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Navy Phalanx CIWS

Navy Phalanx CIWS

The Navy’s MK-15 Phalanx anti-ship missile defense…

The MK-15 Phalanx is a closed in weapons system (CIWS, pronounced See-Whiz) designed as the last line of defense against anti-ship missiles and aircraft.

Originally developed in 1973 by General Dynamics’ Pomona Division, now Raytheon, and sold to Hughes Missile Systems Company in 1992, the Phalanx anti-ship missile defense system has become the mainstay of defense for all classes of U.S Navy ships.

navy mk-15 phalanx ciws

MK-15 Phalanx CIWS

At the end of the 1960th, the increased threat of anti-ship missiles resulted in the development of a new kind of weapon. Unable to counter the threat of low flying missiles, Navy ships needed a new form of defense – one able to locate and destroy incoming missiles. Rapid fire closed in weapons systems with high-tech radars became the answer.

The USA’s General Dynamics’ was not the only company trying to construct such an installation at the time. Other countries were the Netherlands (“Goalkeeper”), the Soviet Union (“AK 230”) and Spain (“Moroak”). However the US Navy finally decided to take the Mk-15 Phalanx, after the first system was offered and tested on USS King (DDG-41) in 1973.

navy mk-15 phalanx close in weapons system

MK-15 CIWS

Production started in 1978, and the first ship, the USS America (CV-66), was outfitted in 1980. The Phalanx system is still in use today; however the US Navy plans to upgrade the system with the Laser Weapons System or SeaRam, Raytheon’s 11-missile RAM launcher.

The Phalanx consists of a radar-guided rapid-fire 20mm Gatling gun mounted on a swiveling base. Each mount consists of three main components: the “head” containing the track radar, the M61A1 Gatlin gun with six barrels, and the magazine which contains 989 (upgraded to 1550) non-radioactive uranium bullets that are harder than steel.

The Phalanx’ track radar – originally designated MK-90, now simply called the Phalanx radar – consists of two radar screens which not only track the flight path of the incoming missile but also of its own bullets.

The M61A Gatling gun is 6 barreled, rotary action, air cooled, weapon that can be driven electronically, hydraulically or by a ram-air turbine. Earlier versions were capable of firing 3,000 rounds per minute, however further advancements allowed the Phalanx’s Gatling gun to fire up to 4500 rpm. The more lightweight M61A’s are also utilized by the F-15 and F-16; these are capable of firing up to 6000 rpm.

General Specifications

  • Primary Function: Anti-ship missile defense
  • Contractor: Hughes Missile Systems Company (formerly General Dynamics’ Pomona Division, now Raytheon, sold to Hughes in 1992)
  • Weight: 12,500 pounds (5,625 kg)
  • Later models: 13,600 pounds (6,120 kg)
  • Range: approx. 1 mile
  • Gun Type: M-61A1 Gatling
  • Type of Fire: 3,000 rounds per minute. Later models: 4,500 rounds/min (starting 1988 production, Pneumatic Gun Drive)
  • Magazine Capacity: 989 rounds, Later models: 1,550 rounds
  • Caliber: 20mm
  • Ammunition: Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS), Depleted Uranium sub-caliber penetrator. Penetrator changed to Tungsten 1988.
  • Sensors: Self-contained search and track radar
  • Cost: $5.6 million
  • Date Deployed: 1980 (aboard USS America (CV 66))
  • Block 1: 1988 (aboard USS Wisconsin (BB 64))
  • Block 1B: September 2000 (aboard USS Taylor (FFG 50))


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