WASHINGTON – The U.S. Navy and Air Force signed a contract last month for dozens of Long-Range Anti-Ship Missiles, a closely watched program that seems to introduce a new sophisticated guidance system into lethal ship-killing missiles.

The $414 million deal buys 137 LRASMs, support equipment, systems engineering, logistics and training support, Lockheed Martin spokesman Joe Monaghen said in an email.

LRASM has a published range of about 300 nautical miles, is jam resistant, and designed to locate targets with onboard sensors rather than relying on guidance from another source such as a drone’s sensors or another ship. The missile is also difficult to detect.

The contract comes as tensions have continued to simmer in the Western Pacific between China and the United States, and between China and others in the region, concerning China’s ever-expanding fleet. The People’s Liberation Army Navy, which is expected to grow to 425 ships by 2030 has driven the U.S. to accelerate procurement anti-ship missiles, including the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps. Both services are seeking the ability to threaten ships at sea from long ranges.

Last February, Defense News reported that the military had put about 850 anti-ship missiles in the five-year defense spending projections, up from 88 anti-ship missiles programmed into the 2016 budget five years earlier.

In a press release announcing the contract, Lockheed said the buy, which was for lots four and five of the missile, showed LRASM’s “increasing significance to our customers’ missions.”

In January, the Pentagon’s weapons tester, the director of operational test and evaluation, said the Navy should ramp up testing of the newest iteration of the missile.

Citing “multiple hardware and software failures” in the first version of the LRASM missile, the DOT&E report called on the Navy to put the new LRASM 1.1 through a rigorous testing process under realistic combat conditions to ensure it will “demonstrate mission capability in operationally realistic environments.”

Lockheed Martin’s website says the missile is designed to use its “multi-modal sensor suite, weapon data link, and enhanced digital anti-jam Global Positioning System to detect and destroy specific targets within a group of numerous ships at sea,” meaning it can pick out what ships are its intended targets from a group of ships.

In the release, the company said the missile “reduce dependence on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, network links and GPS navigation in electronic warfare environments. LRASM will play a significant role in ensuring military access to operate in open ocean, owing to its enhanced ability to discriminate and conduct tactical engagements from extended ranges.”

David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.

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