Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Harpoon Drops Out of OTH Competition

Defense New website reports that Boeing is pulling its Harpoon missile out of the running for the Navy’s over-the-horizon (OTH) weapon system intended for the LCS and, possibly, other Navy ships (1).  The bizarre aspect of this is that Boeing’s stated reason for doing so is that the Navy has dumbed down the requirements to the point that Boeing believes the Harpoon is overqualified and that the opportunity is, therefore, not worth pursuing.

Digest that, for a moment.

Here are the relevant quotes.

“Troy Rutherford, director of cruise missile systems at Boeing Defense, said the company had long planned to adapt the Block II Plus Extended Range Harpoon being developed for Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) to support the needs of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA).

“We felt we were well-positioned when the RFP dropped” in February, Rutherford said, but subsequent Navy changes -- in Boeing’s opinion – devalued a lot of what the company felt it could offer.”

“But, he said, “in every iteration of the RFP amendments we see a decrease in the top-level requirements document and changes in the top-level requirements document. We’ve taken a hard look at that and said that at this point it doesn’t make sense for the Boeing Company to bid on this.” 

We just recently reviewed the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) (see, "Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile") and we’ve previously looked at the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) (see, for example, "LRASM Update").  Both of those appear to have many more features and capabilities than the Harpoon and yet they're not dropping out of the competition.

Harpoon Test Launch From LCS

Something is not right about this.  Is Boeing pulling out because they’ve realized or been told that their Harpoon is technologically non-competitive and they just want to put a positive spin on it – a spin intended to support and reassure less demanding foreign sales?  Is Boeing nervous about having a unilateral – and non-profitable – cost imposed on them by the government, as was done to Lockheed?  Has Boeing concluded that their ship version of the Harpoon would be too expensive to compete?  Something else?

By all accounts, the ship launched version of Harpoon essentially already exists.  If the Navy has dumbed down requirements, Boeing could simply omit the various affected bits and pieces and price the missile accordingly.  What would they have to lose by placing a bid for a dumbed down version?

Here’s a puzzling and potentially disturbing statement from the article.

“Among the differences between the NAVAIR and NAVSEA requirements, Rutherford noted, are all-weather and net-enabled capabilities for the air-launched weapon – capabilities deleted or not given in the surface ship requirements.

This is saying that the ship launched OTH missile will not be all-weather capable?!  So, we’re only going to fight during good weather?  Nothing about that sounds right, does it? 

Also, the OTH missile won’t be network enabled?  The entire premise of the Navy’s much ballyhooed distributed lethality is that every sensor, every platform, and every weapon ARE networked.  Again, this does not sound right.

You don’t need me to tell you that something is fishy about this.  Something is not right about this story but I don’t know what.  I’ll keep an eye on this.


(1)Defense News website, “Boeing Pulls Harpoon From US Navy Missile Competition”, Christopher Cavas, 2-May-2017,


  1. Not sure what to make of BA withdrawing, is USN going to put the screws on the price? Seems that a product like Harpoon that has been around so long and well developed versions, you think BA could compete on price if USN needed a "degraded" sea launched version.

    BTW, why does USN want such a "degraded" version compared to the air launched version, are you saving that much on price difference between the 2 versions? That seems weird in this era of "commonality"....

    I'm more inclined to think USN told BA that NSM and LRASM had the lead and BA didn't want to lose which could endanger foreign sales.

    1. Harpoon is obsolete as far as both guidance a defensive ability. it's useful against merchant shipping and light craft without CIWS thats about it. they have had decades and have never bothered fielding a capable successor to current version in large part because the base design is a simple profile radar guided weapon, and those are by and large a thing of the past. New missiles have multiple guidance systems, meant to emit no more than is necessary, or nothing at all, and they have advance flight profiles, some using swarm tactics and all the associated software and hardware with it, like LRASM and MSM.

      " Boeing claims the Block II+ ER is superior to the Naval Strike Missile through its improved turbojet giving it greater range and active radar-homing seeker for all-weather operation, as well as a lighter but "more lethal" warhead."-from wikipedia.

      They offered a block II with a datalinks, smaller warhead and longer range. It still has minimal flight profile changes and no swarm capability ( which is the one real benefit of a radar guided missile beyond all weather capability), as only one has to pop up to update targeting info for the rest of the swarm). in short it's just an old whore in a new dress, and is obsolescent.

    2. "an old whore in a new dress"

      That's colorful prose and conveys your message but let's try to keep the writing a bit less crude.

    3. "using swarm tactics ... and is obsolescent"

      You're making a judgement that is not based on any actual data as far as I know. You're expressing an opinon, which is fine (I do it all the time), but it is not a proven fact.

      I'm aware of no live fire exercises or exercises of any type where swarming missiles of the type you describe have been tested against an actual AAW system or compared to a more conventional Harpoon approach. You may well be right but, historically, an awful lot of appealing weapons have turned out to be less than successful.

      Similarly, active versus passive seekers have not been tested or proven one way or the other. Again, you're welcome to have and express an opinion but note that it is unproven, unless you have test data to share that supports your contention.

  2. I read Boeing's statement to mean that the USN requirement is less gold plated than Boeing's proposal: not that the RFP is for a dumbed down harpoon.


    1. Aren't "less gold plated" and "dumbed down" essentially the same thing, just expressed differently? Both mean that the Harpoon Boeing intended to offer is overcapable, in their opinion. How you get from overcapable to 'we don't want to participate' is the leap I don't get. The overcapable aspects should be sellling points, not reasons to quit, unless they think the extra capabilities would price them out of the competition. But, if that's the case, the LRASM and NSM are, quite likely, even more overqualified and should, therefore, cost even more. No matter how you look at it, it doesn't make sense. Something else is going on here.

  3. It may be that the NSM, which doesn't have a radar, is being spun by Boeing as lacking an all weather capability. I'm sure Boeing touts the radar guided Harpoons as having AWC ,as opposed to the EO and IR sensors on the LRASM and NSM. Autonomous capable missiles such as the NSM and LRASM don't require mid course guidance, even if offered as an option (which it certainly is on the LRASM. Unsure about the NSM).

    In short it may be the navy has lax requirements for the program, ( they have about everything else associated with the LCS so that should be no surprise) as the navy hasn't given a shit about the SSM capability it has neglected for decades, and does so only if and when forced. Or it may be that guidance systems have advanced to the point that some of what the harpoon offers are no longer project requirements, as new systems use different methods, not necessarily laxer ones, as both the NSM and LRASM are supposed to be able to find the targets themselves, without radar or midcourse guidance, and only the NSM even needs an initial aimpoint. The LRASM does not, and can find it's own targets if it's even in the general area.

    Unless of course these assholes want to go cheap with some nonsense like the griffen missile, so boeing dropped out. In all honestly this may be the strongest indication yet the US Navy is NOT serious about up arming the LCS beyond the absolute minimum required by law, and their minimalist imterpretation of what Congress requires as a OTH missile. You kinda knew they were going to punt on the OTH missile when they called it just that, OTH, as opposed to a more traditional SSM designation, thus allowing them future wiggle room.This way the can buy junk Griffin missile ( suitable only for patrol boats like MK VI series). This is just what opponents of the LCS program have come to expect from the navy. Nothing useful whatsoever, lies, misdirection
    and profiteering. In the end the only reason Boeing drops out is because they ee the profiteering if going somewhere else, not to them this time.

    I think it's far more likely LCS winds up with griffin than either NSM or LRASM.NSM is possible, not likely. no way they are spending that money for LCS on LRASM. you can forget about that. They would have stopped at the Hellfire if congress would let them

    1. Your comment is fine but let's keep the language clean, please.

    2. "Congress requires as a OTH missile"

      Congress has suggested the need for a frigate but I'm not aware that Congress has mandated an OTH missile. What are you referring to?

  4. Seems we can't even define what we want from industry day to day, vice decade to decade. How in heck are we gonna re-build to a nominal 355 ships...

    This UCLAS/UCAV/MQ-25 is another crazy, left-right, up down kind of program also along with everything else recently. Now through the use of doublespeak and mirrors its gonna have a shortened leash... Yeah...Ok.

    All this angst and BS tells me is no one can really agree on what the USG needs via committee as there is no direct, "take command leadership" in acquisition; rather they make decisions collectively when they can and if they can't they kick the can down the road w/direct obfuscation tactics, sudden cancellations, or program transformations (?) of the requirements. As a result they make the requirements so broad and obtuse in order to find out if creative people in defense can tell us what we really need because we are clueless...Not a winning process....

    Over and over they do this. Fear is why, fear of failure and fear to make a decision. Making decisions that are sure winners aren't really decisions that test anyone.. The underlying psyche is avoid making documentable decisions, therefore you will not make a mistake, and you will thrive. This thought process, though they would all deny it vigorously, is ingrained deep in all with acquisition responsibility today.


    1. b2, that's a nice little rant you have there and there are elements of truth to it but take it a little further. These are supposedly professional warriors. How can they not know what requirements are needed? Haven't they spent their entire lives studying for just these kinds of decisions? Sure, I get that there may be a handful of timid people who are reluctant to make a decision but shouldn't the decision be pretty blatantly obvious for a professional warrior and, therefore, easy to make even if the person is timid by nature? I think there's another, deeper problem showing itself. What do you think? Before I contaminate your thought process with my opinion, think about it a bit more and tell me if you don't see a deeper problem.

      Along that line of reasoning, I'd like to believe that the Navy is no different than any other large group of people in terms of timidity versus confidence - no better, no worse. Actually, I'd like to believe they're a bit better! So why, then, does the entire Navy organization seem paralyzed by the fear of decision making? When these guys joined up, most were confident, idealistic, highly motivated, and patriotic. Does it really make sense to you that they're now timid, fearful, cowering, and indecisive?

      Think a bit more and tell me if there's something else at work, here.

    2. I think you are hinting that the rules and incentives have created a culture of risk aversion and low aggression.

    3. Very good. That's a major part of it but there's another, substantial issue that I see that may have even more of a negative impact. I'll give b2 a chance to reply and then I'll offer my take on it.

      Hint: what does a professional baseball player (or a professional anything) do all day, every day?

    4. Mastery of anything has been studied fairly recently in the educational sphere. It has been noted that regardless of area or discipline it takes approximately 10,000 hours of intentional purposeful practice to develop mastery of something. Our military professionals should be masters, but if they are not practicing towards that mastery, their capacity to demonstrate that mastery, and then to make decisions from that position of mastery is severly compromised.

      Further reading: Stobert, G (2014) "The Expert Learner"

    5. "Our military professionals should be masters, but if they are not practicing towards that mastery, their capacity to demonstrate that mastery, and then to make decisions from that position of mastery is severly compromised."

      Yes, you've got it. An athlete practices his sport all day, every day and regularly competes. He knows everything there is to know about his sport. Conversely, our "professional warriors" spend their time doing paperwork, attending an unending string of seminars and sensitivity sessions, juggling budgets, providing tours to tiny countries, conducting humanitarian assistance missions, etc. In short, our professional warriors do everything but practice warfighting except on rare occasions and then only under highly scripted circumstances. They should be studying and practicing combat every day. If they did, they would have no trouble making decisions and good ones because they would know everything there is to know about naval combat. Instead, they get to flag rank and know little about warfighting so how can they make good and timely decisions. It's no wonder they form committees and study groups. They truly have no idea what constitutes a good weapon, system, or platform. Very disturbing.

  5. CNO,

    I might be too idealistic myself about acquisition but it seems they continue to accept proposals with too much developmental risk and not enough real and tangible capability. That's called hope and isn't really a good acquisition strategy. But when they do that and make these contract awards for any new vehicle or weapon it's hard to figure out who was responsible if things go south. The trail goes cold...

    If things go bad the Fleet air boss or ship/sub boss 3-star leaders say they had nothing to do with it except develop operational mission needs (although they saw a few glossy briefs). OPNAV states they just developed the requirements from all those glossy briefs and NAVAIR/NAVSEA say they just executed what the latter two said, to do via the Navy Enterprise system...The navy enterprise system brings the fleet into the acquisition process..that didn't exist 20-30 years ago..

    Every once in a while if THEY (not sure who though..) can get away with it they may rarely fire a PMA (program manager- often times a CAPT); presidential helo comes to mind, but since when has anyone fired a PEO (2 star) or any acquisition SES? These folks retire and become division heads at defense corporations... I think of VADM Lockard, head of NAVAIR retired early last decade and took a job at Boeing in charge of military aircraft for that behemoth....He certainly has been successful there ;-).

    Don't forget also the SES/ Civil service GS-14/15s make many of our acquisition decisions, not military officers alone. They are here for many years, they supposedly provide the continuity.... On the other hand the military officers overwhelmingly and initially assigned within acquisition commands are EDOs/AEDOs. They are basically one fleet tour LTs assigned to a shore duty command in acquisition for the rest of their naval officer careers. (IE- no sea duty- no deployments....) Specialists supposedly, like a lawyer or doctor in the Navy. In this case business managers/engineers. They wear a uniform of course and at NAVAIR wear a flight suit on Friday and collect flight pay and all (lol- pet bugaboo), but will never, ever, fly an operational aircraft again. They might have 1000 hrs time if they are lucky before becoming a specialist and have had fleet division officer responsibilities, maybe. Same with the Shoes at NAVSEA I'll bet- no more sea time for sure. That is the extent of their "fleet experience". As a result these specialist officers grow into acquisition flags and bear most of the burden within the SYSCOMS "assisted" by the "inscrutable" and patient SES's/civil service types who take the long view and who "own" the technical, logistics and business "processes" within the SYSCOMs. Every once in a while some fleet CAPT/operator with zero SYSCOM experience and a lot of fleet experience who went to TPS or got an MBA, comes into these acquisition complexes (SYSCOMS) and either sink/swim (conform or go back).

    Basically the acquisition systems are held largely unaccountable. No one is fundamentally responsible because all are involved- too many cooks! IMO it was different 20-30 years ago because beating the processes at their own games and fielding systems that could fight even though the fleet often complained at first, programs who had CAPTs and Flags/SESs whose names were attached to their success or failure. As a result success bred success. Since then we have had Deming, the explosion, Bill Clinton, the CEO MBA culture of personality and a host of other "team" not individual business rules to live by; BTW, that are all institutionalized in the FAR and thousands of process instructions often creating a one size fits all acquisition flowchart:

    CNO, I admit when I think of how big the problem is, all I can think of to escape it is to retire..LOL


    1. Yep.

      Venting aside, did you have a point beyond that the system is screwed up?

      Perhaps you now also understand some of the proposals I've pitched like the dual path Admin-Warrior approach and the project-duration manager? Not that these would have any realistic chance of being implemented!

    2. "The navy enterprise system brings the fleet into the acquisition process..that didn't exist 20-30 years ago."

      Depending on the exact time frame you're referring to and exactly what you mean, you'll recall that the General Board designed general ship characteristics by working closely with the fleet. So we did have that tie in long ago. Of course, the General Board was disbanded by an insecure, power grubbing CNO.

    3. Accumulate enough bad decisions based on faulty assumptions, add in misplaced innovations like drones requiring tremendous investments and the next thing you know the problems seem insurmountable! However the only thing we can do is extend the life of what we do have and capitalize what works and the fleet really needs

      You do a good service bringing up the obvious about what the fleet needs. Capable and serviceable platforms and weapon systems that are in production and available. Back to basics in all acquisitions and fund them fully logistically through the life cycle. As you I am tired of watching our resources go into dead ends. Maybe if program manangers stayed with their programs for 7 to 10 years could make a difference in what we bought. There are people in acquisition that want to be successful, its just that the talent always wants to run to the new shiny object.


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