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.

  • Captain Obvious



    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.

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      No development needed.

      OTOBreda (now OTO-Melara) and Oerlikon co-developed the Myriad CIWS using two (count ’em…two) 25mm 7-barrel Oerlikon KBD Gatling guns (
      It never entered service, but I see no reason it couldn’t be resurrected.

      Or if 25mm is a little too wimpy for you, go straight to the Goalkeeper CIWS, mounting a 30mm GAU-8 (

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen

    • orly?

      Smaller caliber, more ammo.

    • oldtcs

      I’ve been out for 20yrs, so maybe I missed something, but has cheese-whiz EVER failed to kill anything it hit? The upgrade looks like just a tighter pattern, and a different projectile. Sounds good to me. Is there a performance gap somewhere that has to be addressed?

    • HardwareFreak

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

      A larger caliber weapon would only gain range. The 20×102 @4500 SPM is plenty lethal at a sufficient standoff distance to prevent enemy weapons from hitting the ship.

      The key design point of the original Phalanx CIWS was that it could be welded to the deck anywhere there is physical space for the weapon mount. Plug the cables in and you’re done. It was designed to be compact in order to mount the most boat types not only in the US fleet but allied fleets as well, and capable of working on smaller craft as the recoil forces aren’t extremely high.

      The 25mm and 30mm rotary cannon are so large, bulky, and have such high recoil, that they must mount through the deck, greatly limiting the the number of guns that a ship can mount, and limiting the mounting location to basically the bow and the stern. For evidence of this simply take a look at the European ships that mount the Goalkeeper.

      For any ship that mounts two Goalkeeper units, one bow, own stern, it’s usually possible to mount 6 or more Phalanx guns with overlapping fields of fire. Given the turret speed of the Goalkeeper and the lower ammunition load, a peroper wave formation of missles in a saturation attack would be successful as the guns would run out of ammo. This is much less likely with 6 or more Phalanx guns as each carries more ammo, you have 3x or more guns, and the number of rounds to kill a target missle are the same for 20mm and 30mm weapons.

    • frank ricciardi

      Liked your coment but (and Im asking)sint a rule of thumb the smaller the caliber the higher the cyclic rate or rate of fire the CIWS is a last ditch effort to save one of our ships I know the 25mm round has more propellent ,but isint the mas of steel and the tungsten penetrator from the 20 mm enough of a pattern if they upgrade the radar? I dont know if cyclic rate applies to a multi barrel weapon lets just say rate of fire . and have you read abuot the sucsess the army has had deploying these around FOB for in comming ordinance

  • 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.


    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?

    • Guest

      I think RAM was supposed to replace Phalanx. But for some reason, Phalanx keeps
      on truckin’. Is it because 20mm rounds are cheaper than missiles?


        Maybe cause Phalanx works….

        • d. kellogg

          In pretty much every test and mock exercise, yes.
          But to date, no Phalanx, or any CIWS (SeaRAM, SeaSparrow,) has been used by a USN ship to bring down an inbound threat (missile, bomb, hostile aircraft), at least nothing released publicly.

          The Stark was struck because its CIWS was in standby mode, but not active, as there were concerns of accidentally engaging nearby friendly assets (once a fully-contained automated system is switched on to Active, the Phalanx of that day and age most likely did NOT have a very discerning IFF system built into it, so anything remote mimicking a hostile flight pattern could be engaged. Today’s variant is much more unlikely to result in friendly fire incidents.)

          So, like many weapons systems, what looks great in tests, trials, and mock exercises (where targets are programmed to steer away from the ship in sufficient time), we can only hope works as effectively under truer-to-life situations.

      • orly?

        Tbh, its also easier to reload.

    • Rest Pal

      Sea Sparrows are far more expensive than Phalanx, and yet as ineffective as Phalanx against all but the most primitive models of anti-ship missiles.


      naaaah! That was a Russia Wish List :)

  • 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.

  • 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

    • Amarjit Singh Bajwa

      The Navy of the Philippines understandably needs these “self defence” systems most urgently, due to the aggressive Chinese deployment very close to their territorial waters. The Philippines Armed Forces seem to be the worst equipped of all the nations that have territorial / border disputes with China. It would have been a different story if USA had thought of the long term implications, when withdrawing after the Vietnam debacle. Retaining the Clarks Air Force Base, while closing down Subic Bay, would have been a more pragmatic step, specially when the future rise of China was already foreseeable !

      • Rest Pal

        You don’t know what you are talking about.

        The dispute between the Philippines and China / Taiwan are nothing more than a few scattered rocks in the shallow South China Sea. Unlike the US and Japan, which have tried to colonize the Philippines in the past, China has never demonstrated even a remotely comparable aggression toward the country.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    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.

  • 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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