Lockheed Martin [LMT] is positioning its Long Range Anti Ship Missile (LRASM) as a contender in the Navy’s over-the-horizon missile competition for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) frigate variant, a company official told Defense Daily on Jan. 13.

A Lockheed Martin rendering of LRASM.
A Lockheed Martin rendering of LRASM.

The Navy intends to hold a competition for a long range missile capable of being launched from the upgunned frigate version of LCS to engage threats in the littorals. A surface-launched version of LRASM—which was developed as an air-launched weapon for the Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the Air Force’s B-1B— is a good candidate for that contract, said Scott Callaway, Lockheed Martin’s program director.

“The technology is ready,” he said. “We believe that we’re mature enough to go directly to a Milestone B [review],” which typically occurs after the technology maturation and risk reduction phase.

LRASM is a semi-autonomous, precision-guided missile that can destroy moving targets in excess of 200 nautical miles. Its multi-modal sensor suite allows the missile to identify and track specific vessels even in crowded waters.

The air-launched LRASM currently is undergoing captive carry tests aboard the Super Hornet in advance of early operational capability on the B-1 in fiscal year 2018 and on the F/A-18E/F a year later. However, Lockheed Martin has already made the necessary modifications to the missile to make it surface-launched and conducted two demonstrations to validate those structural changes, Calloway said.  

The next step, he said, is a demonstration at sea that would prove whether LRASM can be fired from a moving ship and hit a moving surface vessel.

No such demonstration is scheduled yet, but Navy officials have indicated their desire to test potential over-the-horizon missile candidates aboard the LCS ahead of a competition. During the Surface Navy Association annual symposium earlier this month, Vice Adm. Peter Fanta, the service’s director of surface warfare, said such tests could occur as early as this year.

“My intention is [to test] as many missiles as I can in 2016. If someone has a missile, bring it,” he said. “If I can bolt it on, I will. If I can get a ship out there, if you’ve got a better missile, let’s go try it.”

Lockheed Martin has conducted two demonstrations of a surface-launched LRASM from a Mk 41 vertical launcher, but neither of the tests involved engaging a target. A September 2013 test at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., proved the missile—which incorporates structural modifications as a result of the inclusion of the Mk114 rocket engine and new a separation system—could withstand a vertical launch, Callaway said. During a later test in 2014, the missile exited the launcher, jettisoned the booster and transitioned to free flight.

After the Navy released a request for information for the frigate’s over-the-horizon missile, Lockheed Martin began developing a deck-mounted launcher that could be bolted on the LCS or other ships that do not have a vertical launching system, he said.

“We have a missile ready for an at-sea demonstration, and we’re going to continue to mature the topside launcher concept so that we can conduct that,” he said

LRASM is just one of the technologies that the Navy could use to further its distributed lethality concept, which calls for improvements to the surface fleet’s offensive power through the addition of advanced yet affordable weapons and sensors. Should Lockheed Martin officially propose LRASM for the over-the-horizon missile competition, it will go head-to-head with weapons like Kongsberg‘s Naval Strike Missile, which has been operated by Norway since 2012.

Still, Callaway said LRASM would be comparable in price with other over-the-horizon missiles because it will share a production line with the Air Force’s extended range Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM-ER). Lockheed Martin recently expanded its Troy, Ala.-facility to accommodate increases in JASSM-ER production, which are ramping up to 360 per year.