From a new deck-mounted launcher as a way to expand options for the weapon, increase possible deployments and widen the range of potential targets, industry officials said.
A deck-mounted firing technology enables LRASM to fire from a much wider range of Navy ships, to include the Littoral Combat Ship and its more survivable variant - a Frigate.
The flight test, at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, was designed to demonstrate the missile’s ability to conduct an angled launch from a newly designed topside canister, replicating a ship-launched environment.
The missile has previously been test fired from a Navy ship-firing technology called Vertical Launch Systems currently on both cruisers and destroyers – as a way to provide long range surface-to-surface and surface-to-air offensive firepower. The adaptation of the surface-launcher weapon, which could be operational by the mid-2020s, would use the same missile that fires from a Mk 41 Vertical Launch System and capitalize upon some existing Harpoon-launching technology, Lockheed developers explained.
"During the test, the LRASM, its Mk-114 booster and booster adapter ejected cleanly from the topside launcher using the same launch control and launch sequencer software currently employed by the Mk-41 Vertical Launch System (VLS)," a Lockheed statement said.
The LRASM test-firing took place as Lockheed received an $86.5 million contract from the U.S. Navy and Air Force for LRASM production. A Lockheed statement said the contract marks the first production award for the air-launched variant of LRASM, and includes 23 missiles and engineering support.
The Navy will likely examine a range of high-tech missile possibilities to meet its requirement for a long-range anti-ship missile -- and Lockheed is offering LRASM as an option for the Navy to consider.
With a range of at least 200 nautical miles, LRASM is designed to use next-generation guidance technology to help track and eliminate targets such as enemy ships, shallow submarines, drones, aircraft and land-based targets, according to Scott Callaway, Program Director for Advanced Subsonic Cruise Missiles at Lockheed Martin.
"The objective is to give Sailors the ability to strike high-value targets from longer ranges while avoiding counter fire. The program will use autonomous guidance to find targets, reducing reliance on networking, GPS and other assets that could be compromised by enemy electronic weapons,” a Navy statement said.
Developers say the weapon is particularly well suited for the most advanced adversary weapons systems and most high-threat warfare scenarios such as a "near-peer" type of combat engagements. Advanced threat environments are expected to include enemy forces armed with long-range sensors, electronic warfare, tactics for compromising or jamming GPS signals and a host of additional countermeasures designed to thwart incoming surface and air weapons.
"The program will use autonomous guidance to find targets, reducing reliance on networking, GPS and other assets that could be compromised by enemy electronic weapons," a statement from the Office of Naval Research said.
Given that the LRASM weapon is designed for both maritime and air launch, the efforts to build a new launcher are taking place alongside commensurate service efforts to advance the air launch efficacy of the weapon.
The Navy has previously released LRASM from an F/A-18 Super Hornet, involving a "jettison release" of the weapon designed to validate the aerodynamic separation models of the missile, developers explained.
The LRASM, which is 168-inches long and 2,500 pounds, is currently configured to fire from an Air Force B-1B bomber, Navy surface ship Vertical Launch Tubes and a Navy F-18 carrier-launched fighter. The weapon is expected to be operational from an Air Force B-1B bomber and a Navy F-18 by 2019, Navy statements have said.
High-Tech Semi-Autonomous Missile
Along with advances in electronic warfare, cyber-security and communications, LRASM is design to bring semi-autonomous targeting capability to a degree that does not yet exist. As a result, some of its guidance and seeker technology is secret, developers have said.
The goal of the program is to engineer a capable semi-autonomous, surface and air-launched weapon able to strike ships, submarines and other moving targets with precision.
Once operational, LRASM will give Navy ships a more a short and long-range missile with an advanced targeting and guidance system able to partially guide its way to enemy targets and achieve pinpoint strikes in open or shallow water.
LRASM employs a multi-mode sensor, weapon data link and an enhanced digital anti-jam global positioning system to detect and destroy specific targets within a group of ships, Lockheed officials said.
LRASM is engineered with all-weather capability and a multi-modal seeker designed to discern targets, Lockheed officials said. The multi-mode sensor, weapon data link and an enhanced digital anti-jam global positioning system can detect and destroy specific targets within a group of ships, Lockheed officials said.
LRASM is armed with a proven 1,000-pound penetrator and blast-fragmentation warhead, Lockheed officials said.
The development of LRASM is entirely consistent with the Navy’s existing “distributed lethality” strategy which seeks to better arm the fleet with long-range precision offensive and defensive fire power.
Part of the rationale to move back toward open or “blue water” combat capability against near peer competitors emphasized during the Cold War. While the strategic and tactical capability never disappeared, it was emphasized less during the last 10-plus years of ground wars wherein the Navy focused on counter-terrorism, counter-piracy and things like Visit Board Search and Seizure. These missions are, of course, still important, however the Navy seeks to substantially increase its offensive “lethality” in order to deter or be effective against high-tech adversaries.
Having longer-range or over-the-horizon ship and air-launched weapons is also quite relevant to the “distributed” portion of the strategy which calls for the fleet to have an ability to disperse as needed. Having an ability to spread out and conduct dis-aggregated operations makes Navy forces less vulnerable to enemy firepower while. At the same time, have long-range precision-strike capability will enable the Navy to hold potential enemies at risk or attack if needed while retaining safer stand-off distance from incoming enemy fire.