A final issue is price: the LRASM appear to cost roughly $3 million per missile , making it a premium asset at over twice the cost of newer-model Harpoon missiles. This could limit the number fielded. Currently, the Navy seeks to acquire 467 LRASMs, though in the near term only twenty-three are on order.
Down the line, Lockheed Martin has explored creating a submarine-launched version of the LRASM, though that would require substantial modifications to enable underwater firing. Another concept is a supersonic, ramjet-powered LRASM-B similar along the lines of the BrahMos missile, which could prove difficult for short-range defenses to intercept. Like the Air Force, the Navy might also be interested in a longer-range variant of the LR-ASM, perhaps by lengthening the fuselage so it can carry extra fuel, or by lightening the warhead. Longer striking range would make it the LRASM practical as a land-attack weapon, though one that comes at a steeper price than the Tomahawk.
Currently, however, efforts are focused on bringing into service the air-launched AGM-158C, which has been successfully test-fired from B-1 bombers six times—most recently on March 20 . The first full test launch from a Super Hornet is scheduled for later this year. A 2017 annual report from the Department of Testing & Evaluation is relatively satisfactory, though it does register concerns over cybersecurity and notes that there are difficulties modeling performance of the LRASM’s RFS sensor.
Large-scale naval warfare has been relatively rare since the end of World War II. Hopefully that won’t change in the twenty-first century. However, as China rapidly enlarges its navy with cost-efficient, hard-hitting and far-reaching warships, the U.S. Navy will be compelled to upgrade its neglected surface-warfare capabilities to defend its primacy.
Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring .
Image: Wikimedia Commons