Navy Plans to Arm LCS With Long-Range Surface Missile

RIMPAC 2014Navy developers plan to arm the service’s Littoral Combat Ship with a long-range surface-to-surface missile by 2020 to defend against fast attack craft, ships and patrol boats, service officials said.

The long-range missile plan is intended as a follow-on effort to the Navy’s near-term move to arm the LCS with a shorter-range Hellfire Longbow missile, said Navy Capt. Casey Moton, LCS mission modules program manager.

“Hellfire will meet the short-range missile requirements. We have a requirement to go to a longer range missile,” Moton said.  “We have a surface warfare package increment, Increment 4, which requires a longer-range, over-the-horizon type missile capability. Right now our plan is to have that be a competitive procurement.”

The Hellfire, which has already been tested and integrated onto the LCS platform, is slated to be operational on ships by 2017. The Hellfire, which features an all-weather millimeter wave seeker, already exists in the Army stock as it is widely used by helicopters and drones.

“We are essentially taking that missile (Hellfire) and its fire control system and modifying it to do a vertical launch from the ship and go against maritime targets,” Moton said.

The new long-range LCS missile, which will be acquired through a planned future competition among vendors, will be both offensive and defensive, he added.  The longer-range surface missile would enable the LCS to engage targets without being in close proximity to a threat or potential attacker.

“We have a short range requirement against small, fast targets – which Hellfire will meet. There is a second requirement for a long-range surface missile to work against bigger craft for the LCS,” Moton explained.

Analysts and lawmakers have criticized the LCS platform for not being survivable or protected enough to perform its envisioned range of missions and address anticipated threats.

Both the Hellfire and the new long-range missile for 2020 will function as part of the LCS’ Surface Warfare Package, or SUW, a collection of technologies designed to add lethality and transition on and off the LCS platform as needed.

The Surface Warfare Package, which is slated to deploy this year on-board the USS Fort Worth, or LCS 3, includes MH-60 helicopters, two 30mm guns and 11-meter RIBs, or rigid hull inflatable boats, for fast-attack, rescue or maneuver operations.

Future SUW increments will also include the Fire Scout UAS for additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technology.  The Navy has already successfully tested the Fire Scout on-board the LCS and plans to include it on the upcoming deployment of the USS Fort Worth.  The SUW package deployed on board the first LCS, the USS Freedom, which deployed to Singapore and other parts of Asia last year. LCS 2, the USS Independence, participated this past summer in the large Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, exercise with the SUW package on board.

The Navy also conducted SUW testing this past summer on board the forth LCS, the USS Coronado; it was the first time on the tri-moran hull or Independence variant of the LCS wherein integrated fires were performed with the ship's combat system, Moton explained.

Missile Options

Although the formal competition for the long-range LCS surface missile has yet to get underway, the Navy and some industry partners are already exploring a handful of possible options.

“We’ve already done background work on some of the missile capability. A lot of prep work still needs to be done,” Moton added.

For instance, the Navy recently test-fired a Norwegian long-range precision strike missile from the deck of its Littoral Combat Ship to assess whether the weapon should be permanently integrated onto the ship, service officials said.

A live-fire demonstration of the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile took place Sept. 23 aboard the USS Coronado, or LCS 4, Navy officials said, resulting in the missile achieving a direct-hit on a mobile ship target.

“We look at foreign weapon systems to see how good they are. We want to see if they can be integrated into our systems and to see if they are competitive. It was a successful firing,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told reporters Sept. 30.

The Kongsberg NSM is a long-range precision strike missile currently used on Norwegian Nansen-class frigates and Skjold-Class missile torpedo boats. The missile is also used by the Polish Coastal Missile Division, Navy officials said.

At the same time, Raytheon is testing a new extended range Griffin missile which triples the range of the existing weapon and adds infrared imaging guidance technology, company officials said.

“We start off with a baseline Griffin and add an extended range rocket motor. This more than triples the range of the current Griffin and it has more than twice the range of the Hellfire,” James Smith, the business development lead for Raytheon’s advanced missile systems, told Military.com several weeks ago.

The existing Griffin missile, which can be launched from the air, sea or land, uses GPS and laser guidance technology. The new variant now being tested allows infrared technology to work in tandem with laser designation, Smith explained.

“It is a semi-active laser sensor which we have in the current Griffin. With the new missile, we have both a semi-active laser system and an imaging infrared dual mode. You can use the semi-active laser to point out the target to the missile. The imaging infrared captures the target and then navigates on its own,” he added.

The extended range Griffin also features a data link in order to allow the weapon to receive in-flight target updates, he added. Smith said this technology could prove particularly useful on a platform such as the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, or LSC.

Smith explained that the targeting technology could help destroy small fast-moving surface targets such as swarming boats and also help fast-moving ships reach targets as well.

“An LCS moves fast. Before the seeker finds the target you may want to continue to update the target location until the missile then finds the target on its own,” Smith added.

The Griffin does not have millimeter wave technology, like the Hellfire, but is capable of operating in some difficult weather conditions, Smith said. Overall, however, the extended range Griffin is engineered to operate in reasonably clear weather conditions.  The new missiles infrared guidance system is configured with computer algorithms which enable the weapon to distinguish targets from nearby objects, Smith added.

“The imaging infrared is passive and uncooled so there is no cooling involved. Once the laser spot is removed, the imaging infrared seeker takes over on its own. You don’t have to keep the laser on the target you can move the laser onto another target,” he added.

Raytheon plans to continue testing of the weapon for another year and hopes the new missile will be considered for a range of ground applications, surface ships and air platforms including patrol craft and even unmanned aerial systems.

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