The Littoral Combat Ship Is Getting A Makeover Into The Navy's Secret Weapon

February 12, 2020 Topic: Security Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: US NavyNavyMilitaryTechnologyPoliticsLittoral Combat Ship

The Littoral Combat Ship Is Getting A Makeover Into The Navy's Secret Weapon

With over-the-horizon missile weapons.

Key Point: 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.

 

The Navy is considering at least three over-the-horizon missile weapons for its Littoral Combat Ship -- Harpoon, Naval Strike Missile, Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile and an Extended Range Griffin Missile.

The Navy will soon 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.  

Service officials tell Scout Warrior that a formal Request for Proposal for the weapon will likely emerge in coming weeks; 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 this month that that he is relying on an over-the-horizon 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.” 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. 

Distributed Lethality: 

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. 

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. 

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.

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.