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

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.