Once the hottest item on the Navy’s weapons wish list, the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM, AGM-158C) was intended to be air launched from F-18s and then quickly adapted to shipboard vertical launch from standard Mk41 VLS systems. Of late, however, the LRASM seems to have faded away. Air launch tests have been conducted but the vertical launch effort appears to have ceased. The most recent vertical launch progress I can find is a 2017 Lockheed funded test that demonstrated that a LRASM could push through a VLS vertical launch cell cover.(4) The Navy also conducted a test firing of the LRASM from a container mounted at an angle, similar to the Mk141 Harpoon rack launcher.(3) I’ve found no mention of anything more recent.
The Air Force appears to have certified the missile for use and awarded Lockheed Martin a $414M contract earlier this year to produce 137 LRASM for its B-1 bombers.(2)
DOT&E cites numerous problems with LRASM development and a paucity of testing. A DOT&E Quick Reaction Assessment (QRA) report covering tests from 2017-2019 stated that the assessment had limited operational realism and that testing had demonstrated multiple hardware and software failures.(1) Further, the Navy’s Modeling and Simulation (M&S) effort for the missile is incomplete and, therefore, inadequate to determine whether the system meets its key performance parameters (KPP).
Unfortunately, that’s all the information there is as the details are classified.
The LRASM is now being described as an interim anti-surface solution in response to a Pacific Fleet 2008 Urgent Operational Need request. 2008? It’s now 2021 and the LRASM is still undergoing testing. If this rate of progress is what passes for urgent it’s no wonder the Chinese are building their fleet far faster than we are! Urgent? What a travesty.
The description of the missile as an interim solution is also telling and indicates the Navy’s sudden loss of interest.
While I have no problem – and would applaud – a cessation of interest due to technical problems that cannot be solved or would cost too much to do so, I also note that this is symptomatic of the Navy’s tendency to jump from one shiny toy to the next. Recall how the Navy went from describing the Zumwalt as the single foundation upon which the future fleet would be built to completely unwanted in the span of a few months?
Of course, without the classified details I can’t determine whether the program has run into insurmountable technical issues or just the Navy’s wandering attention span.
In any event, it now appears that the Tomahawk anti-ship missile (once called TASM but now referred to as the Maritime Strike Tomahawk in the Navy’s never ending quest to appear to be developing something new despite the TASM having been in service for years prior to being removed in 1994) has overtaken the LRASM in the Navy’s eyes and now seems to be the focus of development.
(1)Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, 2020 Annual Report, Jan 2021, p. 161