The Buzz

The U.S. Navy Has Launched a New a Ship-Killer Missile from an F/A-18 Super Hornet

Lockheed Martin and the Navy will soon fire a high-tech Long Range Anti-Ship Missile from a new deck-mounted launcher as a way to expand options for the weapon, increase possible deployments and widen the range of potential targets, industry officials said.

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.

"This summer we will demonstrate the canister launch of LRASM from a “top-side” launcher that will enable long-range lethality against the evolving near-peer threat from a wide variety of surface combatants, including the Littoral Combat Ship," Scott Callaway, Program Director for Advanced Subsonic Cruise Missiles at Lockheed Martin, said in a written statement.

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

The upcoming test marks a new possibility for new deck-firing systems being developed by Lockheed Martin and signifies a milestone in the weapon's progress to-date.

“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 missile has previously 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, Callaway told Scout Warrior in an interview last year.

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.

"We have successfully demonstrated three surface launch flights from the Mk-41Vertical Launching System using the fielded weapon control systems, including one at sea in July 2016 from the U.S. Navy Self Defense Test Ship (Ex- USS Paul Foster, DD-964)," said Callaway.

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 is offering LRASM as an option for the Navy to consider.

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 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 early stages of planning for a ship-launch anti-ship missile.

"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.

While it is not yet clear, given ongoing discussion about changing requirements for the Navy's over-the-horizon missile (OTH), if Lockheed's LRASM will wind up functioning as that particular weapon. Multiple reports say the Navy may now be looking at different cost and production issues for the OTH missile competition. 

“We share the concern that the OTH-WS solicitation has substantially departed from these requirements and indicates that the USN (Navy) may not leverage its investments in current programs of record.  Nonetheless we are working to determine if a LRASM based offering is appropriate for this competition," Callaway said.

However, regardless of its potential participation in the OTH program, there is little doubt about LRASMs future, given its new technology, advanced targeting system and combined air-sea firing possibilities.

Developers say the weapon is particularly well suited for the most advanced adversary weapons systems and most high-threat warfare scenarios such as a "near-peer" type of combat engagements. Advanced threat environments are expected to include enemy forces armed with long-range sensors, electronic warfare, tactics for compromising or jamming GPS signals and a host of additional countermeasures designed to thwart incoming surface and air weapons.

A previous statement from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) said the objective of LRASM 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," the ONR statement said.

LRASM & F/A-18:

Given that the LRASM weapon is designed for both maritime and air launch, the efforts to build a new launcher are taking place alongside commensurate service efforts to advance the air launch efficacy of the weapon.

The Navy recently released its emerging Long Range Anti-Ship Missile from an F/A-18 Super Hornet, marking a new milestone in the development of a next-generation, long range, semi-autonomous weapon designed to track and destroy enemy targets - firing from aircraft and ships.

LRASM was successfully released last month from a U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, a Lockheed Martin statement said.