Navy F/A-18 test fires high powered anti-ship missile

The Navy has released its emerging Long Range Anti-Ship Missile from an F/A-18 Super Hornet, marking a new milestone in the development of a next-generation, long range, semi-autonomous weapon designed to track and destroy enemy targets – firing from aircraft and ships.

Long Range Anti-Ship Missile was successfully released earlier this month from a U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, a Lockheed Martin statement said.

The weapon, called the LRASM, is a collaborative effort between Lockheed, the Office of Naval Research and the Defense Advanced Project Research Agency, or DARPA.

The test involved a “jettison release” of the first LRASM from the Super Hornet, used to validate the aerodynamic separation models of the missile, Lockheed developers said. The test event was designed to pave the way for flight clearance to conduct captive carry integration testing scheduled for mid-year at the Navy Air Weapons Station, China Lake, California.

The LRASM, which is 168-inches long and 2,500 pounds, is currently configured to fire from an Air Force B-1B bomber, Navy surface ship Vertical Launch Tubes and a Navy F-18 carrier-launched fighter. The current plan is to have the weapon operational on board an Air Force B-1B bomber and a Navy F-18 by 2019, Navy statements have said.

fa-18 super hornet vfa 131

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan U. Kledzik

“The first time event of releasing LRASM from the F/A-18E/F is a major milestone towards meeting early operational capability in 2019,” Mike Fleming, Lockheed Martin LRASM program director, said in a written statement.

With a range of at least 200 nautical miles, LRASM is designed to use next-generation guidance technology to help track and eliminate targets such as enemy ships, shallow submarines, drones, aircraft and land-based targets.

Navy officials told Scout Warrior that the service is making progress with an acquisition program for the air-launched variant of LRASM but is still in the early stages of planning for a ship-launch anti-ship missile.

“The objective is to give Sailors the ability to strike high-value targets from longer ranges while avoiding counter fire. The program will use autonomous guidance to find targets, reducing reliance on networking, GPS and other assets that could be compromised by enemy electronic weapons,” a Navy statement said.

Alongside the preparation of LRASM as an “air-launched” weapon, Lockheed Martin is building a new deck-mounted launcher for the emerging  engineered to semi-autonomously track and destroy enemy targets at long ranges from surface ships.

A B-1B bomber deploys a LRASM. | Public Domain photo

The missile has also been test fired from a Navy ship-firing technology called Vertical Launch Systems currently on both cruisers and destroyers – as a way to provide long range surface-to-surface and surface-to-air offensive firepower.

The Navy will likely examine a range of high-tech missile possibilities to meet its requirement for a long-range anti-ship missile — and Lockheed is offering LRASM as an option for the Navy to consider.  .

A deck-mounted firing technology, would enable LRASM to fire from a much wider range of Navy ships, to include the Littoral Combat Ship and its more survivable variant, called a Frigate, Scott Callaway, Surface-Launched LRASM program manager, Lockheed Martin, told Scout Warrior in an interview last year.

“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 said.

The adaptation of the surface-launcher weapon, which could be operational by the mid-2020s, would use the same missile that fires from a Mk 41 Vertical Launch System and capitalize upon some existing Harpoon-launching technology, Callaway added.

Along with advances in electronic warfare, cyber-security and communications, LRASM is design to bring semi-autonomous targeting capability to a degree that does not yet exist. As a result, some of its guidance and seeker technology is secret, developers have said.

The goal of the program is to engineer a capable semi-autonomous, surface and air-launched weapon able to strike ships, submarines and other moving targets with precision. While many aspects of the high-tech program are secret, Lockheed officials say the available information is that the missile has a range of at least 200 nautical miles.

Once operational, LRASM will give Navy ships a more a short and long-range missile with an advanced targeting and guidance system able to partially guide its way to enemy targets and achieve pinpoint strikes in open or shallow water.

An LRASM acquires its target. | Lockheed Martin image

LRASM employs a multi-mode sensor, weapon data link and an enhanced digital anti-jam global positioning system to detect and destroy specific targets within a group of ships, Lockheed officials said.

LRASM is engineered with all-weather capability and a multi-modal seeker designed to discern targets, Lockheed officials said. The multi-mode sensor, weapon data link and an enhanced digital anti-jam global positioning system can detect and destroy specific targets within a group of ships, Lockheed officials said.

LRASM is armed with a proven 1,000-pound penetrator and blast-fragmentation warhead, Lockheed officials said.

Distributed Lethality

The development of LRASM is entirely consistent with the Navy’s emerging “distributed lethality” strategy which seeks to better arm the fleet with long-range precision offensive and defensive fire power.

Part of the rationale to move back toward open or “blue water” combat capability against near peer competitors emphasized during the Cold War. While the strategic and tactical capability never disappeared, it was emphasized less during the last 10-plus years of ground wars wherein the Navy focused on counter-terrorism, counter-piracy and things like Visit Board Search and Seizure. These missions are, of course, still important, however the Navy seeks to substantially increase its offensive “lethality” in order to deter or be effective against high-tech adversaries.

Having longer-range or over-the-horizon ship and air-launched weapons is also quite relevant to the “distributed” portion of the strategy which calls for the fleet to have an ability to disperse as needed.  Having an ability to spread out and conduct dis-aggregated operations makes Navy forces less vulnerable to enemy firepower while. At the same time, have long-range precision-strike capability will enable the Navy to hold potential enemies at risk or attack if needed while retaining safer stand-off distance from incoming enemy fire.

Warrior Scout

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