Sunday, August 5, 2012

New Anti-Ship Missiles

Some good news on the anti-ship missile (ASM) front! 

As you undoubtedly know, the Navy’s only ship launched anti-ship missile is the venerable Harpoon.  Aside from being slow, not stealthy, and limited in capability, the missiles are reaching the end of their shelf lives.  Because of this, the Navy is being very judicious in its deployment of the missile.  Many ships don’t carry any, some carry the minimum of two or four, and only the ships deployed to high threat areas are being loaded with the maximum of eight.  Of course, even a loadout of eight represents a very small anti-ship capability.

Harpoon also suffers from an incompatibility with the Mk41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) resulting in the Harpoon having to be placed out in the open on deck thus rendering it susceptible to battle damage.  The manufacturer has offered a vertical launch Harpoon but the Navy has, puzzlingly, opted not to pursue it.

The Navy has desperately needed a new ASM for many years - one that is faster, stealthier, more intelligent, capable of autonomous or semi-autonomous targeting, has advanced electronic counter-measures, and so forth.  Well, the current issue of Proceedings (1) reports that NAVAIR is looking to award a contract to Raytheon for development of an anti-ship missile based on the Block IV Tactical Tomahawk.  Operational capability is scheduled for 2015 and appears to be a bridge solution until more advanced ASMs become available.  The Block IV is capable of in-flight retargeting using a two-way datalink, has a jam-resistant GPS receiver, and carries a camera for damage assessment.

Interestingly, there was a previous ASM version of the Tomahawk, the TASM, which used inertial guidance and an active radar for terminal guidance.  TASMs were withdrawn from service in the early 1990’s.

Long Range Anti-Ship Missile

In addition, Defense Update reports that the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) has awarded Lockheed Martin a $157 million contract to develop an advanced long range anti ship missile (LRASM) (2).  They have this to say about it,

“Unlike current anti-ship missiles LRASM be capable of conducting autonomous targeting, relying on on-board targeting systems to independently acquire the target without the presence of prior, precision intelligence, or supporting services like Global Positioning Satellite navigation and data-links. As an autonomous weapon LRASM will rely exclusively on on-board sensors and processing systems. According to DARPA, these capabilities will enable positive target identification, precision engagement of moving ships and establishing of initial target cueing in extremely hostile environment. The missile will be designed with advanced counter-countermeasures,to effectively evade hostile active defense systems.

LRASM will comply with existing weapon launchers and storage systems, fitted to match existing the VL-41 Vertical Launch System carried on board all modern U.S. Navy combat ships.

Two LRASM concepts were assessed - LRASM B, a high altitude, supersonic, ramjet-powered cruise missile. This design leverages prior ramjet development activities and a suite of supporting sensors and avionics to achieve a with balanced speed and stealth for robust performance. The second LRASM design is stealthier, low-level cruise-missile designated LRASM A. This design utilizing the Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range (JASSM-ER) airframe, added with additional sensors and systems to achieve a stealthy and survivable subsonic cruise missile. LRASM A is considered more suitable for air launched applications.”
The article goes on to report yet another possible ASM in development.

“While LRASM is positioned as a direct successor for the Harpoon, the development of a more ambitious weapon known as ArcLight is also under evaluation at DARPA as a quick reaction weapon hitting time critical targets at a distance of 2,000 nautical miles within 30 minutes. ArcLight will employ a rocket booster, sustainer accelerating the weapon to hypersonic speed, from where the strike vehicle will glide at high speed, carrying a warhead weighing 100-200 pounds to strike the target with pinpoint accuracy. ArcLight, like LRASM, will also be stored in, and launched from existing Mk 41 VLS.”
Though late in coming, it appears that the Navy is finally begining to get serious about surface warfare.  Now, if only they'll get serious about mine warfare, naval gunfire support for land forces, and anti-submarine warfare!

(1) United States Naval Institute Proceedings, “New Tomahawks Ordered, Offensive Antisurface Weapon Planned”, Edward Walsh, Aug 2012

(2) Defense Update,, “Next Generation Missiles – LRASM”


  1. The TASM is back:

    US Navy looks to modified Tomahawk to meet interim Offensive ASuW need
    The US Navy (USN) and Raytheon Missile Systems are advancing plans to develop a maritime interdiction modification package for the Tomahawk Block IV cruise missile to meet an urgent USN requirement for a so-called Interim Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare (OASuW) missile. Known as Multi-Mission Tomahawk (MMT), the projected near-term anti-ship weapon will be created by adding a new moving target seeker and upgraded datalink to the existing Block IV system baseline, creating a semi-autonomous weapon capable of detection, discrimination and terminal guidance to a moving maritime target

    [first posted to - 02 August 2012]

  2. Isnt ship killing considered the purview of the submarine fleet nowadays?

  3. Well, if you believe the AirSea Battle concept, there's no set responsibility. All ships, subs, planes, etc. can carry out all missions. Who executes the mission depends on who's best situated at the moment.

    Seriously, subs are wonderful for ship killing but if you're on a ship and an enemy ship is a threat, you'd better be prepared to kill it! Our subs are going to be busy launching land attack missiles, conducting surveillance, providing targeting, conducting ASW, etc.

  4. If you're on a ship and have to engage another ship - chances are you are backed by naval air and submarines. Both of which already have pretty robust SUW capabilities. Why do we need to invest in a niche LRASM capability?

  5. Well, if you can guarantee that you have subs and naval air support always instantly available then you're correct that there's no need to have an anti-ship missile. However, on the off chance that your sub is tied up doing something like ASW or simply can't be communicated with (underwater comm is still a difficult proposition) and there are no carriers in the area, then a capable anti-ship missile would kind of come in handy.

    The carrier fleet is steadily declining. We're going to be down to 9 when Enterprise retires. Naval air wings are getting steadily smaller. In short, the likelihood of having naval air cover when needed is steadily decreasing.

    In the end, if you're on a ship and have to engage another ship do you really want to depend on "chances are"? Because, if it turns out that "chances are not", you're going on a quick trip to the bottom of the ocean.

    I'm not sure what you're saying by characterizing the LRASM as a niche capability. If you're suggesting that it would be more flexible if it also had a land attack capability then I'd agree 100% and, in fact, reports suggest that that's exactly what the Navy is looking at doing along with making an air launched version.

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  8. Couple major mistakes you made there. The Harpoon is not the only ship launches ASM out there in the Navy's magazines. The SM-2, SM-6, and ESSM all can engage surface ships. So can the Tomahawk, if GPS is good and the ship isn't doing all that much. (Like tied to a pier or something similar).

    And when has the USN ever really faced a large naval fleet and had to rely solely on ASM's? In the Cold War against the USSR's Navy, we had our aircraft carriers. Now, we still have CVN's, the Cyclone class, and a lot more Arleigh Burkes. Weapons have changed also. The sea whiz can engage boghammers, and our point defense systems also. Combined with Aegis to defend USN ships, we've got some pretty potent capabilities.

    And it's a major intelligence failure if a USN SAG has to go up against an enemy fleet without carrier or SSN support. A major failure like every satellite going down. It just doesn't happen, and won't happen.

    And we've got a lot of subs, even if some are getting long in the tooth. We can't see them, but wherever our ships are, there's a sub there also. And subs, as history has well shown, are to ships like a sniper is to a blind man with an assault rifle, or just about.

    1. So the German navy's subs were all sunk by American and British subs?

  9. Might want to revisit this procurement disaster, now that it's ten years later and none of this junk really worked out:

    * LRASM-B was cancelled almost immediately; according to some sources it was in fact cancelled before this post was made!

    * ArcLight was cancelled almost immediately, about a month after this post was made.

    * LRASM-A (eventually designated AGM-158C), a derivative of the existing AGM-158B JASSM-ER, took over five years to even reach the part of its test plan where it was dumb-dropped (not fired at a target) from a Super Hornet, and five years after that is still in LRIP after some sort of abbreviated test plan if I'm not mistaken. Compare this to the development of the AIM-54C, itself troubled by the standards of the time, and cry! Also, no plans for a ship- or sub-launched version.

    * So far as I can tell, ArcLight's more-or-less replacement (Prompt Global Strike) is not intended to target ships, and in any case the glide body and the booster have so far only been tested separately so it's still far from ready for a real test program much less operational use.

    * The Naval Strike Missile, a simple procurement of an existing Norwegian system, took forever to get. In its ship-launched version, it offers an increase in range compared to the last blocks of Harpoons (~100 nm vs ~75 nm) but a substantial decrease in warhead size (276 lbs vs 488 lbs).

    * the SM-6 now has an anti-ship mode. Reports of the useful range vary from ~130 nm to north of 250 nm, but in any case this must be with the missile fired in a ballistic arc (it has an SM-3's rocket motor as its sole means of propulsion) meaning the target will have ample opportunities to try to shoot it down. The warhead is all of 140 lbs. Obviously launching an SM-6 at a ship means the firing platform now has one less SM-6 to use for air defense.


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