By Kris Osborn & Michael Fabey
The Navy has launch a formal industry competition to acquire a new, over-the-horizon offensive attack missile for its surface fleet as a way to increase the striking range of weapons for Littoral Combat Ships, Frigates and possibly other vessels -- to better prepare the service for near-peer warfare on the open seas.
A formal Request for Proposal for the weapon has emerged; possibilities include the integration of a Harpoon, Naval Strike Missile or Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile.
Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, commander, Naval Surface Forces, said several months that that he is relying on an over-the-horizon missile to “increase offensive firepower on surface warships by continuing to modify existing over-the-horizon surface weapons by expanding procurement of improved anti-ship, anti-air antisubmarine and surface strike missiles.” Rowden, speaking at the annual Surface Navy Association symposium," emphasized that increasing attack technology for the surface fleet was vital to the service's future strategy.
Cost, production possibilities, attack effectiveness and near-term availability are all key factors as part of the calculus informing the Navy's decision. The Navy is looking at both developmental weapons as well as closer-term off-the-shelf available options.
The Kongsberg-Raytheon Naval Strike Missile has been tested on the flat-bottomed "Freedom" variant LCS and a Harpoon Block IC missile has been tested 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 with the emering Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile, a high-tech DARPA-Lockheed-Office of Naval Research developmental effort with semi-autonomous guidance technology.
Navy officials emphasize to Scout Warrior that no formal decision regarding which weapon will ultimately be integrated onto the ship has been made.
In September 2015, then 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.
The Navy's distributed lethality 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 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"
The development of these LCS-launched over-the-horizon missiles entirely consistent with the Navy’s emerging “distributed lethality” strategy which seeks to better arm the fleet with long-range precision offensive and defensive fire power.
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.
Navy officials said requirements for a ship-launched weapon of this kind were still being determined.
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.
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 is also developing and assessing the Naval Strike Missile for 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 utilizing 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 last year.
The deployment of the weapon has been thought of the next step in the missiles progress. In 2014, NSM 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.
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.
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.
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 year.
“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.
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.
- Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@Scout.com.
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- Scout Warrior writer Michael Fabey contributed to this report.