Containerized Missile Launchers: Revolutionizing Naval Warfare

25 December 2023

The potential of containerized missile launchers to increase the firepower of naval vessels is gaining attention as militaries seek to bolster their arsenals in an era of modern warfare.

The war in Ukraine has highlighted the need for large arsenals to wage modern warfare, leading to concerns among Western military leaders about the ability to keep their ships’ magazines filled in a potential conflict with China. In response, navies are exploring containerized missile launchers as a solution to increase the number of missiles aboard their ships. These prepackaged missiles, also known as missiles-in-a-box, have the potential to revolutionize naval warfare by providing a relatively easy way to arm vessels with more missiles. This article delves into the development and implications of containerized missile launchers in naval warfare.

Containerized Launchers: A Solution to the Supply Problem

The traditional supply problem faced by navies is addressed by containerized missile launchers. In the past, ships had limited ammunition supply, resulting in slow rates of fire and a restricted number of missiles. Modern vertical-launch systems improved the firing speed, but still required cranes to lower more missiles into the tubes. Containerized missile launchers offer a more user-friendly approach. Companies like Danish firm SH Defense have developed “plug-and-play” systems that can be installed in standard 20-foot cargo containers. This allows ships to expend a container’s missiles and easily replace it with another container stored on or below deck, significantly increasing the ship’s missile-carrying capacity.

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Reviving the Concept of Q-Ships

Containerized missile launchers have also reignited interest in the concept of Q-ships, warships disguised as merchant vessels that prowled the seas during World War I and II. If missiles can be stored in standard cargo containers, it opens up the possibility of using regular cargo ships as missile launchers. This raises concerns about the difficulty in distinguishing between harmless-looking merchant ships and potential missile boats. Russia has already advertised its Club-K containerized anti-ship missile system as a weapon that can be mounted on cargo vessels. For navies with limited warships and missile launchers, an updated Q-ship could be a cost-effective way to add firepower.

Implications and Challenges

While containerized missile launchers offer advantages in terms of increasing missile capacity and cost-effectiveness, they are not a panacea for a lack of traditional warships. Q-ships may face limitations in detecting targets for long-range missiles and have limited speed and maneuverability. Additionally, defensive measures such as electronic countermeasures and air-defense weapons would still be necessary. The use of cargo ships as floating missile batteries also raises concerns about the potential for trade disruptions and the difficulty of distinguishing between innocent merchant vessels and potential threats.

Conclusion: Containerized missile launchers have the potential to revolutionize naval warfare by providing a versatile solution to the supply problem faced by navies. These prepackaged missiles offer a relatively easy way to increase the firepower of naval vessels, allowing for more missiles to be carried and potentially reviving the concept of Q-ships. However, challenges remain in terms of target detection, speed, maneuverability, and the need for defensive measures. As militaries continue to explore innovative solutions to enhance their capabilities, containerized missile launchers represent a significant development in naval warfare.

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