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Container weapon system: a "blind box of firepower" with enormous potential. Chinese EPL analysis.

EPL: "in addition, container weapons can be integrated into ordinary containers, making attacks more devious and sudden, factors that have contributed to their spread'.

By Nicola and Gabriele Iuvinale

To achieve the goal of global expansion, Beijing also exploits the Belt and Road, including maritime.

History teaches that whoever controls the maritime trade controls the world.

To support force projection abroad, Beijing has developed a military strategy that requires the armed forces to routinize military activities across borders, encouraging the use of BRI investments, especially in ports, airports and railways.

Russian "Caliber-K" containerized weapons launching system

The 2015 Defense White Paper makes explicit Beijing's growing commitment to protect its foreign economic interests in the context of broader civil-military fusion. Civilian organizations (public and private) are to contribute to PLA operations through the provision of dual-use technologies and the provision of maritime civilian entities (ports and ships).

First articulated in 2004 by Beijing's military strategists, the "String of Pearls" theory argues that commercial port infrastructure can also serve as cover for ammunition depots, supporting combat operations.

Chinese commercial ties with host countries can also result in secret agreements to allow the Chinese Navy access to facilities in the event of armed conflict.

China has containers all over the world, including in the more than 100 ports it operates around the world; including the United States and Europe.

EPL's analysis.

Russian "Caliber-K" container weapon launching system.

With the development of the modern logistics industry, containers are increasingly entering people's field of vision. They can be found on trucks, trains and docks along the coast.

If they had not paid much attention, not many would have thought that containers are also increasingly appearing on the battlefield. However, in addition to their basic function of transporting materials, many of these containers exist as weapons and some have even been used in actual combat.

In October 2023, the news that the U.S. Navy's Independence-class coastal combat ship USS Savannah had launched a "Standard-6" anti-aircraft missile into the Pacific Ocean attracted attention. One reason was that the missiles in question were test-launched from the Mk70 container system.

Israeli "Laura" containerized short-range missile reflector system

In June of that year, the French Navy conducted its first sea test of a containerized multi-purpose high-energy laser installed on the deck of a frigate, successfully destroying a small drone.

Many of the cruise missiles launched by the Russian Navy in some military operations in recent years came from the "Caliber-K" container weapon system mounted on surface ships.

Why are containerized weapons on the rise? What are its characteristics? How is the development going? Please read the interpretation.

Israeli "Laura" short-range container missile reflection system.

"Follow the trend" transformation from mature civilian products.

For containers, storage and transshipment are the two basic functions. The realization of these two main functions has a basic premise, namely the standardization and universalization of containers.

This kind of standardization and generalization makes containers one of the important symbols of modern logistics. It can be transported in a variety of vehicles, allowing it to "go almost anywhere."

It is this characteristic of being able to "walk" and "stay" that makes containers the target of weapons developers, which has led to the creation of a variety of container weapons.

Israeli "Laura" containerized short-range missile reflector system

The so-called container weapon has not yet received a unified definition worldwide. Its most important feature is that, depending on the specifications and appearance of civilian containers, single or combined weapons are integrated into the container for ease of transport, deployment, and use.

What must be emphasized is that, unlike storage, weapons containers do not simply store weapons in "iron boxes," but integrate weapons with containers, including many auxiliary and support systems, in order to maximize weapons effectiveness.

Take for example the Russian Army's "Caliber-K" container weapon system, which first appeared at the Asian Defense Exhibition in Malaysia in 2010. It consists of a universal launch module, a combat command module and a logistics support module. Each module is integrated and can be mounted in a container on various platforms such as surface ships, rail trains and road vehicles.

In October 2015, the Russian Navy's Caspian Fleet launched at least 26 cruise missiles during an attack. What caught the attention of the outside world is that some of these cruise missiles were launched from the M-class light frigate "Thug" Type 21631 using the "Caliber-K" container weapon system, which is a typical "small boat carrying a big gun."

From small missile launchers of hundreds of tons to 1,000-ton patrol ships and light frigates to 3,000-ton multi-purpose frigates, "Calibre-K" has appeared on their decks, which shows that container weapons are not suitable for Custom.

Russia is also said to be planning to install two sets of "Calibre-K" container weapon systems on the stern of the Type 23550 icebreaker patrol ship to further strengthen its influence in the Arctic region.

The larger container volume allows larger weapons to be integrated. The Mk70 container weapon system tested by the U.S. Navy is improved from the Mk41 naval vertical launch system and can launch "Standard" and "Tomahawk" series missiles.

In October last year, the U.S. Navy's Independence-class coastal combat ship USS Savannah used the Mk70 container weapon system to test launch a "Standard-6" anti-aircraft missile and hit the target. This test is part of the U.S. Navy's exploration of the use of containerized weapons.

The Mk70 container weapon system is also one of the launch modules that make up the U.S. military's "medium-range strike capability." Currently, interested companies have delivered the weapon system to the first missile system launch company with "medium-range strike capability" of the U.S. military. In exercises conducted by European and American countries since 2022, combat vehicles equipped with Mk70 container weapon systems have been demonstrated several times.

The U.S. Marine Corps has launched a plan to integrate the RGM-184 missile on an amphibious assault ship and tested its launching technology through a container weapon system.

The container's large volume allows it not only to house weapon systems but also to integrate related power, detection, communication and control systems, making the container weapons more independent and flexible in use. At the same time, this larger volume also allows it to accommodate more weapon systems to some extent to address threats at different levels. For example, containerized long-range rocket launching systems produced by some countries can be loaded with rockets of different calibers to carry out targeted attacks against different targets.

From this perspective, container weapons are the product of mature civilian products being "exploited" and combined with weapon systems. This combination, in turn, has given rise to some new changes in containers.

For example, last year the U.S. Army demonstrated a laser-guided rocket launcher in an exercise. Although it is also a container weapon and four rockets can be integrated into a container, the length of this container is shorter, only 1/4 the length of the standard national 40-foot container, and its detection system is integrated into another similar container, which can be placed in different locations.

Battlefield suitability has become the driving force behind the rise of containerized weapons.

In September 2021, the U.S. Navy launched a "Standard-6" anti-aircraft missile from a container weapon on the unmanned ship USS Ranger in a test. This move means that the utility of containerized weapons has been further expanded, and they have begun to "sit" on unmanned platforms and essentially "join forces" with them.

The development of container weapons is reflected not only in the fact that they can be mounted on more and more platforms, but also in the fact that they "house" increasingly different types of weapons and equipment.

In terms of integrating containers with traditional weapons and equipment, more and more countries and companies have begun efforts.

The European company MBDA is engaged in developing the "Mistral" short-range container air defense system, seeking to deploy it on various types of combat ships.

Based on the "Laura" short-range missile, Israel has launched the development of a container missile reflection system and also plans to launch a sea-based container missile reflection system.

The Finnish company Patria has containerized the developed 120 mm NEMO mortar, realizing the "land-to-sea" system, including its use to confront enemy ships in shallow waters.

The British Navy has proposed the concept of "persistent combat deployment system" and plans to create a common architecture and unified interface to realize containerization of various firearms, drones and directed energy weapons and configure them flexibly on a variety of combat platforms .

Containerization is also a trend in the development of emerging and newly developed weapons.

Drones are popular weapons on modern battlefields. Currently, some countries and companies are promoting drone containerization. At the 2019 annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army, the U.S. company Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems proposed the concept of "container drones" and planned to integrate the XQ-58A "Valkyrie" drone into a container. The Russian fixed-wing integrated combat and surveillance drone "Pirate" already has the ability to be launched from a special container loaded onto a Kamaz car.

At the same time, anti-drone systems are also developing in this direction.

The "Thor" high-power microwave weapon developed by the U.S. Air Force, the integrated anti-drone combat system released by the British company "Mars" in July last year, and the AARTOS anti-drone combat system developed by Germany are all " stored" in containers.

Some laser weapons and electronic warfare weapons also show their "enthusiasm" for containers. Many of the "Iron Beam" laser weapon systems developed by Israel and the Russian "Peresvet" laser weapon system are "housed" in containers mounted on vehicles. The Israeli Defense Research and Development Agency and the South Korean defense company Hanwha Group are also working on the development and containerization of laser weapon systems. In 2022, the main content of the "Electromagnetic Mobile Warfare Modular Kit" project launched by the U.S. Navy is the development of electronic warfare equipment that can be deployed in standard containers.

Why do containerized weapons show such a "rapidly growing" trend? Simply put, it simply meets the needs of future battlefields.

It meets the demand for high mobility in troop deployment. The characteristics of high-intensity engagement in modern warfare require that troops can be gathered quickly and deployed more flexibly, while the characteristics of container weapons that can be reached in multiple ways make their deployment quick and efficient.

It meets the needs of modular design of weapon systems. "One platform can do many things" is a direction for modern weapons and equipment development. Containerized weapons follow the trend toward modular use of associated payloads on larger platforms. A container weapon is a module that can be configured to be more effective through building blocks.

It meets the need to rapidly resupply a large number of combat platforms during wartime. In wartime, the demand for combat platforms increases. The "container weapons + civilian vehicles and ships" approach can "plug and play" to quickly integrate a large number of combat platforms to meet firepower and protection needs.

In addition, container weapons can be integrated into ordinary containers, making attacks more devious and sudden, factors that have contributed to the spread of container weapons.

Finland's 120 mm NEMO containerized mortar system.

Although it has flaws, it could still become a "firepower booster" on future battlefields.

Just like other weapons and equipment, which have advantages and disadvantages, container weapons do not offer all the advantages.

As research, development, and utilization have progressed, the development of this type of weapons and equipment has also revealed some problems.

It must be relatively independent and platform compatible, which increases its cost. One of the characteristics of container arms is that they are "easy to transplant" and "plug and play," so they require a high degree of operational independence. This results in the container having to collect more equipment. In addition, the higher the requirements for weapon performance, the more software and hardware will have to be integrated: the result of "building a dojo in a snail shell" is reflected in the costs and the investment will increase accordingly. Especially to reach a level where each has the ability to network or even integrate into a higher level system, costs will continue to rise.

Containerized weapons are larger in size and will affect the efficiency of using the ship's deck. In the case of container weapons mounted on the deck of a ship, they can provide additional firepower or protection to the ship, but at the same time the container is larger, occupies a certain area of the deck, and is usually heavier. is The occupation of deck space can affect the use of other weapons and equipment on the ship, such as combat aircraft.

It can raise ethical issues in warfare. Although containerized weapons can be mixed in civilian containers to improve one's survivability and speed of attack, and make the adversary's attack less targeted like "removing a blind box," this "mixing" can also lead to attacks against the container. affected some civilians living in container houses, raising ethical issues in warfare.

Container weapons have weak protection. For some armored transport vehicles, the other side of the emphasis on "big belly and capacity" is the lack of protection. Containerized weapons also have this problem. Although some container weapons can be equipped with armor, this measure has some limitations and is almost useless in the face of some high-powered ammunition. These problems will affect the development of container weapons to some extent.

Nevertheless, containerized weapons are still developing rapidly. Due to its characteristics of ease of transportation, absence of "supports" and low cost, it could still become a "firepower booster" on the future battlefield.

La Cina di Xi Jinping. 2023

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