Navy Spends $1.6B to Upgrade Carrier and Amphib Ship Defenses

Rolling Airframe MissileThe Navy is working on a $1.6 billion technological upgrade overhauling ship defense systems onboard amphibs and aircraft carriers to include interceptor missiles, streamlined radars and software improvements, service officials said.

The work is being done on what’s called Ship Self Defense Systems, or SSDS – a series of integrated technologies being upgraded to track, identify and destroy a wide range of possible threats such as incoming enemy supersonic missiles.

“I’m upgrading the SSDS to handle the Joint Strike Fighter and to handle higher threats. My primary upgrades with SSDS are getting an upgrade to be able to handle supersonic targets,” said Rear Adm. Peter Fanta, director of Surface Warfare.

Some of the key elements to the upgrade include getting the ship ready for upgraded missiles such as the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile Block 2, or ESSM Block 2, and Block 2 of the Rolling Airframe Missile, or RAM Block 2.

Both missiles, already in limited or early production, are engineered to protect carriers,amphibious assault ships and other vessels from cruise missiles, small boat threats and airborne enemy threats such as aircraft or UAS.

The new RAM Block 2 variant includes a new RF receiver, new navigation system and increased diameter to 6-inches, Raytheon officials said. The weapon has a dual mode RF and IR guidance system. The Block 2 missile is 9.45 feet long, weighs 194-pounds and is able to reach supersonic speeds, according to Raytheon and Navy information.

The new missile variant also includes enhanced guidance algorithms and a more powerful dual-thrust rocket motor enabling the missile to reach longer ranges, Raytheon officials said. Overall, the Navy plans to acquire at least 502 RAMs between 2015 and 2019, service officials said.

The Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile Block II, or ESSM, is a new version of an existing Sea Sparrow weapons system currently protecting aircraft carriers, destroyers, cruisers, amphibious assault ships and other vessels against anti-ship missiles and other surface and airborne  short-range threats to ships, Navy officials said.

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

The ESSM uses radar technology to locate and then intercept a fast-approaching target while in flight. The use of what’s called an “illuminator” is a big part of this capability, Raytheon officials said.

The current ESSM missiles use what’s called a semi-active guidance system, meaning the missile itself can receive electromagnetic signals bounced off the target by an illuminator. The ESSM Block 2’s “active” guidance includes illuminator technology built onto the missile itself such that it can both receive and send important electromagnetic signals, Navy and Raytheon officials explained.

“Block 2 relieves us of the requirement to do a lot of illuminator guidance as a short range self-defense. It has an active front end. That gives the fleet more options as there are going to be situations where you are going to want a semi-active guided but when you are dealing in a tough threat situation,” Rear Adm. John Hill, Program Executive Officer, Integrated Warfare Systems, told in an interview.

The missile is able to intercept threats that are close to the surface by sea-skimming or diving in onto a target from a higher altitude, Navy officials explained.  The so-called kinematic or guidance improvements of the Block 2 missile give it an improved ability to counter maneuvering threats, Navy and Raytheon officials said.

ESSM Block 2 is being jointly acquired by the U.S. and a number of allied countries such as Australia, Canada, Denmark, The Netherlands, Norway and Turkey. All these countries signed an ESSM Block II Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, designed to solidify the developmental path for the missile system through it next phase. The weapon is slated to be fully operational on ships by 2020.

As part of the SSDS overhaul, Navy leaders are now working on a wide range of software and hardware fixes to amphibs and carriers so that they can accommodate the upgraded RAM and ESSM missiles.

“From a combat systems perspective I am updating the software to be able to handle the speed and the ranges that those missiles can now function against. It is both software and hardware. I also have to upgrade the Sea Sparrow launchers to take the added weight of the Sea Sparrow Block 2, upgrade the RAM launchers to take the new RAM systems and I have to upgrade the radar to allow the data to flow back and forth,” Fanta said.

Fanta explained that a lot of the work relates to making sure the upgraded RAM and ESSM missiles can properly integrate into their missile tubes.

“I’m doing something within the software or the actual hardware of these systems.  A lot of it is algorithm work and a lot of it is making the launchers able to turn faster with more weight in each missile tube,” Fanta added.

The upgrades are also integrating a defensive weapon called Close-In-Weapons-System or CIWS, Navy leaders explained.

“It is a close-loop fire protection system all by itself. It has a radar and it has a gun. It is trainable and you can do different levels of integration with CIWS. It is either stand alone or it has some level of integration with the other sensors on board,” Hill said.

Hill also explained that the current SSDS upgrades included a technology known as Fire Control Loop Improvement, or F-CLIP, which involves the use of a common display system for different sensors and radar signals.

— Kris Osborn can be reached at

About the Author

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

    More common software architectures across the fleet, so modernization efforts can seamlessly pay off across the entire force. Upgrades applied to the Fords should hopefully work in the remaining Nims, Burkes and Ticos. LCS was a first step in that direction, but considering all ships will be using some common systems, a common software/hardware backbone would be nice to get upgrades rolling effectively across the fleet.

    • Curtis Conway

      SSDS plus a few more consoles being fed by a 9-module AN/SPS-6(v) AMDR will look a lot like (in function) the USS Ticonderoga (CG-47) the First and Formidable Aegis Cruiser when she first came out. That will be a significant accomplishment, particularly on the amphibs. When we make ‘everyone a shooter’ that will be another step in the right direction. When (and if it works) Directed Energy comes out with sufficient energy, then Hypersonic ASCMs are handled, LORD help us live that long.

  • Big-D

    Larger amphips basically have four layers of defense, ECM, ESSM, RAM, and of course the Phalanx. Pretty impressive on paper. But does anyone here have an direct experience with tests that may have been conducted to determine the real effectiveness of this layered defense?

    • Comrade

      As we say in Mother Russia, you can put your hand over the mouth of a gun, but it won’t stop the bullet.

      • salt

        You mean like the huge slow buzzing Bear targets?

        • Comrade

          Float like a butterfly, sting like the bear, my salty friend.

          • blight_

            Fly like a Bear, sting like an anti-ship missile?

          • NMI

            Bears fly? LOL

          • blight_


          • Captain Comrade

            Blight you are one clever SOB

          • blight_

            Not really, since salt started the allusion to the Tu-95.

            NMI is the only one who didn’t get it.

      • TeXan1111…

  • Nick

    At this point, the Navy should be aiming for its carriers to be somewhat self sufficient in shooting down not supersonic threats, but hypersonic considering the advances in enemy missile tech.

    • salt

      Supersonic nothing. They should be upgrading to lasers and/or railguns. No missile can outrun the speed of light. The carriers have plenty of onboard power or space to add more if they want to. They should be bristling with anti-missile laser weaponry.

      • blight_

        Whatever knocks down targets today, instead of tomorrow.

        The Navy went with more and more guns because it couldn’t afford to wait for missiles to adequately defend ships from aerial attack. (Although it did upgrade from fifty cals to Oerlikons, and then to Bofors, with the upgrades in their heavier complement up to 5″ dual mounts).

        Maybe tomorrow they’ll have lasers and railguns and tigers, oh my. But until then the research and development effort on those systems moves forward, and the funds to upgrade the in-place solutions must continue to be spent. Diverting the money from current defense upgrades to R&D won’t necessarily lead to much faster railgun and laser development.

        • Rob C.

          I’ll be happy they allow provisions for further upgrades which could include new weapon systems becoming available.

          • blight_

            We’ve learned that ship refits can be messy and never quite meet expectations. The ships of today used fifty years from now will probably endure a FRAM-style refit, and be second-rate ships until they are replaced.

      • salt is bad for you

        Know-nothing pipe dream.

        Why not start with pipe dream about a few generations of omnipotent engineers and physicists first.

  • NMI

    We should upgrade our fighters to Veritechs and Valkyries!

    • Riceball

      Not to be pedantic but Veritechs and Valkyries are the same thing. Verritech is the American/Robotech name for the VF-1 Valkyries although I’ve sometimes seen them referred to as Veritech Valkyries. Regardless, I do like your suggestion.

      • d. kellogg

        Mr Picky says,
        Veritech was the generalized description of any aerial-anthropomorph combatant: any aircraft that could morph into the “humaniform” fighting robot in addition to the aircraft mode and “gerwalk” mode, Ground Enhanced Requirement for Winged Armament with Locomotive Knee joint, the semi-robot look of an aircraft with “bird legs” deployed, and also able to utilize the arms to deploy various guns.

        We might as well fantasize about anti-gravity dropships akin to the Republic gunships from Star Wars, just as much as if we’re going to entertain the notion of morphing aircraft with nuclear-core turbine engines and other exotic propulsion systems that function thru some as-yet-unknown means of circumventing physical natural laws.

        Stay with reality, guys.

        • salt

          Umm, we already have anti-gravity vehicles. Yes, we already use nuclear-powered aircraft too, the US Air Force TR-3B.

          • blight_

            Who needs anti-gravity vehicles when you have monorails between your secret underground bases? To monitor the FEMA camps, probably.

  • Charles

    “I’m upgrading the SSDS to handle the Joint Strike Fighter and to handle higher threats…”
    Excellent - even the US navy considers the JSF a threat? This explains the navy’s request to purchase more F/A-18’s…


    • blight_

      That or is there a plan to fuse JSF sensors into ship sensors? When did this happen?

      • William_C1

        They’ve been aiming to do this with the F-35 for some time. Having its sensor data contribute to the “big picture” much like with the E-2 Hawkeye.

        • oblatt23

          Yep just like the E-2 except worse in every way - loiter time, aperture, coverage, scan rate etc etc etc

          • blight_

            Titanium-bladed swiss army knife.

    • oblatt23

      The F-35 will greatly degrade the outer layers of air defense. They expect many more missiles to have to be defeated by terminal defense systems - which is why they are upgrading them all.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    It’s not entirely clear, from the quoted statements, that this is what’s meant - but it certainly sounds sensible. If we deploy an aircraft with such class-leading IR and sensor fusion capacities as the F-35 is supposed to have, why would we not want to be able to plug it into CEC? First for ship defense, but why not also use it for targeting ship-launched Tomahawks, or any other weapon?

    • oblatt23

      The f-35 is a terrible interceptor. A real step down in capability for outer zone defense of the carriers.

      The close in defense systems are being upgraded to cope with the increased threat that the F-35 will let through.

    • blight_

      Well, if we are gutting our surface screens then it means we need JSFs to detect them further out: a mission that would have gone to frigates or LCS.

      As for me, putting sensors on a airship sounds like a better proposition. Kevlar-weave the canopies against HE blast/frag, with stupendous loiter times aided by the American helium monopoly…

      • d. kellogg

        The biggest flaw the F-35 is going to face,
        is that not every time we turn around they (LM) task it with another capability (I assume ASW and COD are the next things),
        but that it still only will ever have 1 pilot.
        There is a phenomenal amount of workload being expected for 1 person to learn to perform how many various missions now… All the augmentation and virtual goodness of the synthetic sensor fusion the F-35 promises is going to the choke point above all else: until they can overcome the neural overload that’s causing near-migraine headaches over prolonged mission use (the current visual frequencies of the helmet and video overlays are not the most ideal for human physiology), these aircraft ARE going to prove to be more and more the white elephant that UK fellow is saying over in that other side on the sister site DoDBuzz. Digital information overload will takes a neurological toll on pilots just as much as physical flight stresses. Training and “G-suit” improvements can build tolerance to those factors, but it will be years of study and training to learn our absolute limitations of the human brain being able to handle only so much sensor input /integration overload.

        • blight_

          The brain workload of aircraft has been going up for years without fail. Regardless of my opinions about the helmet, even without helmet it will still be brutal.

  • Mark

    I do not like leaders using the words “I” and “my” when talking about things like this.

    • xXTomcatXx

      Me neither. I’ve seen the Admiral speak on a few occasions now, and I’m not very confident in his abilities. It’s like when you hear a high ranking officer say something like “I’m just a dumb sailor, there’s people a lot smarter than me working on these things”. Fanta seems to fall into that category. I get that they’re trying to seem humble and whatnot, but it comes off as purely ignorant.

      • blight_

        Taking credit for the work of others makes you look effective? Don’t know. Seems to be common practice in the dog-eat-dog corporate world, so why not the military? Sad, but true.

        • xXTomcatXx

          It’s less about credit and more being unable to show an understanding of the subject matter. It’s a deflection mechanism. His predecessor (and now boss), Admiral Rowden, was a much better communicator that instilled confidence in his leadership abilities. Director of Surface Navy, I feel, is one of the few leadership positions where in that many of the decisions (or mistakes) are irreversible.

          Just my judgement of his character. I could be totally off as I don’t know him personally. We’ll see.

          • blight_

            “I’m upgrading the SSDS to handle the Joint Strike Fighter and to handle higher threats. My primary upgrades with SSDS are getting an upgrade to be able to handle supersonic targets”

            “From a combat systems perspective I am updating the software to be able to handle the speed and the ranges that those missiles can now function against. It is both software and hardware. I also have to upgrade the Sea Sparrow launchers to take the added weight of the Sea Sparrow Block 2, upgrade the RAM launchers to take the new RAM systems and I have to upgrade the radar to allow the data to flow back and forth,”

            “I’m doing something within the software or the actual hardware of these systems. A lot of it is algorithm work and a lot of it is making the launchers able to turn faster with more weight in each missile tube,”

            The last sentence is perhaps the vaguest. I suppose without original remarks it’s hard to make a judgement call either way.

    • Curtis Conway

      True leaders do not use terms like “I” or “my”. They use terms like “we” or “our”, and they always emphasize TEAM Builds. This ‘self promoting’ administration example, with its lack of leadership, and terrible Narcissistic Example, has ushered in a whole cast of Narcissist who now have authority. Scary Thought? What ever happen to the Meritocracy?

  • Woody Adams

    My thought on this subject is EMP. all the tech and armament in the world won’t help if the tech on our military equipment isn’t secured from attack by Electro Magnetic Pulse detonation. Just my thought. I would hope we are already hardened against such type of attack.

    • ponder

      Don’t you think that instead of hoping for never-ending warmongering by MIC puppets in the government and never-ending escalation of defense tech for war, you should be hoping for complete riddance of corrupt bloodsucking MIC puppets in the federal government?

      The US has been the sole largest source of political assassinations, coups, wars, invasions, and subversive operations around the world since the end of WWII.

  • dennis

    I wish they would start using all this technology od the middle east, rather than just bragging about how they spent all our money….. SHOW US !!!!!

    • blight_

      How are we going to use missile defense on the middle east? By sailing into Iranian waters and begging them to shoot at us?

      • Drew

        That would be a start

        • blight_

          Mmm, tough talk until another trillion dollars goes down the drain, plus another six thousand dead soldiers and twenty thousand wounded.

          KBR is standing by.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    ASCMs are as common as machine guns these days, with non-state actors like Hizbullah employing them. A non-radar ASCM will give a ship very, very little time within which to defend itself, so it makes absolute sense to integrate every possible sensor on every possible platform to protect the fleet.

    We’ve been intermittently escorting through the Strait of Hormuz. How much warning does a ship get of a ASCM coming out of the radar shadow of the land? Can’t be much. If it’s using an IR or command guidance system, how much less warning?
    No reason to find out how much was too little.

    • blight_

      We assume that all of our threats will be over the horizon. Something akin to our ability to detect muzzle flashes may be needed to detect the line-of-sight usage of enemy weapons systems, ranging from a 12.7mm cannon to an ATGM to a cruise missile. There won’t be enough time to arm more than CIWS based on a radar fix on an incoming cruise missile, depending on proximity to the target.

      Note that the Iranians have many islands in the Gulf. The Tunbs and Abu Musa would give them interlocking coverage. Any movement of military systems to these islands would naturally be of great interest.

      • xXTomcatXx

        “Something akin to our ability to detect muzzle flashes…”
        An interesting idea. Something like the IRST systems used on aircraft perhaps? The high density of air certainly complicates matters, but an interesting idea nonetheless.