A prototype long-range anti-ship missile was launched from a B-1B bomber in August. (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)
WASHINGTON — Adversaries of US Navy ships have a new reason to be anxious.
The Pentagon’s advanced research arm is developing a smarter and deadlier ship-killing missile, capable of evading interceptors and striking capital ships at long range. And it recently reached a new live-fire milestone.
In an Aug. 27 test, an Air Force B-1B bomber fired an inert long-range anti-ship missile (LRASM)that homed in on a moving ship target and tore through its stacked metal containers for a direct hit. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is overseeing the development, intends to design these anti-ship missiles to be fired from the B-1B and Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets. A sea-launched version would be fired from a cruiser or destroyer’s missile magazines.
The missile packs a punch: Its 1,000-pound warhead is double the size of the fleet’s primary anti-ship missile, the Harpoon, and could strike targets beyond 200 nautical miles away.
“It’s designed to take out capital ships that are in a formation, a surface action group,” said Scott Callaway, the program manager of the anti-ship missile at Lockheed Martin. “So they could be deploying a number of countermeasures.”
DARPA has given Lockheed Martin up to $181 million to adapt its joint air-to-surface standoff missile, or JASSM, into a ship-killer. The JASSM is a fearsome weapon: a 14-foot-long missile that has wings, a vertical stabilizer and triangular-shaped body. It bears a passing resemblance to bombers that carry it — minus the cockpit windows.
The anti-ship missiles fly at subsonic speeds and rely on stealth to defeat jammers and intercept missiles. The missile is guided by “multi-modal, multi-spectral” sensors, according to Callaway, who said any more information was classified, as were details about the missile’s aim points and kill criteria. It is likely, however, that the missile could use infrared terminal homing and Global Positioning System input, as is used by the JASSM.
The anti-ship missile is a capability leap past the Harpoon, which has a 75-mile range and cannot be redirected in flight. The newer anti-ship missile is also more stealthy and likely to survive countermissile interceptors and bullets. And by being fired from vertical launch system tubes, the missiles can be heavier and go farther than a Harpoon.
It can be shot in “fire and forget” mode or it can be directed to an area, where it will find the target on its own. It can also be sent new directions in-flight, much like a Tactical Tomahawk cruise missile.
“LRASM is a stealthy missile,” Callaway said. “It gets its survivability from its stealth, same as JASSM-[Extended Range] and it can autonomously engage enemy warships, which a Harpoon could not do, in a heavy electronic countermeasure environment.”
The missile still needs to go through a series of tests, including launches from ships planned for 2014, and it will likely be years before it arrives in the fleet. Lockheed Martin said it is unable to release the projected date of initial operating capability and spokespeople for DARPA did not reply to messages sent in early October, after the government shutdown.
But if it passes the tests, officials believe it will be a fearsome weapon, capable of burrowing into a target and detonating a huge explosive — enough to cripple an aircraft carrier. “It operates in a denied-battlefield environment,” said Callaway, adding that it offers “effectiveness against robust targeting systems.”