Navy Adapts LCS Attack Strategy, Shoots HELLFIRE in Live-Fire

Warrior Maven

Warrior Live-Fire Video Above: Navy LCS Shoots-Off Hellfire - Changes Navy Surface Attack Strategy

By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

(Washington, D.C.) Destroying enemy helicopters on the open sea, hitting attacking enemy drones and countering opposing surface ships from safer stand-off distances are all combat missions now being emphasized by the Navy as it prepares its Littoral Combat Ship for massive “blue water” warfare - an effort designed to widen the ship’s attack potential and build upon its expansive scope of shallow water missions.

As part of this, the Navy has fired a HELLFIRE missile from an Independence variant of its LCS to better arm the ship for offensive attack. The test-firing, described by Naval Sea Systems Command as a “structural test firing,” involved the shooting of a Longbow HELLFIRE on the Point Mugu Sea Range on June 11.

Referred to as the Surface-to-Surface Missile Module, the weapon is being prepared as part of an integrated suite of combat technologies for the LCS. For many years now, the Navy has been working vigorously to evolve the LCS mission scope from an initial focus upon littoral operations including land attack, countermine operations and closer in combat operations -- to include preparation for dispersed, long-range, major deep water warfare against a heavily armed near-peer adversary.

While utilizing speed and shallow draft to access areas less available to larger, deeper draft ships, the LCS is still very much intended to perform closer-in missions. However, giving the ever-evolving “great-power” competition and focus upon near-peer threats, the service has for several years been immersed in a large-scale effort to better arm its surface fleet - especially the LCS - with combat equipment necessary for large-scale war. This adaptation, involves not only adding weapons and sensors but also adjusting and utilizing its existing war assets such as counter-submarine warfare, surface attack and countermine missions.

SSMM testing on the flat-bottomed LCS Freedom variant was successfully completed earlier this year.

“SSMM is tested and well proven on the LCS Freedom variant. This structural test firing marks the first critical step in demonstrating the SSMM capability on the LCS Independence variant,” Capt. Godfrey Weekes, LCS Mission Modules program manager, said according to a statement from Naval Sea Systems Command.

While not quite the scope of the now-in-development over-the-horizon missile currently being fast-tracked for the emerging Frigate and the LCS – a HELLFIRE offers a much wider offensive attack range to include enemy aircraft, helicopters, drones, small boats and even some surface ships.

Furthermore, the HELLFIRE, drawing upon Army-Navy collaboration, is engineered with different variants to widen potential attack methods. These range from blast-frag warheads to high-explosive rounds or even missiles with an augmented metal sleeve for extra fragmentation.

--- To Read Warrior Maven's Previous Report on Frigate Development -CLICK HERE ---

While the LCS does not have Vertical Launch Systems, Navy officials tell Warrior Maven that the HELLFIRE can fire from canisters beneath the surface of the ship.

Often fired from helicopters, drones and even ground-based Army Multi-Mission Launchers, the Longbow HELLFIRE can use Fire-and-Forget millimeter wave radar with inertial guidance; millimeter wave seeker technology enables adverse weather targeting. Many HELLFIREs also use semi-active laser homing targeting.

​It is accurate to call it a short-to-medium-range weapon which can reach relevant combat distances beyond the most close-in threats - while stopping short of being an over-the-horizon weapon.

Its targeting options open up various airborne interoperability options, meaning an MH-60R ship-based helicopter – or even a drone – could function as a laser designator for the weapon should it seek to target enemy ships on-the-move.

--- To Read Warrior Maven's Previous Report on LCS Mine-Hunting Modernization - CLICK HERE --

The Navy has made particular efforts, in fact, to integrate HELLFIRE technology, sensors and fire control with other assets woven into the LCS. Not only could an MH-60R offer a laser spot for the ship launched weapon, but the helicopter can of course fire the HELLFIRE itself.

A ship launched variant, however, would need to further integrate with ship-based layered defense technologies to optimize its attack options against enemy aircraft and ships, particularly in a maritime combat environment potentially more difficult for helicopters to operate in. This would include engineering the ship to operate as part of a broader ship-wide technical system connecting things like variable-depth sonar, deck guns, vertical take-off drones such as the Fire Scout and small boat mission capabilities such as 11-meter Rigid Inflatable Boats, or RIBs. The Surface Warfare Mission Package also includes the Gun Mission Module, containing 30mm guns, Navy statements say. As part of this, the LCS is equipped with a 57mm gun, .50-cal Machine Guns and a defensive interceptor missile called SeaRAM.

The exercise is also designed to prepare the ship and train the crews for more complex surface warfare tracking and live-fire exercises scheduled to begin later this summer, which will culminate in initial operational test and evaluation at the end of 2019, the service reported.

--- To Read Warrior Maven's Previous Report on Army-Navy HELLFIRE Weapons Analysis CLICK HERE --

Arming the LCS to a much greater extent is also likely to bear upon the longstanding discussion regarding the ship's survivability. While many advocates for the LCS champion its 40-knot speed and technical attributes such as its integrated mission packages, adding more substantial weapons clearly impacts the debate by massively increasing the ship's survivability and combat capability.

The anti-submarine mission package includes an MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopter, light weight towed torpedo decoy system, Multi-Function Towed Array and several kinds of submarine-hunting sonar. The LCS utilizes waterjet propulsion and a combined diesel and gas turbine engine.

Some of the features and technologies now being developed for the Navy’s new Frigate are being back-fitted onto the existing LCS fleet as well; these include an over-the-horizon offensive missile as well as, possibly, a survivability-enhancing technique called “space armor,” which better allows the ship to function if it is hit by enemy firepower.

--- To Read Warrior Maven's Previous Report on LCS Submarine Hunting Technology CLICK HERE ---

This recent structural test firing is intended to build upon and advance Previous HELLFIRE LCS testing and development, which as of last year had resulted in 20 successful hits out of 24 total attempted missile shots, Capt. Ted Zobel, Program Manager, PEO LCS, said in 2018 at last year’s Surface Navy Association symposium

Overall, the service’s Mission Modules (MM) program will begin developmental testing on an Independence-variant LCS in August,


Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army - Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

--- Kris Osborn, Managing Editor of WARRIORMAVEN (CLICK HERE) can be reached at

Comments (18)
No. 1-10

The Sumner class destroyers we built in WWII weighed 2500 tons- cost 8 million dollars apiece were made of steel and carried 3 dual 5 inch gun mounts. Each gun was radar guided, and could fire 15 rounds per minute out to 15 kilometers. In addition each ship carried eleven 40 mm gun mounts, and twelve 20 mm gun mounts. along with 4 torpedo tubes. A ship like that with improved armor (composite or Kevlar), updated with current day electronics and carrying 4 to 8 Naval Strike Missiles (range 100 kilometers) would be very formidable. The LCS weighs 3500 tons, costs 600 million dollars and is armed with Hellfire missiles (range 8 kilometers) and a 57 mm gun (range 8 kilometers), is outgunned by Somali pirates (it is ridiculously fast though and is suitable for fleeing battle).

Karl -Moderator
Karl -Moderator

Hey Rockool - Thank you for the comment - interesting and well-informed to be sure. Gosh you bring to mind the competition for the over-the-horizon missile for the Frigate and LCS. As you know the Navy looked at LRASM, Harpoons and of course the Naval Strike Missile you mentioned. Navy weapons developers certianly seem to agree with you as they have chosen the Naval Strike Missile to arm the LCS - without a long-range over the horizon missile, the LCS is definitely limited in open water warfare - as you point out. The prospect of a 100 mile weapon massively changes the equation in terms of making the LCS more survivable and lethal. And, also as you point out -- updated electronics are needed to make the LCS useful - Karl


Just give these boats to the Coast Guard. Make them long range counter drug cutters the on board Helio would be a perfect for this task as well. The LCS does not have the capabilities to even deal with 2nd rate navies. The 8km range of its weapon systems makes no sense especially for a vessel that size and tonnage. When you have the Cyclone Class boats that can hit just as hard and are a lot smaller and cheaper. Heck the new Mark 6 River boats are not far off in firepower as well.


Just to summarize, the 57 mm gun on the LCS can out range a Hellfire.


Hellfires, really? Useful against small ships sure, but for true "blue water" surface warfare operations, the LCS needs some Harpoon box launchers to be effective since its base armament package is laughable on the best day. Just dump the LCS and focus on FFG(X) but for the love of all things good and holy, don't choose the LCS hull entry.


Claiming that the Hellfire is a serious potential mid-range blue water offensive missile capability for the LCS causes the reader to question the veracity of this article and author. Worse still is having a shill like Duanen hyping the hopeless. You lost me at Hellfire.

Karl -Moderator
Karl -Moderator

Interesting idea about giving these to the Coast Guard - what are your thoughts on how it might change mission scope? The Coast Guard Commandant is now emphasizing greater international mission support for the Navy, to include protecting international waterways and counter terrorism - and deterrence missions


Hey COLEJUSMC - Thanks for your comment - would love your thoughts on why the Hellfire is not suited for the LCS? What do you think? It is because you see its history as primarily a helicopter weapon? Jen Warrior Maven Moderator

Karl -Moderator
Karl -Moderator

Interesting Rockool - yes Navy advocates do point to LCS speed as a key survivability factor.... yes you also raise a key point about some concerns that it might not be survivable enough -- which is why the service is migrating toward new Frigates instead of building the full fleet of LCS ships as was initially planned. Do you think the emerging Frigate strategy will be enough for the Navy in terms of blue-water combat ability? Warrior would love more of your excellent input - Karl