The Norwegian frigate Fridtjof Nansen launched a Naval Strike Missile July 10 during a successful test near Hawaii. A US Navy littoral combat ship will conduct a test launch of the missile in September off California. (Forsvaret)
WASHINGTON — The littoral combat ship USS Coronado will get a chance at an historic LCS first this fall when it launches a surface-to-surface missile in tests off Southern California.
The US Navy confirmed this week that the Coronado is scheduled to test-launch the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) off Point Mugu, California, where the Naval Air Warfare Center maintains an extensively-instrumented missile range.
The test will follow a successful NSM launch July 10 from the Norwegian frigate Fridtjof Nansen during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises near Hawaii. The frigate fired a single NSM at the decommissioned amphibious ship Ogden and scored a direct hit.
The NSM is a 13-foot-long weapon already in service aboard Norwegian warships and with Polish defense forces in a land-based, truck-mounted version. A helicopter-launched version is under development, and the company recently announced it was working on a smaller, submarine-launched variant.
Kongsberg has been aggressively targeting the US Navy as a potential NSM customer. The LCS, although planned to carry the non-line-of-sight missile, has been without a missile system since the US Army cancelled NLOS development in early 2011. The Navy recently decided to begin development work to adapt the proven Hellfire missile to naval use for the LCS.
The NSM, in the 500-pound class of missile, is significantly larger than the Hellfire, in the 100-pound class. The smaller missile could essentially be a placeholder until a more effective weapon can be identified.
While there have been calls in the service to develop new surface-to-surface missiles, the US Navy emphasized the upcoming NSM tests are not in response to a specific requirement.
“The planned September live-firing demonstration aboard USS Coronado (LCS 4) of the Naval Strike Missile under the Foreign Comparative Testing Program will test the ship’s feasibility to execute an increased anti-surface warfare role,” Lt. Kurt Larson, a spokesman with the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in Washington, said in a statement.
“Additionally, it will provide insights into the weapon’s stated capabilities of increased range, survivability and lethality.
“While there is currently no requirement for this capability aboard LCS, we view the demonstration as an opportunity to test a possible future warfighting tool,” Larson added.
For now, the US Navy is not committing to anything beyond the September tests.
“At this time, there are no further tests planned for the NSM or similar weapons,” said Lt. Jackie Pau, a Navy spokesperson at the Pentagon.
In addition to Kongsberg, other missile makers, including Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, have been working on potential weapons to arm the LCS. Lockheed makes the Hellfire, while Raytheon’s small Griffin missile was briefly considered, then dropped, as an interim weapon aboard LCS.
One key US Navy official acknowledged the NSM as an effective weapon.
“Naval Strike Missile is an incredible missile,” Capt. Michael Ladner, NAVSEA’s program manager for surface ship weapons, said during a July 23 interview. A recent war game, he said, showed that “NSM has a highly survivable, very advanced seeker, and it goes 100 miles.”
Just to be considered for LCS, however, the NSM has to be shown to fit aboard the ships. That’s one aim of the Coronado tests, Ladner said.
“The demonstration is not to integrate it into the ship but to launch it, and to explore the concept of operations for launching a missile that can go far from an LCS,” he explained, noting the LCS is not fitted with long-range fire control systems.
“If I can shoot 100 miles, but I can’t see a target at 100 miles, then that may or may not be the right missile for that ship,” Ladner explained. “If we can figure out how to solve the detect-to-engage sequence then that might be the right candidate.”
But, he added, “maybe the right answer is a shorter-range missile that goes closer to what the ship can detect organically. That is what the Navy is looking at right now to understand where we really want to go for this ship class.”
Coronado’s launch of the NSM will be the first-ever firing of a surface-to-surface missile from an LCS, NAVSEA confirmed.
To date, only the first LCS, Freedom, has launched a missile. The ship fired a Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM), intended for close-in point defense, during a 2009 test and in fleet exercises in 2010.