The Buzz

Get Ready, Russia and China: The U.S. Navy Wants to Make Your Ship-Killer Missiles Obsolete

Weapons aboard the amphibious assault ship USS America destroyed a  remote-controlled drone during a live-fire exercise of a rolling airframe missile launcher to test the ship's defense capability, service officials said.

America is underway with more than 1,000 Sailors and 1,600 embarked Marines conducting amphibious squadron and Marine expeditionary unit integration operations in preparation for the ship's first operational deployment later this year.

The live-fire exercise used a new, high-tech launcher system to fire a Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) Block 2 able to protect surface vessels by detecting, tracking and destroying approaching enemy missile attacks.

The Guided Missile Weapons System, which consists of a launcher and missile rounds  is a supersonic, lightweight, quick-reaction, fire-and-forget weapon designed to destroy attacking anti-ship missiles, according to Raytheon developers.

A key advantage of the new system will be an increased ability to destroy several approaching enemy attacks at one time.

"Its autonomous dual-mode passive radio frequency and infrared guidance design provide high-firepower capability for engaging multiple threats simultaneously,” a Raytheon statement said.

Raytheon won a contract last year to upgrade the system to RAM Block 2, which introduced an upgraded radio frequency seeker and a digital autopilot. The RAM series has been installed on Navy ships for decades, and its latest iterations are finding homes on the Navy’s newest class of ships, the Littoral Combat Ships, as well.

The brunt of the work will be performed in Germany, but will also take place in U.S. locations such as Kentucky, Arizona, Alabama, Oklahoma, California, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio. It is expected to be completed by September 2018.

The original contract deal awarded Raytheon $9.3 million with a $40.7 million option.

Raytheon Missile Systems was awarded a $28 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract to exercise an option for Navy Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) MK-49 guided missile launching system (GMLS) requirements. The earlier contract stipulates that Raytheon will procure material, fabricate parts, assemble, test, and deliver the GMLSs.

The MK-49 GMLS holds 21 MK-44 Guided Missile Round Packs. Together, the two parts form the MK-31 RAM Guided Missile Weapon System.

A product of a joint venture between the United States and Germany and installed on over 165 ships worldwide, Pentagon officials stated.

Work on the emerging GMLS is slated to be completed by 2018.

Arming the Surface Fleet With SeaRam

The launch-system technology development will improved and fortify a broader Navy effort to further arm its surface fleet with SeaRam missiles engineered to fire from the MK-49 Guided Missile Launching System, or GMLS. In recent months, the Navy has begun arming forward-deployed destroyers with the  emerging SeaRam ship-defense weapon able to track and destroy attacking enemy missiles, drones, aircraft, small boats and other threats, officials said.

The SeaRAM weapons system, designed to fire Rolling Airframe Missiles out of a Close-in-Weapons System, is planned to operate on the USS Porter, USS Carney, USS Ross and USS Donald Cook, Navy officials old Scout Warrior in an interview last year.  

“SeaRAM combines two highly successful U.S. Navy systems: the MK 15 Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) and the MK 31 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) launching system,” the Navy official said.

The SeaRAM system builds upon the infrastructure and radar of the Close-in-Weapons-System, or CIWS.  CIWS' Phalanx weapon fires a 20mm cannon at close-in threats such as small boats.  The SeaRAM is part of a layered ship-defense system designed to identify and destroy longer-range approaching enemy threats, such as anti-ship missiles, drones, small boats and helicopters.

The idea is to supplement and build upon the defensive power of the CIWS, an area weapon which fires multiple projectiles from a Phalanx gun system to destroy approaching air and surface threats; SeaRAM increases the envelope of attacking threats a ship can defend against and hits targets at farther ranges than CIWS. Navy officials tell Scout Warrior they are very enthusiastic about SeaRAM, as it is the kind of weapon that enables ships to operate in a higher-threat environment.

“SeaRAM combines the RAM's accuracy, range and high maneuverability with the Phalanx Block 1B's high-resolution search-and-track sensor systems and rapid-response capability to give our ships enhanced defense-in-depth vs. a variety of potential threats,” a Navy spokesman added.

The CIWS ship self-defense weapon can fire 4,500 rounds per minute; the SeaRAM weapons replaces the gun with larger, longer-range Rolling Airframe Missiles.

“SeaRAM takes the defense envelope on a ship and expands it further out away from the ship. The rolling airframe missiles has a longer range than a gun and has the capability to engage multiple targets simultaneously,” Rick McDonnell, Program Director of Close-In Defense Solutions at Raytheon Missile Systems, told Scout Warrior in an interview last year.

Unlike the CIWS weapons which, as an area-defense weapon, uses a 20mm cannon to shoot down threats close to a ship, SeaRAM fires a Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) from an 11-missile battery, Raytheon officials explained.

“The RAM Block 2 missile completed a series of successful tests against subsonic and supersonic targets during its development, culminating in the program achieving Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in May 2015.  Testing has utilized both the MK-49 launcher and the SeaRAM launcher during test scenarios emulating real-world threats,” a Navy official explained.