Navy Upgrades Vertical Launch Systems

Mk 41 Vertical Launch SystemsThe Navy is upgrading the missile-firing vertical launch tubes aboard its cruisers and destroyers in order to add new fire power and extend their service life, service officials said.

Lockheed Martin recently received a contract from the Navy to work on the Mk 41 Vertical Launch Systems, or VLS, which allows engineers to work on designs, integration, support services and maintenance for the launchers.

The VLS, which can fire offensive and defensive missiles, have been firing weapons since the early 1980’s, primarily aboard Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, Lockheed and Navy officials said.

The launchers already fire a wide range of missiles to include Tomahawks, RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missiles, anti-submarine rockets, the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, ESSM, and various Standard Missiles such as the SM-2 and SM-3, said Brian Bohs, business development manager for controls, launchers and weapons, Lockheed Martin.

“For parts that become obsolete or new capabilities that come in, this is the contract that the customer says ‘I need you to redesign this component,’” Bohs said. If all options on the contract are exercised, the cost-plus deal could go up to as much as $182 million.

With the upgrades, the Mk 41 VLS will be able to fire the Block 2 ESSM which has improved guidance technology as well as the new SM-3 Block 2a missile which is a new, larger standard missile designed to achieve longer ranges compared to other SM variants.

The ESSM Block 2 is engineered with what’s called a semi-active, active guidance system, meaning the missile itself can achieve improved flight or guidance to its target by both receiving and actively sending electromagnetic signals, Raytheon officials said.

“Each new Mk 41 VLS missile or combat system integration provides the opportunity for new launcher capability and performance improvements, such as increased data through put via ethernet, new bi-directional digital interfaces such as Mil-Std-1553B, GPS data feed and new missile test functionality with future missile variants,” said Matthew Leonard, Naval Sea Systems Command.

Along with being on U.S. Navy ships, the Mk 41 VLS are also in service aboard 12 allied Navies around the globe, Bohs said. The allied countries using Mk 41 VLS include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Thailand, Turkey and New Zealand.

“It is the only multi-mission launcher in the world. It provides anti-air, anti-submarine, surface to surface and strike capability,” he added.

The maintenance and upgrade contract includes work to engineer the VLS to better support ballistic missile defense missions, Bohs added.

“The Mk 41 is capable of firing any missile in the U.S. inventory. The missiles come in canisters and canisters go into the launcher. The ordnance crew connects the umbilical of the launcher to the connector of the canister and then the launching system recognizes which missile that is,” Bohs said. “The Mk 41 is being configured so that it can accommodate new missile technology as it emerges.”

Overall, as many as 9,000 launch tubes are currently configured on approximately 90 ships.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • oblatt22

    The primary objective here is to take existing working systems and replace them with more expensive higher maintenance ones.

    • Curt Conway

      At present well over half the platforms cannot launch ESSM or have SM-3 IIA capability. The SM-2 Blk (anything) missile is expensive and a waist on a medium range target. The ESSM is ever bit as capable and at a significant cost reduction. These missile systems require greater fidelity, and larger quantity (bandwidth) of communications to the more sophisticated weapons. If we are to stretch the older platforms utility into the coming decades and get the full lifespan out of the ship, and enable the use of the medium range AAW weapon (ESSM), and enable the ship to be a Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) platform, then these modifications are REQUIRED! It also brings all the platforms to the same configuration equipment wise significantly simplifying logistics . . . which saves a LOT of money in the future supporting one equipment set of parts. This is a common sense approach to improving the fleet plain and simple. Way to go NAVY!

      • Tom

        So how many billions has the US Navy wasted on using SM-2’s when an ESSM could have been used to destroy an enemy target? How many billions will be wasted over the next 5, 10, 20, 100 years? Obviously this is the DoD run amok making financially unsound decisions, for just a few hundreds of millions they would have saved untold billions it sounds like!

        • https://www.facebook.com/HeyPeteyboy Peter Erik Bensen

          Sparrows and their derivatives are largely obsolete. Recent years have seen advances which have extended the various Sparrows utility. Without advanced Standard Missiles, we would cease to have a capable aircraft carrier navy. Sparrows are a last-ditch close-in weapon which can be fired in volleys, used on lesser threats, or used in restricted ROE scenarios.

        • Pax

          …if only you had been there to run the show, we all would have 0.0001284% more money for our families, who could also sleep more soundly at night. Wait! Hope is not lost; you mentioned the billions of monetary units that will be wasted in the near and expanding future – you still have time to save us! First thing when you get into office, make sure I do not continue as an engineer for this country; I worked a program recently to design a new composite launch canister and the success was too little too late. So, I was a direct contributor in “wasting” $millions. I’d like to think that the investment will payoff in its strengthening the experience of our country’s technical design assets and lead to future successes that would not otherwise occur. If you help create an environment where fear of failure is a driving force, then you might as well sign your kids up for summer camp in Khost now. Just remember that our enemies have a much longer timetable in mind to accomplish their horrific goals… so settle down a bit and be supportive since you don’t have enough familiarity with the situation that you even have to ask that first question of yours. You didn’t stay up the first time you tried riding a bike either (I bet your dad blamed it on the bike manufacturer and sent them a letter sprinkled with anthrax).

        • guest

          Sm 2 give better stand off and area defense capability, it also has a much larger warhead to engage surface targets. With Russia trying to rebuild it ocean going fleet and China and India trying to become blue water navies maybe not such a bad thing.

    • rtsy

      Seems to me like its designed to counter China’s growing missile capabilities and keep our own force modern.

  • hibeam

    The Marines will want a runway launched version.

  • blight_

    Modularity working as intended.

    As for ESSM: http://www.dodbuzz.com/2013/08/20/navy-works-to-d

    And from LM:
    http://www.lockheedmartin.com/us/news/press-relea

    Contract sounds very mundane. From LM:

    “This contract combines purchases for the U.S. Navy and eight allied navies under the Foreign Military Sales program. Included in the work is missile integration, software development, integration of VLS into new ships, technical refresh, systems engineering and life cycle support for MK 41 VLS. These services will also be done on the U.S. Navy’s Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers. ”

    Sounds like a cycle of upgrades to perhaps ensure that older Burkes get their hardware refreshed to match the newer Burkes.

  • StealthFlyer

    “It is the only multi-mission launcher in the world.” Uh, no. Even limiting the conversation to just ship-based launchers, the US (Mk 57 VLS on DDG-1000) and other nations (Russia, Great Britain, South Korea, etc) have several.

    “The Mk 41 is capable of firing any missile in the U.S. inventory.” Again, more hyperbole, even if we drastically limit the comment to just ship-launched missiles (it can’t fire Harpoon, RAM, Griffin, Stinger, etc).

    • bruce nadeau

      there extension that let the mark41 fire five rams per cell , the reason it cannot fire harpoon is in the harpoon missile and not the mark 41 launcher, as for stinger the stinger is to small

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    Anything that expands antiair / antimissile capacities sounds good to me. What Blight said.

    The majority of the ships that will get the new VLS and ESSM II also have a 5-inch gun. A laser-guided Excalibur round is probably a better Boghammer swatter, in terms of flight time, and cheaper.

  • jsallison

    Show me that it can be replenished underway and not have to go back to a friendly, secured port to reload. That would be an upgrade I could get behind.

    • Launchertech

      It can be replenished underway IF necessary, but not in a high sea state, after all who wants to handle anything in a high sea state?. Put the missiles on the deck and the crane that is stowed in the launcher is capable of placing them into the cells.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    EvilBlight, how effective were the Standard missiles fired against ships during Praying Mantis

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    Thank you.

    That’s a convincing argument for a better warhead, be it Standard, Harpoon, Skipper or other.

  • kevin

    Damn, the world sure has been spending huge amounts of $ building up new tech weapons. The day of the fireworks, I hope I don’t do something silly like sleep in and miss it!

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