

        Years earlier (mid 1990s), when they were still called UDLP (United Defense) prior to BAE acquisition, they were working on a 60mm ETC (Electro Thermal Chemical) gun system firing command-guided shells, that also fit into the Phalanx footprint; it actually DID use the Phalanx trunnion assembly for some time.
        Point being, development of guided shells in these calibers predates today’s attempts.
        Ford Aerospace and Vought were even tinkering with guiding 40mm shells in the late 1980s for the now-forgotten M247 Sgt York twin 40mm DIVADS.
        I’m just surprises there has been no mention whatsoever anywhere about BAE furthering the UDLP guided shell development into the 57mm gun.

        The premise of the 50mm weapon, was it uses a “hybrid” variant of the reliable Bushmaster Chain Gun family.

        I still have the product data sheet from UDLP on the 60mm ETC, but nothing is out there on the web. The EAPS program is easily found though.

        • d. kellogg

          With regards to airburst versus direct impact kill, the 40mm and 57mm Bofors/BAE guns can both utilize the same impressive 3P fuze system, and the shells have an optimized prefragmentation design (tungsten pellets and an internally-scored shell wall that bursts apart in a more desireable pattern than just random fragmentation).
          Pretty stuff here:

          The 57mm in USN service does (or will) utilize a US-designated variant of the 3P fuze.
          The last I knew of the 50mm EAPS projectile, it used a forward-focused multi-fragment explosively formed penetrator, directing molten fragments in a forward cone capable of destroying missiles, rockets, and even artillery and mortar shells. Against aircraft the effect would be downright impressive.

          • drone

            Also worth mentioning the OTO-Melara Dart:

          • drone

            As a side note, the claimed penetration of the APFSDS 40mm round of >120mm RHA is mind blowing. If such ammunition had been developed during the second world war, many heavy tanks would have been vulnerable to relatively light guns, which could have been autocannon like the twin 40mm guns on the M42 Duster.

          • d. kellogg

            I agree.
            But what is of real interest is that they suggest the 40mm has “optimized” growth potential as much as 50% more…
            180mm pen? that’s 7 inches.
            (In the case of Bushmaster gun development, “optimizing” generally has referred to better case designs of length, diameter, and shoulder/shell neck taper, and newer more more modern propellants).

            Good lord, and we’re satisfied with merely settling on 25 and 30mm guns for AFVs and shipboard use?

            I love the looks of that LEMUR-Whatever turret there with the multitude of guns.
            As impressive as it looks on that Bradley hull, I can only then suggest, why isn’t such a weapon system the preference for the LCS Surface Warfare Module and the Mk46 (MK44 30mm) turret system on the San Antonios?

            Ther LCS would certainly be much better served by it than just 30mm turrets.
            And what about as a considerably formidable upgrade for those Cyclone-class patrol boats?

    • William_C1

      Impressive concept. I seem to recall an earlier one which featured a similar system on the M993 launcher and featured additional Stinger launchers. Is this related to that?

  • M Flynn

    Recently a Russian warehouse full of new Russian anti-ship missiles was mysteriously and completely destroyed in Syria. Multiple Israeli cruise missiles fired from a submarine was suspected, with US assistance. There were definitely no planes in the sky.

    It was reported that they skim the surface at 2 1/2 times the speed of sound and that NATO and US ships have no defense against them.

    The Phalanx is only roughly aimed. It is not accurate at all. It is like a shotgun. The smaller and faster a missile is, the more likely it can get through the shot pattern created by the phalanx. Since it is a question of probability, we can expect that many anti-ship missiles would be fired simultaneously.

    • phil marks. ex navsea
    • Phil Marks. ex navsea
    • Phil Marks. ex navsea
    • Guest

      The generally accepted cause of the partial destruction of a warehouse full of Yakhont anti ship missiles is an Israeli airstrike; not an attack by sub launched cruise missiles. Certainly not Mach 2.5 Israeli missiles. You’re confusing the target (Yakhont missiles) with the weapon.

    • The Phalanx is very accurately aimed. The system tracks both the incoming missile and the stream of bullets going out. It then seeks to reduce the angular distance to zero. To this date the Phalanx is the only gun based CIWS (Close In Weapons System) to have successfully intercepted a manuvering supersonic target. Phalanx is not designed as a primary weapons system for combatant ships ie frigates, cruisers, destroyers, etc. These ships use their missile batteries to knock incoming cruise missiles down. When you hear a CIWS going off in a war zone, It because you have a leaker, ie a cruise missile that got through all the other defenses on the ship. On support and auxiliary, ships, Phalanx functions as the primary AAW (Anti-Air Warfare) system because it’s all that they have. Even if the CIWS destroys the target, you still have shrapnel to deal with. The exception to this is the Italian Super Rapido 76 mm system and the Bofors 57 mm system. Both of these have longer intercept ranges – but at considerable added costs and shipboard footprint.

  • phil marks. ex navsea

    When they are on and working, they don’t miss. I know, I worked on them.

  • phil marks. ex navsea

    When they are on and working, they don’t miss. I know, I worked on them.

    • Rest Pal

      stop spamming false claims please.

  • phil marks. ex navsea
  • John Moore

    I thought the effectiveness of CIWS was the tight feedback loop between the radar tracked target and the radar tracked outbound projectile stream. CIWS doesn’t just “blanket an area” – it is a precision weapon.

  • Hypothetically……what if an enemy were to fire a barrage of ‘dumb missiles’ then the ship killer behind them. Would the Cwiz be able to distinguish the big bad dude from the pesky little dudes? Or will the Cwiz simply shoot @ everything……….including the fragments of missiles already destroyed?

  • mikeDee
  • mikeDee
  • Bob Miller FCC

    As a plankowner in the CIWS project it still remains as effective as ever, “IF IT FLYS, IT DIES” was the credo on the 3 ships I sailed with CIWS. The rest just happens. We always called it the 8 second war. I was lucky to either 3 or 4 systems on my ship. Wardroom jitters was my biggest problem….

  • galloglas

    Has even one CIWS ever been used in actual combat?
    If RoE set high above the Captain of the ship doesn’t release CIWS weapons free then Bubba it ain’t a gonna work.
    Waste of effort.

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