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 and a former associate editor at

32 Comments on "Navy Overhauls Phalanx Ship Defense Weapon"

  1. 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.

  2. Captain Obvious | August 21, 2013 at 11:05 pm | Reply


  3. US NAVY will soon be as TOUGH as ADMIRAL "BULL" HALSEY!!!

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Alvin, US Navy (R) | August 22, 2013 at 9:45 am | Reply

    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.

  11. 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?

  12. 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.

  13. 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?

  14. One word…Goalkeeper….

  15. 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.

  16. 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

  17. we need it for phillipine navy ships

  18. How about use changeable magazines of this system.

  19. Guys,
    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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. phil marks. ex navsea | August 27, 2013 at 7:23 pm | Reply

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

  23. phil marks. ex navsea | August 27, 2013 at 8:23 pm | Reply

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

  24. phil marks. ex navsea | August 27, 2013 at 8:24 pm | Reply
  25. 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.

  26. 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?

  27. 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….

  28. 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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