New Navy Frigate Designed With Stepped-Up Weapons for "Blue Water" Combat

The Navy's new Frigate, to be operational by 2023, will be armed with a wide range of new weapons to include long-range missiles. electronic warfare ability and anti-submarine technology.

The Navy is now finalizing the weapons, sensors and technologies it plans to engineer into a new, more survivable and lethal Littoral Combat Ship variant designed to perform anti-submarine and surface warfare functions at the same time, service officials said.

“You will be able to employ both of those mission areas simultaneously,” Capt. Dan Brintzinghoffer, Frigate Program Manager, told Scout Warrior in an interview months ago in 2016. “This provides the fleet with flexibility because you can employ those ships in multiple ways and multiple venues.”

The new ship, called a Frigate, will be integrated with anti-submarine surface warfare technologies including sonar, an over-the-horizon missile and surface-to-surface weapons such as a 30mm gun and closer-in missiles such as the Hellfire.

“You will be able to have both the long range over-the-horizon missile and the Hellfire on board at the same time,” Brintzinghoffer said in a special discussion with Scout Warrior several months ago. 

Some of the over-the-horizon missiles now being considered by the Navy include the Naval Strike Missile by Kongsberg, a modified Tomahawk missile, a Harpoon, Extended Range Griffin Missile or the Long-Range Anti-Ship missile, or LRASM made by Lockheed and the Pentagon's research arm, DARPA.

It is not yet known whether the Frigate will be engineered with Vertical Launch Systems to fire larger, longer-range missiles such as a Tomahawk or Standard Missile 6, among others. However, that could be a possibility depending upon emerging Navy requirements for weapons on the ship, developers have said. 

Alongside ongoing efforts to specify weapons for the emerging Navy Frigate, the service is also hoping to integrate additional weaponry on the LCS itself. As a result, weapons development for both the new Navy Frigate and existing LCS are distinct, yet also interwoven initiatives. 

For example, some of the weapons such as the Naval Strike Missile, however, are able to fire from a specially configured LCS deck-mounted launcher and will therefore not need vertical launch tubes. Lockheed is also in the early phases of desiging an LCS deck-mounted launcher for its LRASM. 

In fact, the Navy plans to deploy two seperate long-range over-the-horizon missile weapons aboard its Littoral Combat Ship later this year as part of an effort to better arm the vessel and give it an ability to attack longer-range land and ocean targets than it is currently configured to do, according to industry sources familiar with the ship's development. 

The Kongsberg-Raytheon Naval Strike Missile will soon deploy with the flat-bottomed "Freedom" variant LCS and a Harpoon Block IC missile will deploy on the Navy's trimaran "Independence" variant of the ship; the idea is to further assess each weapon in an operational setting as a way to better determine the ideal over-the-horizon weapon for the ship's future. 

At the same time, the Navy is also weighing the prospect of arming the LCS and Frigate with the emering Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile or a laser-guided Extended Range Griffin Missile. 

A formal competition among industry is expected at some point in the future, per Navy statements which indicate that no formal decision regarding which weapon will ultimately be integrated onto the ship has been made. 

In September 2015, Director of Surface Warfare Rear Adm. Peter Fanta directed the installation of a technologically mature, over-the-horizon capability across in-service littoral combat ships to support the Navy's distributed lethality concept. Priority was given to Coronado and Freedom as ships preparing to deploy in fiscal year 2016. 

Distributed Lethality

The Navy's distributed ethality strategy involves numerous initiatives to better arm its fleet with offensive and defensive weapons, maintain a technological advantage over adversaries, such as the fast-growing Russian and Chinese navies, and strengthen its "blue water" combat abilities against potential near-peer rivals, among other things. 

Arming the Littoral Combat Ship, and its more survivable and lethal variant, the Frigate, is designed to better equip the LCS for shallow and open water combat against a wider range of potential adversaries, such as enemy surface ships, drones, helicopters, small boats and maneuvering attack craft, at beyond-the-horizon ranges.

"The Navy is in the process of researching and defining requirements for a shipboard anti-ship missile.  Competition will absolutely factor into any acquisitions strategy to ensure that we fulfill the requirement at the best value to the government," Navy spokeswoman Lt. Kara Yingling told Scout Warrior in an interview. 

The LCS is already equipped with 30mm and 57mm guns to destroy closer-in enemy targets such as swarms of small boats and the Navy plans to deploy a maritime variant of the HELLFIRE Missile aboard the ship by next year to destroy approaching enemy targets from "within the horizon" 

While the Navy is, perhaps more th While the Navy is, perhaps more than ever, still committed to freedom of navigation and working to ensure safe passage in strategic areas in international waterways, the new strategy is aimed at ensuring the entire fleet is engineered with the sensors, computer technology, radar, communications gear and weapons systems to over-match any potential near-peer competitor such as Russia or China. The strategy seeks to ensure the U.S, Navy retains its technological advantage amidst a fast-changing global technological landscape. 

Part of the rationale to move back toward open or “blue water” combat capability against near peer competitors emphasized during the Cold War. While the strategic and tactical capability never disappeared, it was emphasized less during the last 10-plus years of ground wars wherein the Navy focused on counter-terrorism, counter-piracy and things like Visit Board Search and Seizure. These missions are, of course, still important, however the Navy seeks to substantially increases its offensive “lethality” in order to deter or be effective against emerging high-tech adversaries.

Having longer-range or over-the-horizon ship and air-launched weapons is also quite relevant to the “distributed” portion of the strategy which calls for the fleet to have an ability to disperse as needed.  Having an ability to spread out and conduct dis-aggregated operations makes Navy forces less vulnerable to enemy firepower while. At the same time, have long-range precision-strike capability will enable the Navy to hold potential enemies at risk or attack if needed while retaining safer stand-off distance from incoming enemy fire. 

Yingling said requirements for a ship-launched weapon of this kind were still being determined. 

Navy Frigate - 2023

The Frigate is slated for delivery to the Navy by 2023; the platform is an outgrowth of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship effort which originally planned to build 52 shallow-water multi-mission ships equipped with interchangeable groups of technologies called “mission packages” for mine countermeasures, anti-submarine technologies and surface warfare systems.  

However, lawmakers, analysts and some members of the Navy argued that the LCS was not “survivable” enough, meaning despite its speed of 40-knots and numerous advantages, the ship would be far too vulnerable to enemy attack.  The concern, ultimately echoed by then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, was that the ship did not have enough weapons, armor fortifications and what’s called “blue water” combat capability to challenge near-peer adversaries.

“LCS as designed is a focused mission ship. It can do one specific mission at a time and the combat capability to do that mission is provided by the mission packages,” he added.  “We are going to take a modified LCS and take that as the baseline and then add changes or modifications to improve its lethality and survivability.”

The new ship will also have seven 11-meter Rigid Inflatable Boats for short combat or expeditionary missions such as visiting, searching and boarding other ships.

At the same time the anti-submarine technologies planned for the ship include a multi-function towed array sonar, variable depth sonar to detect submarines and sensors combined with a submarine hunting MH-60R helicopter.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joe Bishop

While the LCS, which is currently in service with the Navy, is credited for its speed, maneuverability and shallow draft which enables it to access shallow water ports larger ships are unable to reach. The LCS ships in service this far have performed quite well, Navy officials explained. Six LCS vessels are currently in service, a spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command told Scout Warrior.

The initiative to engineer a more survivable and lethal LCS variant emerged out of a multi-month effort directed by Secretary Hagel and the formation of an entity called the Small Surface Combatant Task Force. There has been a chorus of concern from Pentagon leaders, members of Congress, analysts and some Navy officials about whether the existing LCS will be "survivable" enough to withstand and prevail in large-scale surface combat. Could the ship continue to function if struck by enemy fire? Does it have the needed long-range offensive strike capability? Will its maneuverability and 40-knot water speed enable it to avoid enemy attacks?

While very few question the utility or overall benefit of having the LCS in the Navy fleet, the idea of a stronger, more weaponized and fortified Frigate variant seems to address these concern in the minds of many. 

“The Secretary of Defense directed the Navy to stop building LCS at 32 ship and do a study or come up with alternatives to see what the remaining 20 need to be to meet the small surface combatant requirement. The Navy put together a task force and built a series of options and a methodology around which they were able to do an assessment of alternatives,” Brintzinghoffer explained.

“For the last seven months we have laid out a series of design cycles and come up with proposed changes and alternatives to improve survivability and lethality. We have come through a number of those and we are now recommending to the Navy leadership a design that provides a capability to the fleet,” Brintzinghoffer explained.

The emerging Frigate ship will also be equipped with next-generation and stronger electronic warfare technologies far greater than the existing LCS and instead comparable to current Navy Cruisers and Destroyers, he added.     

In addition, the ship will be configured in what’s called a “modular” fashion, meaning it will be engineered to accept and integrate new technologies and weapons as they emerge such as lasers and rail guns, Brintzinghoffer added.

“Technology over the next six to seven years will enable us to use some sort of a laser weapon or rail gun. As technology improves and we can have a different type of gun, the Navy will have that option with an understood set of interfaces and standards of space, weight and power,” he said.

With its mission packages, the LCS is configured to perform specific missions, one mission at a time, Brintzinghoffer said.  The Frigate is being engineered to meet anti-submarine and surface warfare missions at the same time.

Another potential area of innovation designed to improve protection for the new Frigate is the use of “space armor” techniques.

“This involves taking specific spaces and improveing the armor and ballistic protection of the ship to make it more survivable,”Brintzinghoffer added. “Putting armor in vital places improves your ability to absorb damage.” 

Navy Missiles & Weapons Being Considered

Harpoon

Littoral combat ship USS Coronado successfully executed the first live-fire over-the-horizon missile test using a Harpoon Block IC missile, July 19, during the Navy's Rim of the Pacific exercise.

RIMPAC is a biennial multinational exercise that provides a unique training opportunity that fosters sustained cooperative relationships critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans.

Navy officials told Scout Warrior that part of the rationale for the live-fire Harpoon exercise was to assess the ability of the LCS to withstand a deck-firing of the weapon. 

Harpoon is an all-weather, over-the-horizon weapon designed to execute anti-ship missions against a range of surface targets. It can be launched from surface ships, submarines and aircraft and is currently used on 50 U.S. Navy ships: 22 cruisers, 21 Flight I destroyers and seven Flight II destroyers, Navy statements said. 

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michaela Garrison

The Boeing-built Harpoon reaches high subsonic speeds and is engineered to reach over-the-horizon ranges of 67 nautical miles, Navy information says. It has a 3-foot wingspan and weighs roughly 1,500 pounds. The air-launched weapon is 12-feet long and the ship and submarine launched Harpoon is 15-feet long; it uses Teledyne Turbojet solid propellant booster for surface and submarine launch, Navy information specifies. 

The Harpoon generates 600 pounds of thrust and fires with a sea-skimming mode to better avoid enemy ship radar detection. Its warhead uses both penetration and high-explosive blast technology. 

Naval Strike Missile 

The Navy will soon deploy the Naval Strike Missile aboard the Freedom variant of the LCS that can find and destroy enemy ships at distances up to 100 nautical miles, service officials said.

The Naval Strike Missile weapon is developed by a Norwegian-headquartered firm called Kongsberg; it is currently used on Norwegian frigates and missile torpedo boats, company officials said.

“The Navy is currently planning to utilize the Foreign Comparative Testing program to procure and install the Norwegian-built Naval Strike Missile on the USS FREEDOM (LCS 1).  The objective is to demonstrate operationally-relevant installation, test, and real-world deployment on an LCS,” a Navy spokeswoman from Naval Sea Systems Command told Scout Warrior. 

The deployment of the weapon is the next step in the missiles progress. In 2014NSM was successfully test fired from the flight deck of the USS CORONADO (LCS 4) at the Pt. Mugu Range Facility, California, demonstrating a surface-to-surface weapon capability, the Navy official explained.

First deployed by the Norwegian Navy in 2012, the missile is engineered to identify ships by ship class, Gary Holst, Senior Director for Naval Surface Warfare, Kongsberg, told Scout Warrior in an interview last year.

The NSM is fired from a deck-mounted launcher. The weapon uses an infrared imaging seeker, identify targets, has a high degree of maneuverability and flies close to the water in “sea-skim” mode to avoid ship defenses, he added.

“It can determine ships in a group of ships by ship class, locating the ship which is its designated target. It will attack only that target,” Holst said.

Holst added that the NSM was designed from the onset to have a maneuverability sufficient to defeat ships with advanced targets; the missile’s rapid radical maneuvers are built into the weapon in order to defeat what’s called “terminal defense systems,” he said.

“One of the distinguishing features of the missile is its ability to avoid terminal defense systems based on a passive signature, low-observable technologies and maneuverability. It was specifically designed to attack heavily defended targets,” Holst said.

For instance, the NSM is engineered to defeat ship defense weapons such as the Close-In-Weapons System, or CIWS – a ship-base defensive fire “area weapon” designed to fire large numbers of projectiles able intercept, hit or destroy approaching enemy fire.

CIWS is intended to defend ships from enemy fire as it approaches closer to its target, which is when the NSM’s rapid maneuverability would help it avoid being hit and proceed to strike its target, Holst added.

Holst added that the weapon is engineered with a “stealthy” configuration to avoid detection from ship detection systems and uses its sea-skimming mode to fly closer to the surface than any other missile in existence.

“It was designed against advanced CIWS systems. It is a subsonic weapon designed to bank to turn. It snaps over when it turns and the seeker stays horizontally stabilized -- so the airframe turns around the seeker so it can zero-in on the seam it is looking at and hit the target,” he said.

Raytheon and Kongsberg signed a teaming agreement to identify ways we can reduce the cost of the missile by leveraging Raytheon’s supplier base and supplier management, Holst explained.

Kongsberg is working with Raytheon to establish NSM production facilities in the U.S., Ron Jenkins, director for precision standoff strike, Raytheon Missile systems, said last year.

Kongsberg is also working on a NSM follow-on missile engineered with an RF (radio frequency) sensor that can help the weapon find and destroy targets.  

The new missile is being built to integrate into the internal weapons bay of Norway’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as well. 

Kongsberg and Raytheon are submitting the missile for consideration for the Navy’s long-range beyond-the-horizon offensive missile requirement for its LCS.  

“The Navy has identified a need for an over-the-horizon missile as part of their distributed lethality concept which is adding more offensive weapons to more ships throughout the fleet and they wanted to do this quickly,” Holst explained.  

They are pitching the missile as a weapon which is already developed and operational – therefore it presents an option for the Navy that will not require additional time and extensive development, he said.

 “The missile is the size, shape and weight that fits on both classes of the Littoral Combat Ship,” Holst said.

Extended Range Griffin Missile 

Raytheon is testing a new extended range Griffin missile which triples the range of the existing weapon and adds infrared imaging guidance technology, company officials said.

The extended range Griffin starts off with a baseline Griffin and adds an extended range rocket motor. The emerging Griffin missile can fire more than twice the range of HELLFIREs, Raytheon developers explained. 

The existing Griffin missile, which can be launched from the air, sea or land, uses GPS and laser guidance technology. The new variant now being tested allows infrared technology to work in tandem with laser designation, they added. 

A version of the Griffin missile is now integrated onto smaller, fast-moving Navy Patrol Coastal boats. 

The Griffin uses a semi-active laser sensor which is engineered into the current Griffin. The extended range Griffin has both a semi-active laser system and an imaging infrared dual mode, developers explained. A semi-active laser can point out the target to the missile -- and imaging infrared captures the target and then navigates on its own/ 

The extended range Griffin also features a data link in order to allow the weapon to receive in-flight target updates, jRaytheon officials said. 

The Griffin's targeting technology could help destroy small fast-moving surface targets such as swarming boats and also help fast-moving ships reach targets as well. This technology is well-suited to equip the fast-moving LCS, which can maneuver up to speeds of 40-knots. 

The Griffin does not have millimeter wave technology, like the Hellfire, but is capable of operating in some difficult weather conditions, officials added. Overall, however, the extended range Griffin is engineered to operate in reasonably clear weather conditions. 

In addition, the new missiles infrared guidance system is configured with computer algorithms which enable the weapon to distinguish targets from nearby objects, Raytheon developers said. 

The imaging infrared is passive and uncooled so there is no cooling involved. Once a laser spot is removed, the imaging infrared seeker takes over on its own. This technology allows the weapon to change course and potentially adjust to emerging and new targets while in flight. 

Raytheon plans to continue testing of the weapon for another year and hopes the new missile will be considered for a range of ground applications, surface ships and air platforms including patrol craft and even unmanned aerial systems.

Long Range Anti-Ship Missile

Lockheed Martin is developing a new deck-mounted launcher for the emerging Long Range Anti-Ship Missile engineered to semi-autonomously track and destroy enemy targets at long ranges from both aircraft and surface ships.

The weapon, called the LRASM, is a collaborative effort between Lockheed, the Office of Naval Research and the Defense Advanced Project Research Agency, or DARPA.

While this emerging weapon is earlier in the developmental process than both the Harpoon and the NSM, it could provide an even more capable, high-tech ability to the LCS. However, industry sources indicate that the LRASM is expected to be much more expensive than the other alternatives, and a LRASM-specific deck-mounted launcher for the LCS would need to be operational before the weapon could successfully fire from the ship. 

Lockheed Martin

A deck-mounted firing technology, would enable LRASM to fire from a much wider range of Navy ships, to include the Littoral Combat Ship and its more survivable variant, called a Frigate, Scott Callaway, Surface-Launched LRASM program manager, Lockheed Martin, told Scout Warrior in an interview last.

“We developed a new topside or deck-mounted launcher which can go on multiple platforms or multiple ships such as an LCS or Frigates,” Callaway said.

The adaptation of the surface-launcher weapon, which could be operational by the mid-2020s, would use the same missile that fires from a Mk 41 Vertical Launch System and capitalize upon some existing Harpoon-launching technology, Callaway added.

The LRASM, which is 168-inches long and 2,500 pounds, is currently configured to fire from an Air Force B-1B bomber and Navy F-18 carrier-launched fighter. The current plan is to have the weapon operational on board an Air Force B-1B bomber by 2018 and a Navy F-18 by 2019, Navy statements have said.

With a range of at least 200 nautical miles, LRASM is designed to use next-generation guidance technology to help track and eliminate targets such as enemy ships, shallow submarines, drones, aircraft and land-based targets.

Navy officials said LRASM is currently developing along with what it calls Increment 1 to establish an initial air-launched missile solution for the Navy.

"The objective is to give Sailors the ability to strike high-value targets from longer ranges while avoiding counter fire. The program will use autonomous guidance to find targets, reducing reliance on networking, GPS and other assets that could be compromised by enemy electronic weapons,” a Navy statement said.

The missile has also been test fired from a Navy ship-firing technology called Vertical Launch Systems currently on both cruisers and destroyers – as a way to provide long range surface-to-surface and surface-to-air offensive firepower.

Navy officials told Scout Warrior that the service is making progress with an acquisition program for the air-launched variant of LRASM but is still in the ealry stages of planning for a ship-launch anti-ship missile. The Navy will likely examine a range of high-tech missile possibilities to meet its requirement for a long-range anti-ship missile -- and Lockheed certainly plans to submit LRASM as an option for the Navy to consider. 

"The current LRASM program is fulfilling a specific capability for an air-launched anti-surface weapon. While DARPA evaluated the feasibility of a ship-launched variant, it would be inappropriate to speculate about a ship-launched version ahead of the requirements, informed by the updated Analysis of Alternatives, and any resulting budget plans," Yingling added. 

High-Tech Semi-Autonomous Missile

Along with advances in electronic warfare, cyber-security and communications, LRASM is design to bring semi-autonomous targeting capability to a degree that does not yet exist. As a result, some of its guidance and seeker technology is secret, developers have said.

The goal of the program is to engineer a capable semi-autonomous, surface and air-launched weapon able to strike ships, submarines and other moving targets with precision. While many aspects of the high-tech program are secret, Lockheed officials say the available information is that the missile has a range of at least 200 nautical miles.

Once operational, LRASM will give Navy ships a more a short and long-range missile with an advanced targeting and guidance system able to partially guide its way to enemy targets and achieve pinpoint strikes in open or shallow water.

LRASM employs a multi-mode sensor, weapon data link and an enhanced digital anti-jam global positioning system to detect and destroy specific targets within a group of ships, Lockheed officials said.

LRASM is engineered with all-weather capability and a multi-modal seeker designed to discern targets, Lockheed officials said. The multi-mode sensor, weapon data link and an enhanced digital anti-jam global positioning system can detect and destroy specific targets within a group of ships, Lockheed officials said.

LRASM is armed with a proven 1,000-pound penetrator and blast-fragmentation warhead, Lockheed officials said.

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