DARPA Works On New Anti-Ship Missile

anti-ship missileThe Defense Department’s top research agency has focused on developing a program to make sure that the Navy is not “outsticked” by China as U.S. forces re-balance to the Pacific.

“We’re looking at a long-range anti-ship missile” to counter China’s development of its own long-range strike assets, said Dr. Arati Prabhakar, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. “We’re concerned about being ‘out-sticked’” in what has been dubbed the “Pacific pivot” of troops and ships following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Prabhakar said.

Prabhakar spoke at the opening of an all-day forum on military issues sponsored by the Defense One website.

China’s development of the DF-21D ASBM (Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile), technically a cruise missile dubbed the “carrier killer,” has raised alarms on Capitol Hill. “We are technically ‘out-sticked’ by Chinese anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) right now,” Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., head of the Readiness Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.

Forbes told the RealClearDefense website last week that that the Navy’s main anti-ship missile, the Harpoon, “does not have the range or survivability” to match the threat from the Chinese Navy.

However, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service last spring reported that the threat from the Chinese anti-ship missiles was not quite the “game changer” that some defense analysts had feared.

The Navy and the Air Force could counter by “employing a combination of active and passive measures” against the Chinese missiles, the CRS said in a report. One of the methods suggested by the CRS to defeat the Chinese system would be to equip Navy ships with electronic warfare systems that could generate radar “smoke clouds” to confuse the terminal guidance systems of the Chinese missiles.

In August, DARPA and the Office of Naval Research conducted the first flight of a prototype in the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) program, which is meant to develop a weapon that can hit enemy ships out of the range of a counter-strike.

A B-1 bomber from the 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron conducted the mission from Dyess Air Force Base, Tex., to the Point Mugu Sea Test Range off the coast of southern California and successfully hit a moving target, DARPA said. Halfway to the target, the missile switched to its autonomous guidance system, which completed the mission, DARPA said.

“This fully functional test is a significant step in providing the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force with a next-generation anti-ship missile capability,” Artie Mabbett, the DARPA program manager for the LRASM, said after the test.

At the Defense One forum, Prabhakar said the autonomous guidance system for the LRASM was vital vital to counter an enemy’s potential ability to jam Global Positioning Satellite guidance.

Prabhakar also noted DARPA’s difficulty in doing work on space systems in an era of cost-cutting and declining budgets.

Space “is a place where cost is just an overwhelming issue,” Prabhakar said. “It’s so hard, it takes so long to do anything in space. Even the smallest satellite costs tens of millions of dollars,” she said.

The budget cuts also put the future of defense research at risk, Prahhakar said. Unless Congress lifts the sequester cuts that will take about $500 billion out of defense spending over the next 10 years, “we’re going to have a future of power point (presentations) and not real systems,” she said. “We want to do things that really get built.”

About the Author

Richard Sisk
Richard Sisk is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.
  • Preston VT

    Anyone know the context of the stock photo included in the posting? There appears to be a civilian tanker in the background, behind which is another ship also firing a missile. Would the two Navy vessels really be test firing missiles with a civilian tanker so close and between them? It’s possible the tanker is actually a Navy support vessel (oiler, etc.), but as best as I can tell it appears to be white, not grey. Just wondering…

  • Steve B.

    That’s a Harpoon in the photo.

    As well, the DF-21D is emphatically not a “cruise” missile, but is a derivative of the DF21 ballistic missile, used by China.

  • blight_

    Wonder if those SM missiles will do the job against a BM coming in from above at terminal velocity? Fire a ripple and hope for the best?

    • Big-Dean

      it worked in Tom Clancy’s book ;-D

      • Rest Pal

        And only in books by Tom Clancy or lousy fiction writers like him.

    • joe

      The Standard-based ABM is one of the few bits of the missile defence programme which seems to have worked fairly well, so theoretically it should work okay.

    • Curt

      All the SM2 Blk 4s have been modified for inter-atmosphere ballistic missile intercepts and have done pretty well in tests.
      A version of SM-6 is supposed to replace the SM2 in that role.

    • Charles James Haas

      The SM-3 missiles are designed to knock down missiles like the DF-21D. Each sucessive block is getting more capable, and should be useful in knocking down most enemy ballistic missiles (ICBMs with very long ranges may be to fast). SM-6 missiles are mainly designed against air breathing threats. The navy needs to get a handle on attacking over the horizon threats using tracks developed from E-2Ds or other sources. Actually, the APG-79 AESA radar would likely provide the best track data for the SM-6 over the horizon, but it would have to be data linked to the ship or missile some how.

  • STemplar

    Anyone read the Rand study on land based anti ship missiles? If the Army an the Marines were smart they would ditch some of their silly procurement notions an develop a land based mobile ant ship missile that is MLRS compatible.

  • PolicyWonk

    China’s development of the DF-21D ASBM (Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile), technically a cruise missile dubbed the “carrier killer,” has raised alarms on Capitol Hill.
    This is dumb. If the ChiComs built a true ASBM, we can resolve that problem easily, by simply informing them, that if a ballistic missile is launched, we have no way to determine if the warhead is nuclear or otherwise.

    Therefore, we will respond (i.e. launch) accordingly, assuming the worst case.

    Thats what the Russians told the US when GWB was POTUS, and the idea of “Global Strike” (conventional ICBM) was floated. That put the kibosh on that idea PDQ.

  • Big-B

    Just to tell China the USA will go nuclear when fired upon by any ballistc missile is a thin protective shield. I think it is wise to to prepare for that China does not believe it.

    Back to topic it might be cheaper to buy off the shelf in Norway: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Strike_Missile
    But i guess thats not the american way ;-)

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      “…it might be cheaper to buy off the shelf in Norway: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Strike_Missile…

      Well, if you want to start going that way (off-the-shelf buy), maybe Denmark still has some of these sitting around in mothballs, as an alternative to the LCS:


      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen
      Luxembourg (expat Dane)

      • Big-B

        Heavily armed for such a small vessel. Not bad :-)
        I read somewhere that Denmark has also bigger ships on sale now.
        But again thats not the american way: A vessel that cheap cannot be good (for u.s. shipyards)

    • SJE

      Maybe thats because they sell the missiles disassembled and you have to assemble them at home with an allen key. There is always something missing! Or is that only for the Swedish missiles?

    • superraptor

      What a foll you are.The USNavy does not have any tactical nuclear missiles. However China has deployed hundreds, maybe even thousands of tactical nuclear cruise missiles on their ships. It is much more likely, that China will attack our ships with tactical nukes knowing that our ships will not be able to retaliate in kind. You can thank our great leader for his commitment to make us a global Zero and our forces in the pacific will be toast and roast. Stupidity never dies, only the people subjected to it.

    • Dzus

      The Norwegian missile is a medium range weapon, totally different capability than the DARPA project. And the US is looking at buying it, as the joint Strike Missile, for air launched ground attack.
      That’s the American way.

  • josh

    Ok .. why havent we developed a anti ship missile more advanced than the harpoon ages ago?? It seems like we never look far ahead until a country like china gets a weapon that can outclass one of ours then it becomes a issue.

    • guest


    • blight_

      Complacency. We focused on anti-missile missiles and anti-air missiles, but not anti-ship.

      • d. kellogg

        Well, the actual Harpoon was refined into the SLAM series, and the latest iterations of it do include anti-ship modes.
        But I don’t know to what extent the USN and USAF utilize them.
        South Korea especially does, which is no small part of why some of their F-15 variants are sometimes referred to as “SLAM Eagles”, because it was specificed to be capable of deploying that stand-off munition.

        US funding (for US procurement) was partially being sunk into JASSM and JSOW.
        But it should come as no small surprise that Norway’s NSM is designed within the limitations of an F-35’s internal bay. That was a key in getting Norway onboard the JSF program to begin with.

    • tmb2

      We spent decades expecting the US Navy and the Soviet Navy to replay the Battle of Midway. Our fleet had plenty of firepower to sink theirs. China has only recently started seriously building a competitive navy, so their focus has been on missile technology to balance the scales.

    • SJE

      We are looking at the more advanced Norwegian ASM to be launched from the F35.

    • Charles James Haas

      Well, the Harpoon has gone through many iterations and has been refined greatly over the years. But, the LRASM is the replacement of choice so far. It’s very long range and stealth are primary attributes. Not sure if it will have a radar, but LRASM should be dual mode radar and focal plane array imaging IR seeker design.

  • TDMarine

    Good thing Clinton and Gore sold them the missile tech for campaign funds so the Chicoms could develop their weapons.

    • blight_

      Are you going to tell us that Obama (not Pratt & Whitney Canada) sent helicopter engines to China, too? Or GE’s new commercial aircraft engine line?

      What’s distressing is that we are exporting helicopter engines on the civilian side, knowing full well that one cannot prevent a civilian engine from being used in a military helicopter.

    • Brad Davis

      I don’t know why you got three downs for? I understood your sarcasm. The US is too dependant on forigen manufacturing and we are giving our enemies the low down on our tech, not just military look at all the fake ipads, contaminated food and toys and such. Crap Russia got mad at the chicoms for making russian arms unliscensed, and we the US still don’t get the lesson.

  • Lance

    Ye ah the author put the wrong pic in place thought they were going to scrap the Harpoon which would be a mistake for air assists like F-18s. Overall think people are too panicked over China and want to use China to get unlimited spending back which is a real waste of money. Id prefer Dg-1000 New fleet defender fighter and new subs way over this, for sea warfare.

    • blight_

      DDG-1000 is still going to use the same old missiles of yesteryear in those PVLS.

  • Stan

    I would be more impressed if they started working on a support ship-mounted long range directed energy weapon which could reach out far enough to get those missiles in boost phase. That would do a pretty good job of neutralizing this particular threat. I doubt the Chinese would dare to put a conventional warhead on a longer range missile.
    Also, that laser could be used to take out sats guiding the missile and would make the idea of attacking a battlegroup from the air a bit obsolete.

    • blight_

      Lasers aren’t powerful enough yet. Until they are ready, it will be missiles versus missiles.

    • jaf


      High speed strike weapon. Keep wondering when we are going to hear about rail launched scramjet missles

    • Charles James Haas

      That wouldn’t work as they launch over the horizon.

  • superraptor

    DARPA should team up with India and adopt a long range version of their Brahmos missile. would save billions compared to reinventing the wheel

    • blight_

      The Russians probably have a long range version that doesn’t need to be export-control compliant.

      Brahmos is probably based on the shorter-ranged P-800, and perhaps other short-range missiles such as the P-270 (NATO name Sunburn); instead of the longer-legged P-500 and P-700.

      India does have the P-270, it would presumably serve as their gold standard to compare Brahmos against.

    • Rest Pal

      India can’t do that. The Brahmos has been a joint program with Russia. India is a junior partner. Russia will never allow any cooperation between India and the US on Brahmos.

  • TonyC.

    The idea of a ballistic missile hitiing a moving target is still far fetched. Ballistics are moving at hypersonic speeds on reentry, so they really aren’t maneuverable. Their long range anti-ship missile is most likely to strike the land sites before they can launch. The objective with the Chinese ABM’s is to hit stationary targets , like landing dock ships and land based depots.

    • blight_

      If the carrier-killer dispenses warheads with winglets or control surfaces that allow it to change course onto target, it might not be totally unguided after separation.

    • Jeff

      As far fetched as the Pershing, which went into service in the 60s’.

  • Brad Davis

    We must not be that worried.about the threat, if we were we would have developed supersonic cruise missiles during the Cold War when the Russians held the monopoly on them.

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