Littoral Warfare : Part-1 : Introduction


Littoral warfare is the art of fighting a war in the areas of the sea close to the coastline, around islands, in the middle of restricted water bodies, in short, away from the deep ocean. This kind of warfare is drastically different from open ocean naval warfare.

The main reasons are:

  •  The water bodies are usually confined In areas like a gulf region, island chains etc.  Since there is limited space, large vessels which have a slow speed will be ineffective.
  • Midget submarines and quiet diesel submarines can lurk in the shallow water and hide without making noise
  • Since it is close to the coast, the enemy will use fast attack boats armed with missiles. The missile attacks in a swarm cam overwhelm even the most modern air defense systems

■ The shallow waters and limited space require the use of tactics which are different from open ocean.

A graphic representation of the littoral zone ©

A littoral warfare vessel must be fast, agile, well-armed, and able to defend itself and have a very shallow drought. Ideally they have a surface, air search radar and / or Sonar. Their propulsion is mainly diesel engine or pumpjet which give a high speed. Its armament usually consists of a rapid firing medium caliber cannon, Anti-Ship missiles, torpedoes and short range Surface to Air missiles. They are either built for a single purpose like anti-surface or Anti-Submarine warfare or multi-role vessels with anti-surface, ship and air abilities are built. They can displace anywhere between 300 to 3000 tons depending on the country’s requirement.

Countries like Russia, China and India have extremely capable littoral warfare capabilities as they operate large numbers of high speed missile-gun fast attack boats. They are also the largest operators of diesel electric submarines in the world which are the silent killers in a littoral environment. The threat of quiet diesel submarines is well known. Even the best navies in the world have struggled to detect these ultra-quiet submarines. Israel is a country which is forced to use littoral vessels as its territorial waters is a confined and relatively shallow region.

 Veer class corvette of Indian Navy

The Russian Buyan M class corvette

USA has realized the need to bolster its littoral warfare capability and has introduced the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). These are ultra-high tech, ultra-high expensive, high speed littoral combat vessels. Instead of focusing on ships which displace around 1000 tons like their Asian counterparts, US has gone with large vessels which displace 3000+ tons and carry helicopters as well. Russia too has supplemented its light missile boats with 2100 tons corvettes which carry heavy armament and a helicopter as well. This seems to be the new trend as India too is building Anti-Submarine corvettes displacing 3000+ tons. European countries with confined territorial waters also operate fast attack boats which pack a punch against big warships.

LCS Independence of US Navy
Stereguschy class corvette of Russian Navy

The advantage of these vessels is their ability to operate in areas which have only around 15 feet of water. Other vessels like frigates would not be able to operate in these regions. The especially low draught of littoral warfare vessels is what makes this possible. Larger vessels perform inadequately in a shallow water environment. Sonars designed for deep water use will give confusing readings in shallow water.  Torpedoes designed for ocean use will face problems finding targets and attacking them in shallow water. This is due to the difference in acoustic performance caused by the shallow waters and the obstructions present in them. A powerful destroyer will be vulnerable to fast attack craft in littoral warfare as it won’t have the speed or maneuverability to operate in confined waters. Trying to do so would be like riding an elephant in a densely packed jungle. It can’t move fast and is vulnerable to faster and deadlier animals. Similarly larger ships are vulnerable. It’s specifically for this reason that littoral warships have been developed.

The sensors on these ships are usually of a short range. The sonar will be designed to operate specifically in shallow water without any confusion. But nowadays, some littoral vessels also possess the ability to fight in deep waters. Large littoral warfare ships have powerful sensors which makes them a dual asset which can operate freely in oceans as well as littorals. Stereguschy class, Independence class, Kora class are some examples of large littoral vessels which possess the ability to operate in oceans as well as littoral regions.

I will deal with the littoral combat ships of the US Navy in the next article. And country specific articles will follow.

If you enjoyed this article, do rate it below.

12 Replies to “Littoral Warfare : Part-1 : Introduction”

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