From automated cannons that literally shred their target to pieces, to extremely agile missile systems, Close-In Weapon Systems are a vessel's last line of defense against anything hostile above the waterline that is danger close. Lasers will eventually take on the majority of this duty, but in the meantime let's countdown the seven deadliest Close-In Weapon Systems (CIWS) ever put into operation on the high seas:
#7 Russian AK-630
The granddaddy of Close In Weapon Systems, the AK-630 was first tested in the mid 1960s and took almost a decade to become operational. In its original form, this turreted cannon system gets its fire control guidance from a remotely mounted radar system, an optical sight or an old school set of iron sights located next to the cannon installation. When fired, it slings 30X165mm cannon shells at over 5,000 rounds per minute. This wall of lead shatters incoming cruise, aircraft missiles or small boats with proven reliability.
The AK-630 was a staple of any Soviet surface combatant during the last two decades of the Cold War and over 1000 of the systems have been built for internal Russian use or for export to almost two dozen countries. The system continues to be built today in the much updated AK-630-M2 "Duet" system, which has a stealthy turret and packs a pair of 30mm gatling guns. This "twin pack" over-and-under design means that incoming targets get obliterated via two streams of 30mm cannon fire spewing down-range at about 10,000 rounds per minute.
#6 Italian Dardo ("Dart")
This CIWS system takes a different approach to engaging incoming enemies, instead of a slinging a wall of armor piercing ammo at its target, it fires larger 40mm explosive cannon shells to get the job done. Built by Oto Malera and featuring a pair of Swedish designed 40mm Bofors cannons, the Dordo may only throw out about 750 rounds per minute, but those rounds pack a big fragmentation radius and a powerful concussive punch. The Dordo is targeted using a remotely mounted radar and fire control system and is exported to close to a dozen counties around the globe including Venezuela, South Korea, Malaysia and Iraq.
#5 American MK15 Phalanx
Probably the most famous of all CIWS system, and a movie star in its own right having appeared in blockbusters like Under Siege and Sum Of All Fears, the Phalanx is euphemistically referred to as a demented sibling of Star Wars' beloved R2D2's droid. The Phalanx packs the famous M61 "Vulcan" 20mm cannon, a gun found on almost every modern American fighter aircraft since the F-104 Starfighter. Its six revolving barrels spray out a stream on tungsten sabot armor piercing rounds at a rate of over 75 rounds a second.
The Phalanx's iconic white cylindrical appearance comes from its self contained radar system, the top of the unit housing its rotating search radar and center of unit housing its sensitive tracking radar. Later block models also have a high resolution FLIR and electro-optical sensors mounted to the left of their cannon barrels. This unique configuration allows for an almost an entirely self contained "drop in" system where no additional radar or sensors are needed to employ the system aside from the command and control console. This is a huge plus as the Phalanx can easily, and relatively cheaply, integrate itself into virtually an vessel large enough to accept it.
The Phalanx, which entered service close to a decade after the Soviet AK-630, can be employed autonomously (where it fires freely at targets that it identifies as hostile), semi autonomously (asks for permission from a sailor manning its command console) or manually, where a crewman can literally steer the gun and fire it via a joystick using the visual feed from the system's optical sensors.
Although Phalanx does not pack as big of a punch as the many other CIWS systems in this countdown, it remains a staple of the US Navy and many other navies around the world many decades after its initial fielding. For what it lacks in firepower it makes up for in decades of testing, refinement and improvement. Additionally, its soulless appearance and twitchy drive system make it fascinatingly creepy to watch in action.
#4 Swiss/German Millennium Gun
This high-tech CIWS is manufactured by Oerlikon Defense and is one nasty little missile murderer. The gun itself is really just part of a two part symbiotic weapon system where the ammo it fires is considered "smart." The gun measures the speed of each 35mm cannon shell coming out of its bore at over 1000 rounds per minute, and it then programs each of the shells to detonate at pre-set distances. At which time over 150 pieces of shrapnel fly in every direction at well over the speed of sound. The combo of the Millennium Gun's big shell (with a large and precise blast radius) and its high-speed firing rate equals a very high probability that it kills or catastrophically disables the hostile threat in a very short period of time.
The Millennium Gun is housed in a low observable (stealthy) turret that is almost entirely self contained, it can even run on battery power alone, and it uses a modular control console interface that can be tied into many existing fire control systems. The whole idea is that this system can be fielded on virtually an ship with deck space large enough to accommodate it with very limited modifications. Currently this super-smart cannon is fielded by Denmark and Venezuela but many more Navies are looking at it for their future surface combatants or as a way to breathe some new life into their aging ships.
#3 Dutch Goalkeeper
Take the Phalanx's fire control concept and ditch its 20mm Vulcan cannon for the famed 30mm GAU-8 Avenger cannon, the same monster that is mounted in the A-10 Warthog, and you get one hardcore screen of fire surrounding your ship. Goalkeeper, designed by Thales Defense, is the ultimate in high rate of fire, sea skimming missile pulverizing capability. The Dirty Harry of the CIWS world if you will.
The Goalkeeper is truly one scary looking CIWS, with its large mounting structure needed to handle the massive thrust of its Avenger cannon when it spews solid tungsten sabot penetrators at 4,200 rounds per minute. This fire breather offers almost double the range and much more destructive power than its little cousin the Phalanx, and it is also in the process or receiving upgrades that include a FLIR system so that it can chew apart fast boats and other doomed floating enemy objects with ease. The Goalkeeper system has been around for over 30 years and it is currently deployed with a number of operators including the Royal Navy, Belgian Navy and South Korean Navy.
#2 American SeaRAM
The Raytheon SeaRAM CIWS takes the proven self contained and compact design of the Phalanx and ditches the 20mm Vulcan cannon for a box launcher packed with 11 RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAM). The super agile RAM is now a staple on America's heavier surface combatant fleet and it hit extremely maneuverable and supersonic sea skimming targets at over six miles from its launching point.
The RAM's name comes from the fact that it spins in flight, much like a rifle bullet, in order to stabilize itself at speeds over mach two. Originally, the missile and its swiveling box launchers, had to be integrated into a ship's combat system for cuing. Now, with the addition of the Phalanx's sensors and fire control system, the whole system can be entirely self contained. This allows smaller, less complex warships to have a point defense missile system capable of reaching out far beyond a traditional CIWS's defensive range.
The RIM-116 missiles, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each, home in on their target via an imaging infrared seeker, similar to what is found on the AIM-9X Sidewinder, as well as a passive seeker that sniffs out the missile's terminal guidance radar. This "dual mode" capability means that there is little escape for anti-ship missiles, even if they rely on passive guidance for the terminal portion of their attack profile.
#1 Russian Kashtan (Chestnut)
What do you get when you combine the hard hitting close in punch of the AK-630's 30mm cannon with the long range and agility of a guided missile and then multiply it by two? The mother of all CIWS systems.
The Kashtan is one large and destructive beast. It packs a pair of 30mm cannons and features no less than eight short range radio guided 9m311 surface-to-air missiles in a hulking swiveling turret. As many as eight turrets, all of which feature their own scanning and tracking radar systems, as well as electro-optical and infrared sensors, can be tied to a central fire control system which can be further integrated into a ships overall combat system, as is the case with Russia's only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov. Such a system amounts to an ability to put so many rounds and so many missiles in the air in rapid succession that it would be next to impossible for something hostile trying to make its way toward the ship to survive. Literally death by ridiculously overwhelming firepower.
Kashtan is really the "kitchen sink and then some" method to protecting the inner most realm of a surface combatant's defensive perimeter. Its missiles can be used to initially engage hostile targets while the cannons are there for any surviving missiles or aircraft that "leak through." The system is so redundant that it actually features a lower missile magazine with up to 32 additional 9m311's that can be automatically loaded onto the Kashtan's launching arms should the first eight missiles, usually fired in salvos of two like the RAM, not be enough. Also, since there is an electro-optical and infrared sighting system also embedded into the launcher, the guns can engage surface targets via a gunner sitting safely inside the ship's hull at the Kashtan's fire control console.
The Kashtan is really one hell of a CIWS package, albeit it has a much larger "footprint" than any of the western "plug and play" close in weapon systems. It seems that the US may have missed the opportunity to build their own super-CIWS, maybe one featuring the Goalkeeper's big ass GAU-8 Avenger cannon and an 11 round pack of "fire and forget" RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missiles, all tied into a modular Phalanx fire control unit. Wishful thinking aside, the Kashtan's heavy hitting, long range, redundant punch takes the cake for the world's most deadly CIWS.
Turkish Sea Zenith — Its quartet of 25mm cannons and its ability to adjust rapidly to high inclines are a real plus, but its somewhat limited production kept it from making the top seven.
Italian Meroka — Although the Meroka's 12 individual barrel design is innovative, and surely packs a massive wall of cannon shells in a single volley, its rate of fire is lacking and there has been talk that it will be replaced in the future by systems that made the top seven.
South African Dual Purpose Gun — Although Denel Defense's Dual Purpose Gun is intriguing, it packs some of the same features as the Millennium Gun, albeit without the cache of a well known European defense products name brand and the stamp of approval from another nation's navy other than its own.
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