WASHINGTON – Citing continuing requirements changes that would mean giving ships a less-capable weapon than those carried by aircraft, Boeing said Tuesday it would drop out of a U.S. Navy effort to buy an over-the-horizon (OTH) cruise missile for littoral combat ships (LCS) and frigates.
Boeing's decision to withdraw its widely-used Harpoon missile leaves the Raytheon/Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) and Lockheed Martin Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) as the likely candidates in the OTH effort.
Troy Rutherford, director of cruise missile systems at Boeing Defense, said the company had long planned to adapt the Block II Plus Extended Range Harpoon being developed for Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) to support the needs of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA).
"We felt we were well-positioned when the RFP dropped" in February, Rutherford said, but subsequent Navy changes -- in Boeing's opinion – devalued a lot of what the company felt it could offer.
"We were invested heavily across the OTH domain, and we're on track with Navy to produce the Block II Plus first net-enabled OASUW [Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare] cruise missile into operational capability this year. And we continue to be on track for with early development for Extended Range for the air-launched version," Rutherford said.
But, he said, "in every iteration of the RFP amendments we see a decrease in the top-level requirements document and changes in the top-level requirements document. We've taken a hard look at that and said that at this point it doesn't make sense for the Boeing Company to bid on this."
Among the differences between the NAVAIR and NAVSEA requirements, Rutherford noted, are all-weather and net-enabled capabilities for the air-launched weapon – capabilities deleted or not given in the surface ship requirements.
"We would have to take a lot of capability out of this existing system and really deliver a less-capable weapon system to NAVSEA than the one we are currently on track to deliver for NAVAIR," Rutherford said.
NAVSEA's requirements, he added, "really don't give credit to the full capabilities of the missile. It also doesn't allow for a lot of leeway in offering non-development technology and alignment with where naval aviation is taking us."
The new Block II Plus Harpoon will become operational this year, Rutherford said, and Boeing is doubling its production over the next four years. "We've got a very strong pipeline there."
Boeing has no intention to drop support or development of Harpoons launched from ships.
"We continue to invest in this capability and the technologies," Rutherford said.
"We have a lot of interest from the international community to pick up Extended Range Harpoon. We see a very healthy market for not only air-launched but also surface and submarine-launched Extended Range Harpoon across our current inventory of partners."
The company remains ready to produce sea-launched Harpoons, Rutherford said.
"If the surface Navy in the future wanted to upgrade to an extended-range variant there's a way for them to easily do that," he said. "We're always happy to have that conversation with the Navy and discuss openly what the true requirements are. I just go back to the way this solicitation is currently written and the requirements continue to change within this particular solicitation. We've chosen not to place a bid on this activity."
The move caught industry and officialdom somewhat by surprise, but the Navy, through a spokesperson, declined to comment on the development. Lockheed followed suit, referring questions to the Navy, but Raytheon offered a statement.
"Raytheon and Kongsberg are jointly preparing a submission to the U.S. Navy's Request for Proposal for its Over-The-Horizon Weapon System," spokesperson Tara Wood wrote in an email. "The companies believe that the ready-now Naval Strike Missile offers the U.S. Navy a high-performance capability to rapidly and affordably deliver strike dominance to the U.S. surface force."
Boeing's decision to withdraw is likely to come up Wednesday afternoon when the House Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on the LCS and frigate programs.
Only one LCS has launched cruise missiles. The Coronado conducted a demonstration launch of the Naval Strike Missile in September 2014, when a launch box was placed at the edge of its flight deck. The launcher was removed following the test.
The Coronado was subsequently chosen to be modified to carry Harpoon launch canisters during its current deployment to Singapore. The installation, which was not intended to be fully integrated with the ship's combat system, was only partially complete last summer when the ship launched a Harpoon during Rim of the Pacific exercises. The missile ran out of fuel and failed to reach its target.
The Harpoon installation was completed during the deployment, with eight missile tubes installed on the Coronado's foredeck. But since arriving at Singapore in October the ship has not fired another missile, although several live-fire exercises using other weapons have been performed.
Final bids on the OTH program are due to be submitted June 23.
Christopher P. Cavas was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.