The term “phalanx” has been renewed in the lexicon of contemporary military defense. This ancient notion, which evokes robust formations of hoplite soldiers in classical Greece, now describes a highly sophisticated defensive weapons system.
The Phalanx Defense System: Origin and Function
The modern designation of “phalanx” refers to the Phalanx Melee Weapons System (CIWS), created to protect the warships of the United States and its allies from aerial and ballistic threats.
General Dynamics designed this system, and its manufacturing is currently carried out by Raytheon Missiles & Defense. The design of the Phalanx CIWS dates back to 1969, with production beginning in 1978. In 1980, the USS Coral Sea (CV-43), a US Navy aircraft carrier, was the first ship to install the Phalanx CIWS.
The Phalanx CIWS provides US Navy ships with a robust level of defense against threats that have managed to overcome other layers of defense in the fleet.
Phalanx CIWS System Capabilities
The Phalanx weapon system can automatically detect, assess, track, engage, and judge high-speed airborne threats and anti-ship missiles. This ability to act autonomously in all of its functions, including search, detection, assessment, tracking, attack, and hit confirmation, is unique to the Phalanx CIWS.
The latest version of the Phalanx (Block 1B) has incorporated an integrated stabilized electro-optical sensor, enabling the system to counter asymmetric warfare threats, including small high-speed surface craft, aircraft, helicopters, and unmanned aerial systems.
In addition, the Phalanx system can be integrated with existing ship combat control systems to provide additional sensor and fire control support to other ship-mounted weapon systems.
Phalanx CIWS: The Vanguard of Maritime Defense
The Phalanx CIWS represents the state of the art in anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems. Its ability to operate autonomously and its versatility to deal with various threats make it an essential part of modern warships.
In addition, the system’s ability to integrate with other defense technologies further enhances its value, providing a more robust protection network for the ships that implement it.
Features of the Phalanx Sea Gun
The Phalanx system is designed to fire high-penetration 20mm rounds and expendable Sabots at impressive speeds. The rate of fire can reach 4,500 rounds per minute against aircraft and anti-ship missiles and 3,000 rounds per minute to address unconventional threats.
This system emits a characteristic sound when firing, similar to that of an electric saw. It is affectionately nicknamed “R2D2”, derived from the popular Star Wars figure due to the unique shape of its radome.
Aside from the United States Navy, where it is found on all warships except the Zumwalt- class destroyers and the San Antonio-class amphibious transport ships, other navies around the world employ it as well. These include the United States Coast Guard, the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal New Zealand Navy, the Royal Australian Navy, and the British Royal Navy.
The Phalanx and the USS Stark incident
Phalanx was first heard of in an unfortunate context during the USS Stark incident in May 1987. This incident could have been prevented if this advanced weapons system had been employed.
The Stark (FFG-31), an Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, was conducting patrols in the Persian Gulf amid the Iran-Iraq war. Unfortunately, she was hit by two Exocet missiles launched by an Iraqi Dassault F1 Mirage fighter. There are reports suggesting that the aircraft was a modified Dassault Falcon 50.
Despite the tragedy, the history of the Phalanx and its defensive capabilities remains a high note in the annals of naval technology.
The incident and its aftermath
The disagreement in the war led to the tragic loss of several sailors due to the inactivity of the CIWS missiles of the Stark, a warship. The sudden proximity of an Iraqi plane did not cause the activation of the radars, thus unleashing a tragedy.
The Iraqi government later apologized, and the Stark’s captain was replaced. However, we are left in deep thought about the events that could have unfolded if the defense system had been activated in time.
The doubts continue. Beyond the obvious ones, where are these defense systems now on active US Navy warships?
Phalanx in museums
There are at least four museums in the United States where a Phalanx can be seen up close. While these weapons cannot be demonstrated in live action, they provide a tangible glimpse into the machine of war.
These Phalanx are situated on all four World War II Iowa-class battleships, which now function as floating museums. These battleships were fitted with these systems before being withdrawn from service.
Tour of the Iowa-class battleships
The USS New Jersey (BB-62), located in Camden, New Jersey, is the only battleship of its class anchored in the state that gives it its name.
The USS Wisconsin (BB-64) is in Norfolk, Virginia. To them is added the USS Iowa (BB-61), a particularly outstanding tour in the port of Los Angeles, California, as it never ceases to amaze despite the many visits.
After visiting the USS Iowa, visitors can enjoy a variety of culinary options at restaurants in nearby San Pedro.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Phalanx Canyon
The Phalanx CIWS (Close-In Weapon System) defense system is a highly sophisticated weapons system designed to protect US and allied warships from airborne and ballistic threats. General Dynamics created it, and it is currently manufactured by Raytheon Missiles & Defense.
The Phalanx CIWS system can automatically detect, assess, track, engage, and judge high-speed airborne threats and anti-ship missiles. It can act autonomously in all its functions, including search, detection, evaluation, monitoring, attack and impact confirmation. In addition, it can be integrated with existing ship combat control systems to provide additional sensor and fire control support to other ship-mounted weapon systems.
The Phalanx system is designed to fire high-penetration 20mm rounds and expendable Sabots at impressive speeds. It can fire up to 4,500 rounds per minute against aircraft and anti-ship missiles and 3,000 rounds per minute to address unconventional threats.
The USS Stark incident in May 1987 resulted in the tragic loss of several sailors due to the inactivity of Stark’s Phalanx CIWS missile defense system. The sudden proximity of an Iraqi plane did not trigger the activation of the system’s radars, which triggered the tragedy. This incident evidences the importance of the Phalanx system in the protection of warships.
There are at least four museums in the United States where a Phalanx defense system can be seen up close. These are situated on the World War II Iowa-class battleships that now function as floating museums. The battleships are the USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; the USS New Jersey at Camden, New Jersey; the USS Wisconsin at Norfolk, Virginia; and the USS Iowa at the Los Angeles, California port.