Monday, April 3, 2017

LRASM Update

The more I hear about the LRASM (Long Range Anti-Ship Missile), the more I like it.  Obviously, the Navy desperately needs a replacement for the obsolete and expired Harpoon and the LRASM is one of the options being seriously considered.  In fact, evidence to date suggests that LRASM is the only replacement option being seriously considered, at the moment, although the Kongsberg JSM and Tomahawk are also possibilities.

Scout Warrior website has a nice review and description of the LRASM program (1).

To briefly review, plans call for the LRASM to initially be launched from aircraft, the B-1 (in 2018) and F-18 (in 2019), specifically.  This will be followed by launch capability from standard VLS cells.  The missile will have a range of 200+ nm, is stealthy, and has a speed in the high subsonic range.  On board targeting sensors include radar, infrared, and optical imaging.  The missile requires initial target location and can accept mid-course guidance before falling back on its on-board sensors and autonomy for terminal guidance.  The warhead is a 1000 lb penetrator with blast fragmentation.

The missile depends heavily on autonomous target identification specifically to avoid a vulnerable dependence on networking, GPS, and other electronic communications that could be subject to countermeasures.  This is an outstanding design philosophy in that it recognizes a potential vulnerability and works around it.  Of course, the challenge is to develop software capable of that degree of autonomy while still providing the requisite degree of safety.  No one wants a weapon that will sink commercial shipping due to mistaken identity.  The challenge is compounded due to the electronic countermeasures that the missile will face.  The radar signatures that the missile will search for will be distorted and yet the missile will still have to reliably identify target from non-target.  Still, this is the only viable way to attack a target that we can’t keep continuous “sight” on during the final approach and terminal attack phases.

Apparently, the LRASM can also be launched from a deck mounted launcher in addition to VLS.  This has obvious advantages in some situations.  Deck launchers would be appropriate for smaller ships that don’t have VLS cells or have small clusters of them and don’t want to sacrifice any of their few AAW cells for anti-ship missiles.  The LCS comes to mind as an example of a ship that could benefit from a deck mounted LRASM launcher.

“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 [Scott Callaway, Surface-Launched LRASM program manager, Lockheed Martin] said.

The adaptation of the surface-launcher weapon, which could be operational by the mid-2020s …“

Of course, the inherent weakness in the weapon is still the requirement to provide the missile with initial target detection at long range, prior to launch, unless we’re going to blind fire a million dollar missile on the hope that it will find a target.  Long range targeting remains a key shortcoming of all Navy attack systems and one that is not being given adequate attention.  As we’ve noted repeatedly, a 200+ mile missile is useless if the initial sensor range is 30 miles, as would be the scenario for the LCS or Burke when operating independently.

As I said, I’m pleased with this program, overall.  It may not be the ultimate, best choice for an anti-ship weapon (I’d prefer a supersonic missile, for starters) but it represents a vast improvement over the venerable Harpoon and is a solid step in the right direction for a Navy that continually seems to find the wrong direction.  This is also a reasonably significant addition to the firepower side of the Navy which has been badly neglected in recent years with the likes of the non-combat capable LCS and  the Zumwalt which has no munition to fire.

It’s nice to be able to discuss a positive aspect of the Navy even if it’s not perfect.  I’m a big believer in the adage, “perfect is the enemy of good”, and this is a good program.


(1)Scout Warrior website, “Navy Weighs New Ship-Deck-Launched Attack Methods for LRASM Weapon”, Kris Osborn, 7-Jan-2017,


  1. LRASM is an interesting missile, and I agree we need a new offensive missile very much. I'm very curious to see how it will test out. Of course, a good test is one that is trying to spoof/shoot it down.

    But it's range, and potential autonomy, give us options at least. .

    I know that its a bad idea to blind fire... but if we could afford enough of them and were in a tight enough spot this is a missile that we could use to really try saturate a target. The Bone can carry it. The Hornet can. And with the angle launchers most of our surface ships could. If we get a decent targeting fix, and we're in war, I'd say we risk it. 'Sorry about the Tanker, Prince Saud. But it was in the middle of a war zone right behind the carrier we needed to get...' (I'm not suggesting this as a regular tactic, just as an option not available to us with the Harpoon in an 'oh crap' situation. Almost like Spruance launching his planes when he did.)

    "Long range targeting remains a key shortcoming of all Navy attack systems and one that is not being given adequate attention"

    This still boggles my mind. From what I've read our multi billion dollar destroyers and cruisers (that carry them) can't target the Harpoons they have at long range.

    And it isn't just something that's isolated to the US navy. Neither Russia or China has good, long range targeting systems that I can tell. Yet everyone is building super long range missiles.

    Its like having a Lamborghini in Manhattan. Sure, it'll do 200, but you can never actually do it.

    I'm not saying they shouldn't build the missiles, but they should work on the targeting.

    It's like building a long range naval rifle and just using the side range finders on the turret. It doesn't make much sense to spend all that money on capability you can barely, if ever, use.

    1. The F-35 adds excellent radar and 100+ mile infrared imaging data that can be shared with naval ships. They've already had an F-35 "launch" an SM-6 from a Burke on it's own say-so. That kind of networked target information is going to help a lot with getting something to throw LRASMs at.

      As to the super-long range missiles of Russia and China, it's *exactly* like a Lamborghini in Manhattan: in order to make the sale to someone with more money than sense, you have to have sexy sounding specs. The S-400 missile can hit a target 200 miles away...never mind that the only targets it has the kinematics to strike are tankers, AWACs, and commercial airliners, not small fighters; plus the associated S-400 radar can't see that far away for a targeting solution in the first place... Ignore all that! Also ignore that aside from that terribly impractical missile, the S-400 basically has the performance of a Patriot PAC-2. 200 miles sounds like a big number, that's what's important!

  2. Unlike Harpoon, it appears that LRASM has no ability to hit a target in a marine layer. For most people that would seem like a minor issue. However, the SCS has significant portions of the year where marine layers are normal. So yes LRASM solves the range problem but does it really solve the targeting at a distance problem? Are we ok with a fair to slightly degraded weather only solution? The price tag I've heard is around $3M per copy so this is a pretty expensive interim solution. It is also not going to be OPEVALed. It will only received limited operational testing. So will it really work in combat? Looking at the staged demo on wiki it does make you wonder.

    As a stop gap interim solution, LRASM makes some sense. but as a final solution, it is too expensive, still needs a true all weather capability, and it also may be too slow (speed reduces reaction time for defenses, decrease the area to search for the seeker, and may help it survive getting to the target).

    The Navy should develop real requirements and compete for a better replacement missile.

    1. First, I don't know what a "marine layer" is? I'm guessing that you mean adverse weather of some sort?

      Second, assuming I'm correct about what you mean by a "marine layer", where did you get that? Do you have a reference? I haven't heard anything along those lines.

    2. Maybe that person means the marine layers (sand/dust blowing over the sea) in certain areas of the world that create radar ducting opportunities (longer range of acquisition) or very short ranges (less time to lock on). Active or passive.

      Concur CNO, on this LRASM, and especially the 1000lb shaped warhead! Yeah! Real ship killer sized. Yes. the Harpoon block 2 is old but I like the Harpoon block 3 from what I know about it. We should have them out there in numbers.. today...


    3. "sand/dust blowing over the sea"

      Hmmm, could be. Still, I haven't heard that the LRASM would be any more susceptible to sensor degradation than any other weapon and the multiple sensors would suggest that the LRASM would be less susceptible, if anything. Hopefully, Anon will get back to us.

  3. Just for info. the GAO March 2017 Assessments of Selected Weapon Program R&D $1154.3 M, procurement $341 M, total $1,495.3 M, unit cost $12.256 M each,for 112 off under heading of Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare Increment 1 (OASuW Inc 1).
    " the program's six critical technologies are nearing maturity, in the past year, the OASuW Inc 1 program has fully matured all six of its critical technologies. The program's single, hardware based critical technology—a radio frequency sensor—as well as five software-based ones—autorouter, low altitude control estimator, target tracker, electro-optical algorithms, and simultaneous time of arrival capbility"

  4. What do you think about resurrecting the TASM as well?

    1. If it could be fielded quickly, as an interim option, that would be fine. Unfortunately, it's still a non-stealthy, poor maneuvering, relatively slow missile that is going to make a good target drone for modern AAW defenses. It also lacks multi-sensor guidance and any degree of autonomy.

      A poor option but better than nothing IF we could manage to field and integrate it quickly and cheaply.

    2. "A poor option but better than nothing IF we could manage to field and integrate it quickly and cheaply."

      That would be the key.

      In JimFantasyLand it would be best if the Anti Ship seeker could still work as land attack. That way you can still do land strike which the TLAM does fairly well still, but still have the option of using the Tomahawk as a finishing attack or to add weight to a swarm attack.

    3. Tomahawks ARE being modified to hit moving maritime targets. They should be in the fleet in about 4 yesr.

    4. My readings suggest no great sense of urgency associated with the Tomahawk, unlike the LRASM, and I suspect it will be dropped. We'll see.

  5. Very much like the LRASM.

    Quid’s in that the Type 26 will be getting it.

    On you point of speed, it’s an interesting debate, faster missiles will glow on IRST giving you time to react. Also Faster missiles themselves have less time to react.

    (Supersonic Russian missiles of course have to do a bunt to terminally locate a target. Setting off your ESM)

    Stealth sub sonics still have the reduced response time for the attacked vessel, that can’t “see” it until its right on top of them. Making it almost too late for a missile shot.

    But flying slower they have better terminal homing time themselves.

    Plus it won’t necessarily set of IRST.

    And obviously they don’t come off the deck during the final attack either. So best of all worlds really.

    Finally I hate to tie the two subjects together, but this is the missile that spawned the dreaded “distributed lethality”, that I’m afraid is the sensor range solution.

    That and organic drones of course, like the scan eagle and blackjack.


  6. It strikes me that a missile like LRASM needs to be paired with a stealthy, long range recon drone. Such a drone could be built into the same or similar body, which could probably carry a suitable recon payload to a far greater range, making it recoverable. I suspect the real challenge is the recovery. I know some of our target drones are designed to parachute into the sea for recovery by a nearby ship. Contact with sea water might be tough on optical or IIR sensors, but that should be solvable. So I'm wondering just how hard it would be to put this package together.

    1. Ask and ye shall receive.

      Quite promising. Its not quite as elegant in real life as the sales video ( later half of the video ) , but what is ?

  7. How thoroughly has this missile been tested ? looks like some production will be undertaken.

    1. It hasn't been tested to any great extent and won't be. It's being fielded as an urgent needs project which means the Navy will skip most of the normal testing.

      On the other hand, the missile is based on the JASSM-ER missile which has been tested so the risk associated with the lack of testing is, at least, somewhat mitigated.

  8. Everything I read says the range of the LRASM will about 300nm.

    1. I've read estimates of longer range, also. However, those are estimates and will depend on the final warhead, sensor package, total missile weight, typical missile flight paths, launch height, etc. I chose to call the range 200+ nm as a conservative number. How many specs have we seen on ships, aircraft, and weapons that turn out to not be met? I'll be conservative, for the time being, and wait to be pleasantly surprised.

    2. I think we have to treat ranges on LRASM (and JASSM) with a pinch of salt. A weapon in a similar class is the UK Storm Shadow. The RAF's published ranges for it have decreased on their own website over time. Currently it's showing as 250 miles. However, this is a missile which in size and weight is pretty much exactly the same as the Tomahawk with arguably better aerodynamics and more efficient, newer engine.

      Methinks they may be talking the true range down somewhat...

    3. It should be noted that the storm shadow uses a significantly less efficient engine (MicroTurbo 60 at 2.43 lb/(lbf h)) than even the old Teledyne J402 (1.2 lb/lbf-hr) used in the base JASSM. The new engine used in the JASSM-ER is based off the Williams F107/112 and is somewhere in the range of .6-.15 lb/lbf-hr. The F112 is a derivative of the F107 designed originally to power the AGM-129 ACM and along with lots of modification to virtually eliminate any IR signature, it greatly enhanced the fuel economy as well.

      FYI, the Tomahawk uses the Williams F107 which is more efficient than the engine in the Storm Shadow.