Navy Develops Semi-Autonomous Air-Launched Missile for F/A-18

LRASM_SL_Rail_Shot_3The Navy is working on a deal with Lockheed Martin to integrate its new, semi-autonomously guided Long Range Anti-Ship Missile onto an F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft, giving the fighter an increased ability to identify and strike targets at longer ranges from the air, service and Lockheed officials explained.

In development since with the Navy and the Pentagon’s research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, the so-called LRASM weapon is being developed as a long-range air, surface and submarine-launched missile able to track and destroy targets semi-autonomously.

Not much detail about its seeker technology, range or guidance systems is publically available – as much of the program is secret. However, Lockheed officials have said the weapon has an unclassified range of 200 nautical miles, a distance which is likely to be well short of its actual range.

Also, LRASM does use a semi-autonomous guidance technology designed to allow the weapon to avoid obstacles in the air while in flight, Lockheed officials explained.

The Navy plans to have LRASM operational on F/A-18s by 2019; the Navy, Air Force DARPA and Lockheed have conducted at least three demonstrations of the LRASM thus far.

In the most recent flight test in February of this year, the LRASM was fired successfully from an Air Force B-1B bomber at Pt. Mugu, a sea range in California. LRASM will be operational on an Air Force B-1B by 2018, officials said.

At an initial air-launched test flight took place in August of 2013, the LRASM successfully launched from a B-1B bomber and navigated itself to the target, said Lockheed officials.

The Navy also plans to compete a surface-ship launched variant of its air launched Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, or LRASM which is now in development, service officials said.

With this in mind, Lockheed has been investing about $30 million in research funds to develop and test a LRASM that can fire from a surface-ships’ vertical launch system, Lockheed officials said.

In fact, the Navy and Lockheed conducted a vertical-launch system, or VLS, test firing of LRASM from a desert location last year at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

“We wanted to make sure it can exit the canister when the booster lights up and the missile stays intact. We’re furthering the maturity of our surface launched integration and planning on doing a few flight tests in the near future,” Hady Mourad, Program Director with Lockheed Martin Missiles, told in an interview.

The weapon is being configured to fire out of surface ship and submarine firing tubes and vertical launch systems.

“The weapon will launch out of whatever Tomahawk gets launched out of,” Mourad added. “What we bring with LRASM is not part of the inventory.”

The weapon has some similar characteristics to an existing air-launched weapon called the Joint Air-to-Surface-Standoff Missile, or JASSM. This similarity will likely help make production of LRASM easier because some of the dimensions are comparable to JASSM.

Eventually, the LRASM will likely fire from surface ships such as destroyers, submarines and aircraft such as F-15s, F-35 joint strike fighters and other platforms, Mourad explained.



About the Author

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

    Is it just me, or has there been numerous upgrades and enhancements announced this week? I like it!

  • blight_

    In all the hub-bub of developing new platforms, they’re finally getting around to giving us more weapons.

    Hooray for weapons. And if they’re low RCS weapons, then maybe we can mount them externally too…

    • FormerDirtDart

      Low RCS weapon mounted on outside of low RCS aircraft does not necessarily equal a low RCS solution

      • blight_

        Indeed, not as low as a clean configuration, can only go up. And surface faceting is calculated for clean configurations, so i suppose there is the possibility of radar energy reflecting off of a low RCS weapon, hitting the surface of an aircraft that was unplanned for, and having an alternate angle to return to the receiver: which would result in net increase in radar cross section.

        The ambitious thing to do would be to calculate cross sections for fully loaded aircraft, then optimize particular surfaces of a particular payload combination to reduce radar returns. But that’s a serious pain in the ass, and likely one of those money-in-the-pit projects.

      • salt

        There are some who think that “stealth” as in low RCS is old news because newer radars etc can see past it anyway. The new stealth tech will have to rely on something other than special radar-absorbing materials, perhaps.

        • salt

          Any thoughts on this?

          • Pepper

            Most of the stealth effect is in the shaping of the object not the RAM. The ratio is about 80% shape 20% RAM. RAM has been and will continue to be changed.

            Newer radar tech is still very limited against stealth a/c. Certain frequencies may be able to detect them but their range is greatly reduced and given their nature cannot give accurate range and direction. They still have to hand off to a fire control radar which stealth tech is optimized against.

            As radar improves so will stealth shaping and RAM.

    • wpnexp

      The big flat pylon that attaches the weapon to the aircraft acts like a huge radar cross section generator as it is a perfect 90 degree angle off the wing. Of course if you are headed perfectly straight at the radar (assuming there is only one looking at you) the reflection isn’t significant, but it is as soon as you turn the plane at angles other than straight to the radar.

  • Stan

    That range would have to be longer than 200 miles considering the range of the latest Russian made SAMs.

    • JIm

      it should be around 500miles, but they also want to reduce the warhead payload to make it over 1000 miles

    • FWGuy

      Currently the range is > 1000 KM and will be greater if warhead size is reduced.

  • BlackOwl18E

    This idea is something the Navy’s had for many years, almost a decade as a matter of fact. Glad to see it finally coming to fruition. It sticks directly in line with the CNO’s concepts of payload over platform and brings even more lethal capability to the Super Hornet.

    • citanon

      The CNO’s ideas isn’t payload over platforms. His idea is to talk up payload over platforms so he can actually get payload developed and get a better negotiating position for the platforms. There’s a difference.

      • BlackOwl18E

        You’re presuming you know that’s the CNO’s intent based solely on an opinion. You should have a compelling amount of evidence why you think that.

        I’m saying he really does think payload over platforms is what matters based on works he’s written before and based on what his available options are. If platforms mattered first, he be in the line up of people that are 100% on board with the F-35 program, but he isn’t.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    That oddly non-symmetrical nose cone intrigues me. It’s visually reminiscent of recent pictures of the Stunner missile used in the David’s Sling system; does that imply a multi-color sensor? And this doubtless dovetails nicely with the announced improvements in the B-1B’s radar system.

    Whatever the actual range of the missile may be, a high-altitude launch from a B-1B at cruising speed should provide the best possible range. Does the choice of the B-1B mean that this can’t initially be carried internally in the F-35?

    • Yo momma

      The choice to use a B1 is probably based on availability more than anything. The missiles dimensions are based off the JASSM so it’s likely it doesn’t fit. But the developers might have internal carriage in mind and changed something.

    • blight_

      My guess is that it’s not perfectly square, but somewhat rectangular as part of the RCS reductions.………

    • citanon

      The nose shape is for stealth.

      B1 is for convenience, payload and versatility.

      Targeting at long range will be done by something else other than the launch platform (which is part of the point).

      Launch speed and altitude makes no real difference to the range as these will be going for 500 nmi. The VLS versions will be boosted up to altitude by a rocket. After that, they are flying around like a little Lear Jet.

      Now imagine you are a Red Force battle group in the South China Sea. Bluefor has this missile. Where are your threats? Draw a 500 nmi radius circle around yourself. Missile could be coming from anywhere (and likely more than one place) within that circle as long as any sensor under sea, on the surface, on land, in the air, or out in space spots your general position. At this point you realize: you’ve got PROBLEMS.

      • blight_

        If we still had a stealthy forward command and control aircraft (Tacit Blue) that could direct stealthy LRASM’s or JASSM-ER launched from B-2 bombers, the surface fleet of a rival nation state would be royally screwed. But the detection side of things still needs to be worked out…unless the plan is to use UAVs, which will give the opposition some idea that they have been detected.

    • wpnexp

      B-1B carries something like 16 of these, verse likely 2 external on the F-35C and maybe 4 on the F/A-18 but probably 2 on the F/A-18 most of the time. The shear numbers on the B-1B make it worth the use of the bomber. Got to hit the destroyers and frigates escorting the carrier to really defeat the battle group.

  • superraptor

    it is slow. It will be shot down. They need to make it supersonic.

    • blight_

      Would be nice to have a supersonic and a subsonic missile for terrestrial targets (ship, land attack). Sub will require something else to get at.

    • blight_

      Has to be more to life than trying to brute-force supersonic missiles at sea-skim over limited range.

      Another fun option may be to use a missile that is boosted to high altitude, drops, and glides long range to the target, before engaging a ramjet for terminal attack. Another option is taking supersonic missiles and mating them to a turbofan stage that provides the desired long range in a sea-skim profile, with a switch to supersonic stage.

      • citanon

        It’s mostly been done already. That’s how some of the current Russian/Indian missiles work. Those are still no where near as long range as purely subsonic missiles. Tomahawks showed that you can get out to over 1000 nmi with an efficient flight profile. They are basically little Lear Jets that fly themselves half a continent away to kamikaze at some hapless target.

        Supersonic is formdiable, but not as formidable as five of these LRSMs showing up from five different directions all around your ship at the exact same time, closing in at 500 mph, while still being darn near untrackable for your radar. At that point you just give up and get a head start out to the life rafts.

        • citanon

          Oh, and they’ll also bee pulling 20 g serpentine evasive maneuvers as they close that last 30 seconds from the horizon to your ship.

          • blight_

            Range is great, so long as we have systems to detect them from the edge of the maximum range of the missile. If we do not, then the range advantage disappears.

            On paper our adversaries are using short-ranged export-grade Russian missiles, which are generally MTCR compliant. There is no guarantee that the Russians do not ship instructions on how to make them un-compliant, or that local engineers cannot modify the missiles to push them beyond MTCR spec.

            At the moment, we do have a detection advantage, but it depends heavily on aerial platforms. These might be E-2’s (perhaps vulnerable to surface to air or air to air attack), JSF (less vulnerable), UAV’s (less vulnerable, though perhaps vulnerable to attacks to satellite datalink).

          • citanon

            This being a networked weapon, you can have the detection and tracking done by any platform or collaboratively by many platforms. Everything from fishing boats fitted with electronic listening devices to satellites out in space.

            Both sides will be fighting on the EW front to delay detection and break tracking.

    • wpnexp

      It likely can get supersonic in a vertical dive if they decide to go that route.

  • Curt

    Well, if LRASM can be fired from a VLS cell or sub launch capsule, so can JASSM/JASSM-ER which use the same airframe! Although it is shorter ranged and doesn’t have TERCOM or DSMAC capability, is about half the price of tomahawk and is stealthy. So you can easily add a 500nm+ stealth cruise missile capability with autonomous terminal homing to the surface and submarine fleets. A very nice compliment to Tomahawk and one that the Navy is already buying.

    • blight_

      JASSM/JASSM-ER are land attack missiles, appear to use GPS/INS/automatic-target recognition. No radar.

      -ER has stated range of 1000+ km but probably in a high altitude glide mode.

      LRASM as fired from a ship needs a booster to put it to altitude so it can glide to target.

      • ronaldo

        Note quite, Blight.

        I have worked on this ER configuration of the JASSM and the “ER” means that it has a small gas turbine in the ass end to give it that range. I do not know if such an ER configuration is available for the VLS version of LRASM, but it is entirely possible.

        After the great reliability of a stored JP propulsion system on the Tomahawk, the Navy is very secure in using this.

        • blight_

          Turbofans are helpful, and remove the high altitude constraint required of a glide system. I suppose glide’s only benefit is reduced IR emissions, but that’s about it.

          • ronaldo


            Frankly I expect all JASSM production to roll into the ER form over the next few years..If the target defenses are strong enough to warrant this expensive LO weapon instead of a much cheaper JSOW ( or equivalent) in the first place, then real standoff ( i.e. ER ) makes all the sense in the world.

            Pure glide is for SDBs

          • blight_

            Ah, I must have been mixing up my systems. JSOW is glide, JSOW-ER turbojet powered.

          • FWGuy

            JASSM have already switched to JASSM-ER with the 2015 USAF defense procurement budget. But other countries are being sold the JASSM, like Poland etc.

  • Highguard

    As advertised. Too bad (but a good thing) max range cannot be discussed as it will make it clear to our peer naval adversaries that USN and USAF will be #1 again in OASuW capability, in spite of certain senator’s attempts to keep us down at #5 or 6. Stan, you will not be disappointed. Survivability puts MMT to shame and range puts SS-N-26/27s and Club K to shame. If BA makes a good showing with their LRASM B, that could edge out LRASM A for the SL version. I say, give em mixed loads of both. We should be throwing both speed and stealth at our enemies. Commonalities with JASSM-ER will keep the production cost lower. To address Former Dirt Dart’s concerns, LMCO will produce a shorter-range LCMCM version for internal carriage in JSF which will probably have to compete with the Joint Strike Msl (JSM) before downselect. SuperRaptor, speed is high sub-sonic and it can’t be shot down if it can’t be targeted. Black Owl 18E is causing me to like the new CNO. However, AF was first to propose the JASSM-ASuW in 2007. Navy followed a year later calling for an MMT.

    • blight_

      Are you comparing our system’s range numbers with export-grade/MTCR-compliant grade systems? Or Russian Navy non-export systems?

    • citanon

      Max range has been talked about at 500 nmi.

      Sunburn and co come no where close in any version as they trade size and fuel burn for speed.

      • blight_

        They chose speed. Great missiles for when the enemy has to come in close to you (e.g in the Persian Gulf), but if a fleet is coming in from bluewater, it can park out of range and hopefully pick things off at their leisure. However, I’m not sure how the Soviet Navy intended to close the range with the Navy or NATO to expend their nuclear cruise missiles in the first place.

        Though I suppose the real missiles worth worrying about are the ALCM’s.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    Well … one of the Great Unknowns of current naval warfare is how well state of the art ASCMs penetrate contemporary point and area defense AA systems, hard kill and soft. We really have no clue. If the Fates are kind, no one ever need find out.

    The Fates are never that kind, alas.

    • blight_

      We can guess…if we can procure some export grade Silkworms, Shipwrecks, Sunburns, and then then fire them at the experimental Self-Defense Ship. It’ll be great.

      We also have some old missiles used as target drones. But for the gold standard of firing these missiles at a ship which then takes the hit and keeps on fighting? We have no clue.

      • Brian B. Mulholland

        Can a large, valuable warship that’s carrying ESSM and RAM and CIWS use these weapons against multiple incoming ASCMs while firing back? Can CIWS distinguish boosters falling off Harpoons and Standard-ER missiles from the incoming missiles? How many Standard missiles can we command simultaneously against incoming fire, while also directing them against the launch platforms (for a quick disabling hit) while also pumping out Harpoons to ultimately kill those launch platforms? Are we even sure that the VLS system will function reliably if most of the missiles carried have to be fired within a 60-second window before we’re hit with a missile that leaks through? You’d need to put people at risk to find out. I could easily see such a test costing a literal billion dollars.

        • blight_

          We should’ve taken those retired Ticos and used them for a SINKEX experiment.

          Tele-operate them, then use the SPY-1 system to direct missiles and such. Couple it to a Spruance carrying VLS (but no SPY-1) and see how long they last before getting killed by a rain of incoming target drones.

    • citanon

      No need to guess. The Navy routinely conducts live fire training and test operations against subsonic and supersonic targets that do a good job of simulating these threats.

      Where the guessing comes in is with China’s AShBMs, though you can bet work is underway to create realistic target drones for those also.

      • blight_

        We could just send ships over to Kwajelein, track the Minutemen missiles as they come in from Vandenberg and shoot them down? Kill two birds with one stone (validate Minutemen platforms, validate missile shootdown capability)

        • citanon

          The Minutemen’s MIRVs reenter the atmosphere at Mach 25 on ballistic trajectories. They do not simulate Chinese AshBMs which are MRBMs with _maneuvering_ warheads that reenter at around Mach 10. The closest US system was actually the Pershing missile from the 80s, which had a maneuvering warhead. Of course, with our expertise in this technology and the significance of the threat, I’m sure a suitable practice target will be developed.

  • ronaldo

    My money is on a first strike with the JASSM-ER based CHAMP payload ( funded by the USAF) , which would be the first HPMW weapon for our forces that is programmed to take out various and mobile targets.

    • blight_

      Leaning towards CHAMP being useful as a payload against aircraft (in a surface to air missile) or ships (in an anti-ship missile). A CHAMP mounted on a missile without a payload would still hit the target with considerable KE. Or a tandem warhead, with the first warhead disabling ship systems, resulting in missile impact and time-delay detonation of the second, HE warhead.


  • Brian B. Mulholland

    That’s a first-generation weapon of a type which hasn’t, AFAIK, been used before, with a hitherto-untried modality of operation, meant for use against electronic systems which may not look like they’ve been hardened against it. I’d count its’ net utility as unknown and unknowable. Even people with security clearances would have to guess how well it will perform against recent systems made by peer adversaries, (which isn’t synonymous with a peer antagonist in the fight.) My WAG, made as a career civilian without engineering or service background, is that it would be be wonderful against older systems whenever and wherever made, but against first-line warships made in China (not necessarily PLAN ships, just current Chinese design) the weapon’s performance might be quite iffy. China is working with enormous amounts of engineering talent, their recent designs are clean-sheet designs, and EMP weapons have been on the horizon long enough so that some measure EMP testing of systems and components has been going on for some time. EMP-proofing seems to be a matter of intense detail work for engineers, needing lots of time, patience and attention to detail. China is good at that. Americans and Russians, maybe not so much.

    • ronaldo

      Ok BBM,

      You’ve been down with every suggested here. What does BBM think is a wholly adequate ( based on what we commonly know) weapon system either in inventory or development ???????????

      • Brian B. Mulholland

        I’m merely being cautious. If the target’s emissions are suddenly cut off, do you know if the target is disabled or if the emissions have been cut off as a tactic of deceit? There aren’t going to be any sparks flying off the roof, or deck, after all.
        A kinetic kill lends itself to an easier damage assessment.

        By all means enjoy your enthusiasm, but, like weaponized lasers, railguns and so on, this is a new technology and everyone has seen it coming for a long time.

  • zzzz

    We really need the LRASM the Harpoon is the worst missile in our inventory.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    How so?

  • William_C1

    So no showdown between air-launched LRASM, the Norwegian JSM and Boeing’s latest Harpoon variant?

    • wpnexp

      JSM is likely to be used by helicopters from destroyers and from the LCS and LCS-Frigate ships. Also, the JSM is a great candidate for putting missiles on the gators and logistics ships.

      • blight_

        Although the usual flag-waving is likely to make this a Harpoon vs LRASM contest…

  • Dan

    LRASM is an essential tool to the continued dominance of the USN at sea. I only wish that they would be able to get them in the fleet sooner.

    While integrating the missile onto the F/A-18E/F is great and extends the striking reach of CVGB significantly, practically speaking, I believe that the B-1B should be the preferred delivery system based on payload and range. Plainly speaking, this system is a direct result of the changing military balance in the Western Pacific. This is meant to address the inadequacy of current Navy missiles in the face of the growing Chinese A2/AD threat. So in a hypothetical conflict with China, I’m not too keen to put my carriers right into the Chinese envelope(granted the very outer limits of it) in order to engage with F-18s. On the other hand, B-1Bs can potentially carry 24 LRASM each(they have been cleared to do so with JASSM already). In the early stages of a potential conflict with China, B-1Bs would be able to operate independent of US forwards bases that are under threat. 4 B-1Bs could carry as many as 96 LRASM. Combine that with some underwater assets and you are looking at a very formidable strike capability.

  • JJMurray

    So, it sounds like they are finally trying to come up with a replacement for the Harpoon which will be longer range and be capable of being fired from more platforms.

  • franklin

    This is the kind of rational upgrade that is cost effective which is not like the F35 that is sucking the blood out of all the other programs. I like what the F35 can do, but i feel that if they re-resource and design it they can knock the price in half.

    LRASM doesn’t need a manned flatform either. An aged commercial long range platform can be made autonomous, and fly right into hells kitchen dropping them along the way. Heck the airlines might donate them for a tax right off.

    • franklin

      Isnt it funny that i get two thumbs down, but no negative comments or posts after me.

  • oblatt23

    LRASM is the F-35 of the SSM world. The navy desperately needed a sunburn or brahmos class weapon but it was convinced to have a high tier and a low tier. The high tier was canceled leaving only the outclassed but more profitable low tier.

    Its already a generation behind but enough PR has convinced people that yet again second rate is good enough for America.

    • William_C1

      Show me a supersonic AShM with a low radar cross section. You can’t since it doesn’t exist yet. Also given the same size limitations a subsonic AShM will have significantly longer range than a supersonic design.

      • Oblat99

        Lol show me a failure that bill dosent support.

        The lrasm can eqsily be spotted at the radar horizon and its slow speed makes it an easy target. Lockhheds solution? It will ust fly around the enemy group and look for an easie target. Its the first anti shipping missle that runs away.