Navy LCS Vertically Fires HELLFIRE Missile & Tests Surface to Surface Missile Module

A Hellfire missile test firing from an LCS marks the first vertical launch from the ship. Navy officials describe it an important step for the LCS to handle missile operations.

The Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) fleet moved closer to missile-based operations with the recent successful test-firing of weapons of one of the LCS vessels.

The LCS and successor FF-frigate-class ships have become the de facto fleets for the Navy’s next over-the-horizon missile arsenal, with the Navy earlier this year releasing a request for proposal for a new missile to add some punch to the service’s surface fleet.

First, though, the Navy is proving the ship’s ability to handle missile-based operations and the Feb. 28 test takes a significant stride toward that end.

For that test, the first successful “structural test-firing” of the Surface to Surface Missile Module (SSMM) from LCS 7 USS Detroit Feb. 28 off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia.

It was the first time that an LCS launched from the SSMM – and the first vertical launch -- from an LCS, Navy officials note. The test was done as part of the developmental test program for the Surface Warfare (SUW) Mission Package (MP).

"The testing aboard USS Detroit was an important milestone in advancing LCS capability, not only for the LCS community but for the entire fleet,”Cmdr. Michael Desmond, Detroit's commanding officer, said in a statement. As small boat threats proliferate, the SSMM will give our ships added lethality,"

SSMM utilizes the Army Longbow Hellfire Missile in a vertical launch capability to counter small boat threats, Navy officials  note. SSMM is the next delivery of capability for the LCS SUW MP, which achieved initial operational capability (IOC) in November 2014 with delivery of the Gun Mission Module (two 30mm guns) and the Maritime Security Module (11m Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat for Visit Boarding Search and Seizure).

During the tests, Navy officials say, the ship launched four Longbow HELLFIRE missiles and 52 rounds of 30 mm target practice-tracers.

"This was another positive step forward in fielding of the next increment for the SUW MP," Capt. Ted Zobel, Mission Modules program manager, said in a statement. "The SSMM is a critical piece of the SUW MP and this event will allow us to move safely into developmental testing and soon to fielding this capability aboard LCS."

When new or different ordnance systems are first installed on board Navy warships, a Structural Test Fire (STF) is required to determine if shipboard structures, equipment, and systems can operate satisfactorily after weapon firing and if any personnel hazards, such as toxic gas intrusion or damaging noise levels, exist during weapon firing operations, Navy officials point out.

Specifically, STF verifies that the ship's structure and equipment as well as the interfaces between ordnance and the ship are capable of withstanding the vibration, shock, noise, gases and other blast derivatives from ordnance firing. STF results will be used to evaluate and document safety requirements.

The Surface Warfare Mission Package will begin developmental testing aboard LCS 5 USS Milwaukee later this year and will culminate in operational testing and IOC in 2018, Navy officials say.

But it is the OTH missile slated for the ships that is getting the most attention.

The three main contenders for the contract apparently are: the current missile placeholder on the ships – Boeing’s Harpoon;  the Raytheon- Kongsberg, with its Naval Strike Missile (NSM);  and Lockheed Martin’s Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM).

Speaking at the annual Surface Navy Association (SNA) symposium, senior Navy officials said the service is relying on the OTH missiles 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.”

In interviews earlier this year, Troy Rutherford, Boeing missile systems director, has touted the missile’s total ownership cost, thanks in part to the ubiquitous deployment of the weapons. Navy targeting systems and upgraded technology will help ensure the missile meets the new OTH requirements, he says.

---For a full, detailed analysis and Scout Warrior report on the Navy's considerations for this over-the-horizon missile, CLICK HERE----

Harpoons have already been shot off the LCSs and there is system that has been deployed on one of the vessels to the Western Pacific.

But the NSM also has been successfully launched from and LCS and Thomas Copeman, Raytheon Missiles vice president of business development for air warfare systems said in an earlier interview the missile is a fifth-generation weapon ready to roll now on the ships.

With LRASM, Scott Callaway, Lockheed director for advanced programs and subsonic cruise missiles said in an interview earlier this year, the Navy could get a missile that was developed out of the U.S. Air Force’s Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile – Extended Range (JASSM-ER) conventional cruise missile, with an air-launched Navy version for F-18s.

The company, he says, has already test fired the missile form a shipboard vertical launch system (VLS) and could be used with systems already in place on U.S. ships.

---For a full, detailed analysis and Scout Warrior report on the Navy's considerations for this over-the-horizon missile, CLICK HERE----


Navy officials have been conducting live-fire test attacks with a HELLFIRE missile launching from a deck-mounted launcher aboard a service research vessel. The ship-launched HELLFIRE is engineered a little differently than current HELLFIREs fired from drones and helicopters.

With a helicopter, HELLFIRE often locks onto a target before launch (RF guidance); with LCS, however, the missile turns on its seeker after launch. In recent years, the Navy has fired 12 missile shots and had successful engagements with 10 of them.

----For Scout Warrior's Prior Reporting on HELLFIRE & LCS Tests - CLICK HERE----

The LCS-fired HELLFIRE uses “millimeter wave” guidance or seeker technology, a targeting system described as “all-weather” capable because it can penetrate rain, clouds and other obscurants.

Development of the weapon also includes integration within the LCS’ computers and combat system. Navy developers said testing has pushed the boundaries of seeker technology to explore the prospect of additional seeker modifications. 

Part of the conceptual design for an LCS deck-mounted HELLFIRE is to enable coordination and targeting connectivity with Mk 60 Navy helicopters operating beyond-the-horizon.

A helicopter could be used to track approaching enemy attacks, officials said. 

In these scenarios, the HELLFIRE would be used in tandem with 30mm and 57mm guns. Also, the Longbow Hellfire weapon is intended to be used in conjunction with helicopter-like, vertical take-off-and-landing drone launched from the LCS called the Fire Scout. This Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, ISR, platform can help identify targets and relay real time video images back to a ship-based targeting and command and control center.

Previously, the Navy had considered a now-cancelled Army-Navy program called the Non-Line-of-Sight missile and a laser-guided Griffin missile for the LCS attack mission. With Griffin missiles, a laser-guided weapon, there is a limited number of missiles which can fire at one time in the air due to a need for laser designation. A Longbow HELLFIRE, however, is what is described as a “fire-and-forget” missile which can attack targets without needing laser designation.

The integration of a HELLFIRE missile aboard an LCS, which has been in development for several years, is considered to be a key element of the Navy’s emerging “distributed lethality” strategy implemented to better arm the surface fleet with improved offensive and defensive weapons. 

HELLFIRE Missile Technologies and Platforms

In service since the 1970s, HELLFIRE missiles originated as 100-pound tank-killing, armor piercing weapons engineered to fire from helicopters to destroy enemy armored vehicles, bunkers and other fortifications.

In more recent years, the emergence of news sensors, platforms and guidance technologies have enabled the missile to launch strikes with greater precision against a wider envelope of potential enemy targets.

These days, the weapon is primarily fired from attack drones such as the Air Force Predator and Reaper and the Army’s Gray Eagle; naturally, the HELLFIRE is also used by the Army’s AH-64 Apache Attack helicopter, OH-58 Kiowa Warriors and AH-1 Marine Corps Super Cobras, among others. Although not much is known about when, where or who -- HELLFIREs are also regularly used in U.S. drone strikes using Air Force Predators and Reapers against terrorist targets around the globe.

The HELLFIRE missile can use radio frequency, RF, guidance – referred to as “fire and forget” – or semi-active laser technology. A ground target can be designated or “painted” by a laser spot from the aircraft firing the weapon, another aircraft or ground spotter illuminating the target for the weapon to destroy.

There are multiple kinds of HELLFIRE warheads to include a High-Explosive Anti-Tank, or HEAT, weapon and a Blast-Fragmentation explosive along with several others. The HEAT round uses what’s called a “tandem warhead” with both a smaller and larger shaped charge; the idea is to achieve the initial requisite effect before detonating a larger explosion to maximize damage to the target.

The “Blast-Frag” warhead is a laser-guided penetrator weapon with a hardened steel casing, incendiary pellets designed for enemy ships, bunkers, patrol boats and things like communications infrastructure, Army documents explain.

The “Metal Augmented Charge” warhead improves upon the “Blast-Frag” weapon by adding metal fuel to the missile designed to increase the blast overpressure inside bunkers, ships and multi-room targets, Army information says. The “Metal Augmented Charge” is penetrating, laser-guided and also used for attacks on bridges, air defenses and oil rigs. The missile uses blast effects, fragmentation and overpressure to destroy targets.

The AGM-114L HELLFIRE is designed for the Longbow Apache attack helicopter platform; the weapon uses millimeter-wave technology, radar, digital signal processing and inertial measurement units to “lock-on” to a target before or after launch.

The AGM-114R warhead is described as a “Multi-Purpose” explosive used for anti-armor, anti-personnel and urban targets; the weapon uses a Micro-Electro Mechanical System Inertial Measurement Unit for additional flight guidance along with a delayed fuse in order to penetrate a target before exploding in order to maximize damage inside an area.

The AGM-114R or “Romeo” variant, which is the most modern in the arsenal, integrates a few additional technologies such as all-weather millimeter wave guidance technology and a fragmentation-increasing metal sleeve configured around the outside of the missile.

The “Multi-Purpose” warhead is a dual mode weapon able to use both a shaped charge along with a fragmentation sleeve. The additional casing is designed to further disperse “blast-effects” with greater fragmentation in order to be more effective against small groups of enemy fighters.

“The "Romeo" variant is an example of how these efforts result in a more capable missile that will maintain fire superiority for the foreseeable future,” Dan O’Boyle, spokesman for the Army's Program Executive Office Missiles and Space, told Scout Warrior. 

Although the HELLFIRE began as an air-to-ground weapon, the missile has been fired in a variety of different respects in recent years. Also, the Army has fired the weapon at drone targets in the air from a truck-mounted Multi-Mission Launcher on the ground and international U.S. allies have fired the HELLFIRE mounted on a ground-stationed tripod.

----Michael Fabey is the Pentagon Correspondent for Scout Warrior. He can be reached at

---- Kris Osborn, Managing Editor of Scout Warrior, contributed to this report. Some of the detail comes from prior Scout Warrior reporting----

Visit Warrior

Warrior Top Stories