Here’s an ever so tiny bit of good news related to the LCS. The Navy has conducted the first test in a series intended to integrate the Hellfire (AGM-114L Longbow) missile into the anti-surface (ASuW) module (1). Before you get too excited, the test firing was just a structural test to see whether the ship and its structures and fittings could stand the stress, heat, chemicals, etc. of a firing. This was not a firing involving targets and integration into the ship’s combat control software. Actual integration and fielding is probably a couple of years away, yet. Still, it’s a first step to that end.
Hellfire, if it can be successfully integrated into the ship’s combat system, will give the LCS a credible small craft defense capability. The missile has a millimeter wave radar seeker which gives it a fire and forget capability which will be useful in a swarm scenario. Advertised range is around 4 miles which is just barely adequate against rocket armed swarm craft.
Let’s also bear in mind the limitations of the Hellfire-LCS. This does not turn the LCS into a full fledged warship. The missile has a warhead of around 20 lbs. That’s not exactly a ship sinker! Also, the 4 mile range is very short when it comes to dueling with enemy missile boats or frigates. The LCS will be woefully outranged and “outgunned”.
What the Hellfire gives the LCS is a credible capability against small craft – nothing more.
For a bit of perspective, recall that the original ASuW module called for the NLOS missile which had a range of 25+ miles and was supposed to be capable of in-flight, networked, self-designation of targets and a 30 minute loiter capability over the battlefield, both land and sea. When one compares that to the actual capabilities of the Hellfire, it is readily apparent just how much capability the ASuW module has lost. The Hellfire is better than nothing but not by much.
Aside from the challenge of integrating the missile with the ship’s combat system, the main challenge will likely be getting the vertically launched missile to tip over and acquire its target reliably. Getting the missile’s seeker to quickly spot a small boat, partially obscured in wave clutter, from an initial 90 degree off-angle, is, I suspect, going to be difficult. The missile seeker’s field of view is limited and the target, a small speedboat, will be moving fast. If the seeker does not quickly locate the target, it will go dumb and miss. Also, the initial vertical launch will use up fuel on a path 90 degrees to the target. In other words, the missile will initially be using fuel but will not be moving towards the target. That will reduce the missile’s effective range. Whether that reduction in range is significant or not, I have no idea. At a guess, I would think the vertical launch will knock a mile of the advertised range, bringing the missile’s effective range down to around 3 miles. That’s just speculation on my part.
In summary, this is a tiny bit of good news for a program that rarely has any but it is not going to turn the LCS into a warship.
(1)USNI News website, “VIDEO: Navy Tests Anti-Swarm Boat Missile on Littoral Combat Ship USS
”, Sam LaGrone, Detroit 7-Mar-2017,