New LCS Armament: A Naval Strike Missile emerges from its launcher aboard the Norwegian frigate Fridtjof Nansen during a test near Hawaii. A US Navy littoral combat ship will conduct a test launch of the missile in September. (Forsvaret)
WASHINGTON — This September, a US Navy littoral combat ship (LCS) will get underway on a missile range off Southern California and conduct test launches of the Naval Strike Missile (NSM), a Kongsberg-developed weapon already fielded aboard Norwegian warships and by Polish land-based coast defense forces.
The tests, confirmed last week by US Navy officials, will help determine whether the missile is adaptable to the LCS, and whether it is the sort of weapon in which the US should invest.
“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,” explained Capt. Michael Ladner, the Naval Sea System (NAVSEA) Command’s major program manager for surface ship weapons.
“Naval Strike Missile is an incredible missile,” he said, noting that a recent war game showed “NSM has a highly survivable, very advanced seeker, and it goes 100 miles.”
That range might not be optimal for LCS, which 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 to understand where we really want to go for this ship class.”
Kongsberg has been aggressively targeting the US Navy as a potential NSM customer. The LCS, initially planned to carry the Non-Line of Sight missile, has been without a missile system since the US Army canceled NLOS development in early 2010. The Navy recently decided to begin development work to adapt the proven Hellfire Longbow missile to shipboard use for the LCS.
The 13-foot-long 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 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 NAVSEA Command spokesman, 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 NSM to anything beyond the September tests.
“At this time, there are no further tests planned for the NSM or similar weapons,” Lt. Jackie Pau, a Navy spokesperson at the Pentagon, said.
Kongsberg, the Royal Norwegian Navy and NAVSEA’s Integrated Warfare Systems office are directly supporting the Coronado tests.
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.
Ladner oversees development work on all three missile systems.
“We put the Griffin missile system on patrol coastal [PC] boats in the [Arabian] Gulf,” Ladner said. The weapon was declared operational on the PCs in March and, he added, “provides them some self-defense capability against fast attack craft, things like that. PCs are one area where we have done a lot of integration.”
Griffin, a lightweight weapon initially developed for special operations forces, in early 2011 was considered for use aboard LCS but the idea was dropped in favor of something with more firepower.
The Hellfire Longbow, a weapon used by Army and Navy helicopters, was chosen earlier this year for development for use aboard LCS.
“We wanted to take advantage of the fact that the Army has a whole bunch of Hellfire Longbows that have capability,” Ladner said. Integration into the LCS would “provide [the ships with] a little bit longer reach, interim capability or initial capability against surface craft, swarming boats. That is the program of record that I am supporting.”
Hellfire manufacturer Lockheed Martin is adapting the missile for seaborne use, but the effort is still in the early stages. One simple question has yet to be determined: What sort of launcher would be used?
The weapon was designed, Ladner said, to be launched off a rail on a helicopter. A ship launcher though, would likely use either a vertical-launch or inclined-launch attitude.
“It’s too early to decide if there’s a final decision,” he said. “There is engineering work right now to either modify what we used for Griffin on PCs, an angled fixed elevation launcher, or do we want to modify something else.”
He noted that the missile launcher space built in aboard each of the two LCS designs “is a cube. You put in an angled launcher and it limits the number of missiles you can put in at an angle, right? If you can put something in vertically launched, now you can increase the scope. Those are trades we are still working out.”
Another major factor to be considered is how the missile — which is usually aimed in the general direction of a target as it’s launched from a helicopter — acquires a target after being launched from a ship.
“In a helicopter configuration, typically the seeker can see the target before it launches,” Ladner explained. “In a vertical launch it is in a different attitude,” he said, essentially being launched blind.
“We have to capture the missile and make it stable during that egress and then tip over and make sure we get it pointed in the right direction so the seeker finds [the target] after launch,” he said.
Combat systems integration also is a major piece of the work. “There has to be a sensor on the ship that is going to see small targets,” he said. The information needs to feed “through the combat system to initialize the missile, to launch the missile and then get the missile pointed on the right range to control the missile.”
The Navy already is looking for a new surface-to-surface missile as a potential successor to Harpoon, although no formal requirements have been drawn up. Officials stressed that it is way too soon to determine if NSM fits the bill.
“The demonstration isn’t a test of LCS,” said Ladner. “It’s a test of the Naval Strike Missile being able to deploy from that ship out to a significant range.”
The results, he said, “allow us the opportunity to continue to look at other missile solutions depending on what the requirement is going to be.” ■