WASHINGTON — As the U.S. Marine Corps begins launching the Naval Strike Missile from unmanned ground vehicles and the U.S. Navy continues installing NSM on its littoral combat ships, missile manufacturer Kongsberg is confident it can keep up with growing demand in the U.S. and around the globe.
The Navy first identified the Norwegian missile as the solution for its over-the-horizon strike needs on LCS in 2018 and in 2019 sent the missile out on its first LCS deployment to the Indo-Pacific. Additionally, the Marines announced in budget documents in February 2020 they’d use the missile as part of their expeditionary advanced base operations plans, launching it as a ground-based anti-ship missile (GBASM) from unmanned Joint Light Tactical Vehicles in a pairing they call NMESIS (Navy-Marine Corps Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System).
As the missile has proven itself in testing, others have eyed it too, with Marine leadership at one point talking about using NSM to up-arm amphibious ships that haul Marines’ weapons but have little onboard punch. In January 2021, Maj. Gen. Tracy King, who led the Navy’s expeditionary warfare directorate at the time, told reporters he wanted to put the NSM on San Antonio-class LPDs — not to turn the Marine-carriers into a surface strike ship, but rather so the enemy would have to “honor that threat” that the amphibs pose. But he said the Navy didn’t want to divert missiles from the effort to add lethality to LCSs.
At the time, King said the Navy would have to talk to Kongsberg and NSM partner Raytheon Technologies about increasing production capacity to allow for the missiles to go on both amphibs and LCSs. But Kongsberg Senior Director for Special Platforms and Missile Systems Steve Schreiber told Defense News this month the two companies are ready to keep up with demand and could quickly set up a parallel production facility if needed.
Raytheon, as the prime contractor for the U.S. Navy, is “doing the final assembly and test part of the production, and … they’re ready to do a parallel production line if it comes to that,” he said.
“Demand is not an issue. If they suddenly come out and they say we need 200 a year, 300 a year, 500 a year, we can do that,” Schreiber added.
He said Kongsberg is seeing increased demand from foreign militaries as well, in part because they want to field what the U.S. fields and in part because, based on the missile’s proven performance, “nothing can touch it right now.”
He said he expects a second production line to be set up within the next couple of years.
Asked when that might happen, Randy Kempton, NSM program director at Raytheon Missiles & Defense, told Defense News the “Raytheon NSM production line is ready to meet full-rate production needs for the U.S. Navy Over the Horizon and USMC GBASM programs, and to accommodate additional growth as needed.”
The U.S. Navy is also seeking some improvements in the missile, which would directly benefit other customers, Schreiber said.
Without disclosing the exact improvements the Navy is eyeing, he said “obviously everybody’s always looking for more range.”
“There’s issues with range — by that I mean, how do you target? But they’re always looking for more range, so more efficiency in the fuels, more efficiencies in the motors,” Schreiber continued. “The computer systems in this are pretty dang up to date, so they’re not looking at doing anything with that. They might be looking at a few other areas.”
Noting the Norwegian, Polish, Malaysian and Japanese forces are using versions of the missile today, he said “they’re all leveraging each other and capabilities to improve, to always keep improving.”
The U.S. Navy is continuing to install the missile on its LCSs and is proceeding through operational test and evaluation with the over-the-horizon missile.
The Marine Corps announced in April that it shot the missile for the first time as part of NMESIS, just 14 months after announcing the idea in its budget documents.
In August, during sea services’ Large Scale Exercise 2021 event, NMESIS shot at a decommissioned frigate and helped sink the ship from its location in Hawaii, with top Navy and Marine Corps leadership on hand to witness the first-of-its-kind event.
“There was an awful lot of leadership out there in Hawaii, and when it went off the rails and then when it hit, when the bullseye happened, all the Marines were cheering. It was great, it was pretty exciting,” Schreiber said.
It’s unclear how quickly the Marines will move in buying the missile to field with operational units for experimentation. The service requested 29 in its fiscal 2022 budget and 35 more in its unfunded requirements list — with 64 being the total needed to equip two medium-range missile batteries in the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, the first unit created under the commandant’s Force Design 2030 effort to reflect how the service will operate in the future.
Congress is still working through the defense appropriations and authorization processes.
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs, and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.