NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Missile manufacturers anticipate Navy requirements for new weapon capabilities will come directly from deployed fleets, emerging as urgent operational needs rather than traditional acquisition programs.

Rather than dealing with Navy acquisition officials and following a traditional acquisition process, industry will be tasked with rapidly developing new capabilities for legacy offensive and defensive systems in the field, said Gerard Heuber, a retired vice admiral who currently serves as Raytheon’s [RTN] vice president of business development for naval and area mission defense.

“We think the customer is not necessarily in N96 or the customer is in the acquisition community, but the customer is going to be Third Fleet, Fifth Fleet, Seventh Fleet, Sixth Fleet from a war-fighting capacity and capability standpoint, generating operational need statements and a rapid acquisition process,” Heuber told reporters at the annual Sea Air Space conference here.

A Tomahawk taking to the skies. Photo: U.S. Navy
A Tomahawk taking to the skies. Photo: U.S. Navy

Such was the case when the Navy declared its need for additional missile-defense capability for warships cruising the Mediterranean out of Rota, Spain, he said. Within a year, the Navy and Raytheon came up with a plan to install SeaRAM on destroyers and complete design, installation and testing overseas.

“I think there are other opportunities that we have…systems that have been used in a defensive capacity previously, what can we use in an offensive capacity now?” Heuber said. “Systems that heretofore have been limited to destroyers…how do they network? How do they get into the common operational picture? And how can they go on ships that we would have never thought of?”

The Navy is pursuing a doctrine of “distributed lethality” in which every surface ship, regardless of design or primary mission, has offensive capabilities against enemy surface ships, aircraft and land-based targets.

The Joint High-Speed Vessel, all variants of amphibious transport dock and assault ships, even the Navy’s combat logistics force, are candidate platforms for anti-surface ship weapons like the Boeing [BA] AGM-84 Harpoon missile or a modernized BGM-109 Tomahawk made by Raytheon, although legal and manning challenges exist with installing weapons on cargo ships.

Only the Navy’s Aegis cruisers and Arleigh-Burke class destroyers–about 50 ships–are capable of launching surface-to-surface anti-ship cruise missiles. Ships outfitted with the Mark 41 vertical launch system can attack a land-based target with a Raytheon Tomahawk cruise missile, which is not yet certified for maritime strike.

Raytheon is working with Norwegian defense contractor Kongsberg to develop several options for the Navy’s anti-ship missile needs.

The pair’s co-developed Naval Strike Missile (NSM) is in competition with an upgraded version of Boeing’s Harpoon missile for a contract to field an over-the-horizon surface-to-surface strike capability for the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). That competition should begin with weapon integration sometime this summer or early fall, he said.

Boeing is readying a surface-to-surface capable version of its AGM-84 Harpoon missile for installation aboard an LCS. It plans to develop a one-for-one replacement of the Harpoon that will have double the rage within the same missile body.

NSM is a non-developmental missile already fielded aboard Norwegian Nansen-class frigates and on trucks for coastal defense, he said. It was launched in 2014 during a demonstration from the flight deck of an LCS with nothing more than a laptop, said Thomas Copeman, vice president of business development for Raytheon air warfare systems.

“If you can do it there, you can do it on anything,” he said in defense of the NSM as a candidate for fleet distributed lethality. “If you’ve got deck space then you can strap a launcher down and use a laptop and you’ve just converted something that had no offensive capability before to something that has a pretty potent offensive strike capability–both striking targets ashore and striking targets at sea.”

A close cousin of the NSM is The Joint Strike Missile (JSM) also developed in partnership with Kongsberg specifically for use by the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Carried internally aboard the Marine F-35B or the Navy’s F-35C, the weapon will be a potent air-to-surface anti-ship missile that in effect provides aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships with offensive anti-ship capabilities. JSM is undergoing flight testing by experimental U.S. F-35s.

The company’s Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW), which will be carried externally by the F-35, will provide Marines and the Navy with another air-launched anti-ship capability.

“Now you have…an amphibious ship that heretofore probably would be ignored by many potential adversaries because the expectation of landing Marines at some places in the world would probably not be all that likely, so they don’t have to spend a lot of assets and resources to target, track and identify, but now they have to start tracking amphibious ships.”

The Navy’s Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) was repurposed and in recent tests fatally damaged a decommissioned FFG-7 guided missile frigate.

Raytheon has plans to upgrade BGM-109 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles into anti-ship weapons. The weapon’s manufacturing line has gone cold twice but is now back producing Tomahawks, he said. The Navy has established a program of record to modernize the missiles in its inventory with an active seeker that would allow it to home on moving over-the-horizon targets.

“What’s really good about this for the Navy is right now there are about 50 ships that are able to shoot a surface-to-surface missile,” he said. “For a very modest investment of adding this seeker to existing Tomahawks missiles as they go through recertification starting in 2019, you then increase the number of ships that can shoot a surface-to-surface missile from 50 to about 165.”

Making that investment would bring naval-strike capability to all the Navy’s flight II DDGs and all attack submarines.

“That’s pretty emblematic of what Raytheon is trying to do with existing weapons. It’s what the Navy is trying to do with existing weapons, to improve and increase their capability vice going out and spending hundreds of millions of dollars in developing an entirely new system that does one or two missions,” Copeman said. “Expanding the mission capability of all the various weapons that we have is one of the things we are working very diligently on.”