Navy Tests its Over the Horizon Cruise Missile Defense System

The Navy is preparing for another test of a new cruise missile defense system that can identify and destroy threats from beyond the radar horizon, Lockheed officials said.

The system, called Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air, or NIFC-CA, uses a Standard Missile 6 and an airborne sensor to track and destroy approaching cruise missiles at much longer distances than existing technologies can.

“The NIFC-CA capability pushes out the engagement envelope that these ships have not had previously.  You are pushing the engagement envelope beyond the radar horizon,” said Jim Sheridan, director of Aegis U.S. Navy programs at Lockheed Martin.  “There’s an airborne sensor that’s involved. Once the missile leaves the ship you are actually firing it at something that the ship itself cannot see because the engagement takes place beyond the horizon.”

The test is slated for this coming June aboard the USS John Paul Jones, DDG 53. The first test firing, which involved a successful demonstration of the defensive technology, took place last August aboard a Navy cruiser — the USS Chancellorsville, CG62.

“This is the next step in the testing. Previously it was tested from a cruiser configuration and now we’re testing it in a destroyer configuration. Some of the parameters of the target and the flight profile are a little different. Let’s just characterize it as a more stressful test than the one on board the USS Chancellorsville,” Sheridan added.

The SM6 interceptor missile uses an active seeker to zero in on an approaching target at distances greater than a ship’s on-board sensors can detect.  Sheridan said the SM6 used for NIFC-CA leverages technology similar to the active guidance system engineered into an air-to-air beyond visual range missile, the AIM-120 Advanced-Air-to-Air Medium Range Missile.

“NIFC-CA employs ships and aircraft to consummate missile engagements beyond the radar horizon. This execution is operational rocket science. Those who master it will be identified as the best and brightest,”  said Capt. Jim Kilby, deputy for ballistic missile defense Aegis combat systems and destroyers, surface warfare directorate, N96, according to a blog post.

The NIFCA-CA is slated to deploy with Navy forces in 2015 as part of the Teddy Roosevelt battle group, so this cruise missile defense technology will be protecting the fleet pretty soon.

NIFC-CA is part of the Navy’s upgraded Aegis ballistic missile defense system called Baseline 9 which is being engineered into ships now under construction such as DDG 113 through DDG 118, Sheridan said.

Baseline 9 uses a common source code for a variety of applications so as to be able to tailor in functions and applications as needed, he added.

Much of the discussion regarding the Pentagon’s pacific rebalance hinges forward presence and developing technologies able to overcome Anti-Access/Area-Denial threats such as long-range, guided anti-ship cruise missiles designed to prevent ships such as carrier groups from entering closer to the coastline.

Many analysts have said that Chinese and North Korean cruise missile technology, for example, is advancing rapidly and being designed to deny potential adversaries access at much farther distances off their shores.

In particular, a 2013 ballistic and cruise missile threat assessment from the National Air and Space Intelligence Center identified a host of particular threats and systems in the pacific region.

The report cites numerous Chinese weapon s such as new conventionally armed medium range ballistic missiles called CSS-5 MRBMs. The report also says that both China and North Korea continue to develop and deploy large numbers of conventionally armed short and medium-range ballistic missiles.

NIFC-CA presents the Navy with a new technological tool to address these threats, potentially changing the equation regarding where and how ships will be able to operate.

“North Korea is doing a lot to challenge ships but we pride ourselves on staying ahead of that,” Sheridan said.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • Lance Brown

    Down side both China and Russia wont just shoot one missile at you they fly hordes at your fleet may not be a silver bullet we need to keep ships safe.

    • William_C1

      They know this, have known it since the ’60s when the Soviets first started fielding large numbers of anti-ship missiles. Ballistic missiles are a different sort of target but I don’t think anybody is fooling themselves into thinking they’d just launch one.

    • java vm

      actually, even if China or Russia shoot only one (their latest anti-ship missile) per US destroyer or frigate, it will have close to 100 pct certainty of hitting the target, unless the missile itself malfunctions in flight.

      US navy has absolutely no effective defense against maneuverable supersonic anti-ship missiles. Even the defensive capability against advanced subsonic anti-ship missiles is suspect. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or lying.

      • JohnnyRanger

        How the hell do you know?

        • peters

          probably because many senior commanders in the Navy and the Pentagon have said so over the years.

      • Lol

        Really? The U.S. Navy has been testing with, and intercepting, supersonic target missiles like the GQM-163 Coyote for years. It is just as fast as or faster than those Russian missiles.

        • spec

          misinformed or delusional?

    • Charles James Haas

      Which is why the Navy is trying to kill them from over the horizon, so they have a better chance of killing more over the course of thier flight. That is exactly what NIFC-CA is all about.

  • Steve B.

    I’m curious as to what airborne sensor is used to provide beyond-the-horizon targeting data ?. If the ships are part of the carrier group, then obviously the E-2, but with no carrier ?. Can they fit a radar unit good enough on a destroyer launched drone ?. Do we have a radar system that fits on a SH-60 ?.

    • Guest

      I find interesting the tandem development of this system and the UCAV/UCLASS effort. Given the potential combat radius/endurance of a UCLASS drone equipped with the proper sensors the swath of ocean monitored could be huge.

    • William_C1

      I don’t know what the airborne sensor they’re talking about here but they may still plan to give the E-2D Hawkeye a similar capability. I believe the Standard Missile 5 was intended to work like this. The E-2 would use a datalink to guide the SM-5 to targets such as sea-skimming cruise missiles at ranges where they are under the radar horizon of our cruisers and destroyers. SM-5 was cancelled but it looks like SM-6 can be used in a similar manner, although perhaps with an aircraft other than the E-2.

      • Will

        The radars mounted on helos of other countries could be mounted on the H-60. Don’t know if any are good at detecting & tracking sea skimming cruise missiles. An ideal platform would be an aircraft that can be based on a destroyer & has long endurance. In other words, neither the H-60 nor a carrier launched drone.

        • Steve B.

          Puzzled as to what kind of aircraft you recommend that can be launched and recovered from a destroyer that isn’t either a VTOL helo or V22, or a drone.

          I think those are the current choices, with current long endurance drones being too big to launch or get back.

    • blight_

      An aerostat carrying a radar, powered by fiberoptic tether to the ship. Longer range the higher you let it float, provides GMTI for speedboat smackdown and sea-skimmer detection, and perhaps extended radar range. And if you feel adventurous, then build a bigger one and put weapons on it.

    • Charles James Haas

      While it won’t be as good as an E-2C or E-2D, an MQ-8C could be fitted with a radar and placed on DDGs as needed. P-8 Poseidon with the AAS radar will have some capability in this way also.

    • guest

      Google “AWACS Bistatic UAV Adjunct”. This looks like the near term solution. The long term will be doing away with the AWACS platform altogether, to be replaced by HALE(High Altitude Long Endurance) UAV platforms that can interface with any ship’s CIC allowing any Navy vessel to have AWACS capabilities.

      • blight_

        High altitude airships might do it. Perhaps if big enough to mount a SeaRAM and CIWS they can defend themselves from surface to air missiles.

        Bring on the flying skycarriers! (Are they Navy or Air Force?)

        • Guest

          They’re Shield! Just ask Nick Fury. He’ll tell ya.

  • 009

    Sounds great, eliminate the threat before they eliminate you.

    • figspk

      I suggest you eliminate your wet dreams about these all-hype no-chance defense spending scams.

      • Charles James Haas

        And your speaking on what authority? Are you one of the same guys that thought our weapons weren’t good enough to beat the Iraqis? You must watch 60 minutes a lot I guess.

        • peters

          I believe any weapon enthusiast who closely follows the industry and news can answer that question right away: on the authority of the US military and the government, if not dozens of others.

          You obviously don’t know what you are talking about.

  • hibeam

    I have your over the horizon cruise missile defense right here. “Dive!.. dive!.. dive!” Unless you can get those laser blasters up and running in a big way you are shark bait on the surface. Missiles are just too smart and too fast these days.

    • Big-Dean

      I’m sure they are working on a CIWS sized laser as we speak

      • hibeam

        We need breakthroughs in CIWS. Our capital ships don’t look much different than a pickup truck full of Taliban to a swarm of smart missiles. The other option is not so many eggs in one basket.

    • fig spk

      There is a better defense than diving fast - don’t join the US navy at all. Better still, don’t join the US military at all. Why risk your life to fight for crooks from Wall Street, the Oil Cartel, and the Defense Industrial Complex? Not only do you not make any money, you won’t be getting any sympathy or benefits when (and if) you return with a basket of mental and physical injuries. Just look at Vets from Iraq, Afghanistan, or further back from Vietnam.

      • Jackofall

        Shut up

        • peters

          why? did he / she say something wrong?

  • rtsy

    So what are we gonna do with all the missiles that this will replace?

    • RunningBear

      Keep flying, all are OTH.

      Operational range 40 to 90 nmi (74 to 167 km)
      Flight ceiling 80,100 ft (24,400 m)
      -SM-2MR Block IIIA Command and Inertial midcourse guidance with monopulse semi-active radar homing in the terminal phase of the interception. 1991
      -SM-2MR Block IIIB missiles have dual infrared/semi-active terminal homing. 1998

      Operational range Block IA/B 4378 nm/ Block IIA 1350 nm
      -SM-3 (ABM)

      Operational range 130 nm (240 km)
      Flight ceiling 110,000 ft (33,000 m)
      Speed Mach 3.5
      -SM-6 Block 1

      • spec

        LOL. Keep dreaming. Not happening.

      • rtsy

        I see, this simply upgrades the Navys existing stocks. Thanks for the clarification.

  • nick987654

    With the long range of the SM6, this capability even gives the possibility of several salvoes before the enemy missile gets within line of sight of the ship’s radar.

    I wonder, now that the SM6 can be guided by an airborne radar, could it be used as a long range fast-reaction anti-radar missile? The AMRAAM’s seeker can surely detect a boat from 30+miles, and may be able to detect its radar and attack it accurately. Against a surface target the SM6 would probably have a 300+ miles range.

  • flybylight

    i Tend to think hi beam called it right - with advanced missiles like the Brahmos and sizzlers, our ships are shark bait- better get that Lazer Tech up fast…

    • Guest

      Whoever is using a Brahmos-based attack against us has to get inside of 300 nautical miles range of a ship/carrier strike group. Regardless of the platform used(ship, sub, aircraft, land-based) we will see them coming from a long way off. Nobody’s gonna sneak up on a battle group and do a surprise launch on it.

      • S O

        LOL, that’s ridiculous. Even the wettest dreams about the F-14 did not pretend that a 300 nm perimeter would be effective.
        You may open fire at that distance to your carrier and you may force some platforms to turn away or even hit them, but the release of missiles at 300 nm distance is easily possible.

        And surprise attacks are always possible, especially at such ranges.

      • blight_

        Russia can only help India build an MTCR-compliant system. It doesn’t mean they won’t build a better version for their own use, or that India cannot extend the range of Brahmos independently; just that they cannot export it under MTCR guidelines.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    An aerostat would have weather, wind and speed limitations (limit the speed of the hull to which it’s attached, I mean). The latter would pinch especially hard on the LCS, for which sprint speed, rightly or wrongly, seems to be the chief design requirement. A destroyer might have to run at 30 knots; who wants to tow an aerostat into a stiff headwind at that speed? I can’t see the US committing to a technology that would limit the LCS - and, on the basis of how many hulls we really are going to have, neither do I think the Navy can rule out operating the LCS as a part of a carrier battle group. OTOH, a medium weight helicopter, or some descendant of the Osprey, might work just fine in this regard.

  • Wayne Snyder

    I wonder how they know the enemy has shot at them if the launch is beyond their radar capability. You have to know you have a target before you launch an anti-missile.

  • @square1tech

    The capability to watch enemy aircraft launch and fly their mission is not a new concept. The key is to stop those aircraft from getting into range to launch their cruise missiles. Once a missile is launched, it is difficult to detect in sea clutter. However the AAAM program in the late 80s had this capability. It is about time for this feature to be incorporated in to the SM.

  • Brian Fletcher

    “…Teddy Roosevelt battle group…”

    Just an FYI, as a former crew member of CVN-71, I can tell you we were never allowed to call the ship “Teddy”. This is because that’s what his wife called him and after she died, NOBODY called him that. Out of respect, we followed suit.

  • S O

    This capability should have been an operational capability in the whole fleet decades ago already.…

  • Ronald

    If I’m correct, from my dinosaur days with this technology, over the horizon requirements demand a specific distance between transmitter and receiver for target acquisition,which I won’t mention, to work and a very stable platform, given the constant movement between adversaries I see successful targeting to be a shot in the dark. But then as stated I am obsolete.

    • blight_

      I’m thinking they meant OTH in the “use a UAV to extend detection range beyond the ship’s horizon”, versus something like Cobra Mist, ROTHR et al.

      I would be curious to see groundwave or ionospheric reflection systems in a ship-mobile setting, but I’m unsure if such a thing is feasible.

      The cheaper alternative is to push UAV’s out and use the high ground to extend your horizon, but there’s a limit to the kind of equipment that can be carried on a UAV, along with endurance. The other option is aerostats, which could be powered along the tether and limited by positive buoyancy in terms of the radar system that could be carried aloft.

  • Carl Carter

    Maybe we should have kept the F-14 Tomcat in service. Yes it needed to go digital, but it did have tracking and targeting capabilities of up to 24 aircraft. Now, it could probably handle WITH UPGRADES 24-50 targets and with data link hand off to AIM 120 or other similar missiles. I worked on a proposal to enhance the Tomcat with forward pass capability where it could provide target data to another fighter in the rear. thaws method could possibly defeat swarms.

  • Bob u

    When a war starts move to Brazil

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