Hey China: U.S. is Prepping New Ship-Killing Missiles, Too

WIRED.COM/Danger Room

By <img width="14" height="11" src="cid:image001.gif

January 21, 2011

Yeah, yeah, so the Chinese are working hard on a potentially deadly ballistic missile, designed to kill ships. That missile has long prompted a lot of debate about whether surface ships are ultimately a losing proposition for the U.S. Navy. If so, no one’s told the seafarers, who are moving forward with their own anti-ship missile upgrade.

Yesterday, Darpa and the Navy awarded Lockheed Martin $218 million to develop and test an experimental Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, a program to knock out enemy ships using guided missiles even when an adversary (read: China China China) is jamming the Navy’s GPS. The LRASM — “el-razzem” — will come in an air-launched version and a ship-launched one. It’ll use sensors made by BAE Systems to help it select targets autonomously. Lockheed vice president Rick Edwards boasted in a statement that the missiles will provide extraordinary range, willful penetration of ship self defense systems and precise lethality in denied combat environments.”

Exactly how extraordinary that range is remains unclear, making the program rather oddly named. A Lockheed spokesman said the company was hesitant to give out that information without the Navy’s say-so; and the Navy and Darpa are currently conferring to see if the range can be made public. I’ll update when and if I can, but at the very least, the missile will have to travel further than the 150 miles that aging anti-ship missiles like the AGM-84 Harpoon can reach. At least Darpa and the Navy are pinky-swearing that the missile will travel far and wide.

In any event, longer-range anti-ship missiles send a certain message: don’t bother developing a navy that can rival ours. Shipbuilding is expensive, which is one of the reasons the Chinese covet their DF-21D “carrier killer”: it’s a good tool to back a ship way out of your waters. But the People’s Liberation Army Navy is building its own aircraft carrier and expanding its own surface fleet. The U.S. Navy anticipates having the LRASM by 2013 — which essentially adds years onto the timetable for when China’s navy can outperform the U.S.’ No wonder Adm. Gary Roughead, the U.S.’ top naval officer, isn’t out of joint over Chinese seapower.

And then there’s what comes next for shipboard defense: lasers and electromagnetic railguns. The lasers burn through incoming anti-ship missiles; while the railgun sends a bullet at supersonic speeds to punch through a hull. Neither capability will be ready in the next decade, so consider the LRASM the interim step for distancing the U.S. Navy from its would-be rivals.

It’s not that the Chinese anti-ship missile isn’t a big deal. Nor is a debate about the future of surface warfare resolved or even put off by the U.S.’ countermeasure in building a longer-range missile. It just demonstrates that the U.S. is willing to make other modernizing navies consider the cost of challenging it at sea. And combined with its impending anti-missile lasers, which blunt the alternative to shipbuilding, the U.S. Navy is taking concrete steps over the near future to remain the undisputed master of the high seas. Now to see if it can keep agile, small missile-equipped boats away…

Photo: U.S. Southern Command

See Also:


· Posted by: ChasL | 01/21/11 | 6:15 pm |

Good call, this is 10 year old story reshuffled to stirr the pot during China state visit. Didn’t we decline to buy the Sunburn missile from Russia during the Clinton administration?

· Posted by: Dust | 01/21/11 | 6:41 pm |

“Yesterday, Darpa and the Navy awarded Lockheed Martin $218 million to develop and test an experimental Long Range Anti-Ship Missile”

Two year old picture, current contract award


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s