Navy Fires New Ship-Defense Missile

The Navy and Raytheon conducted the first-ever live-fire test of an emerging ship-defense

Weapons system called SeaRAM from aboard one of the service’s Littoral Combat Ships, company officials said.

During the live-fire test, a SeaRAM missile successfully intercepted a drone target off the coast of California, Navy and Raytheon officials explained.

The SeaRAM system builds upon the infrastructure and radar of the Close-in-Weapons-System, or CIWS. CIWS' Phalanx weapon fires a 20mm cannon at close-in threats such as small boats. The SeaRAM is part of a layered ship-defense system designed to identify and destroy longer-range approaching enemy threats, such as anti-ship missiles, drones, small boats and helicopters.

Navy officials tell Scout Warrior they are very enthusiastic about SeaRAM, as it is the kind of weapon that enables ships to operate in a higher-threat environment.

“SeaRAM is a truly impressive system, and the recent test aboard LCS 4 demonstrates the ship's ability to fight and win in a contested area. That test, during which the system engaged and destroyed an aerial drone, represented the first shipboard engagement using the new system and was the result of a long-term planning, performance assessment, and modeling and simulation effort,” Chris Johnson, spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command, told Scout Warrior.

Unlike the CIWS weapons which, as an area-defense weapon, uses a 20mm cannon to shoot down threats close to a ship, seaRAM fires a Rolling Airframe Missile from an 11-missile battery, Raytheon offcials explained.

The CIWS ship self-defense weapon can fire 4,500 rounds per minute.

“With CIWS the range is not as far as you can get with a missile, so we are able to attack everything that the RAM missile attacks. We are replacing the gun with missiles,” Myke Holt, Senior Manager of Business Development, Raytheon, told Scout Warrior in an interview.

The Rolling Airframe Missile is what defense experts call a “fire and forget” missile, meaning it uses an RF or radio frequency detection technology along with a heat-seeking infrared sensor to find its way toward an approaching threat in order to intercept and destroy it.

"Cruise missiles are supersonic and by nature they are hot,” Rick McDonnell, Program Director of Close-In Defense Solutions at Raytheon Missile Systems, told Scout Warrior.

The SeaRAM also provides an advantage to the Littoral Combat Ship because it is a self-contained system, meaning it uses its own radar, software and sensors without needing to occupy other technologies or systems on the ship.

“SeaRAM will take out cruise missiles, maneuvering UAS (unmanned aircraft systems or drones) and other surface threats. What you really gain is a layered defense ability and an independent radar so that you gain a lot of situational awareness as well as increased range,” McDonnell said.

The Navy is developing two distinct variants of the Littoral Combat Ship – a trimaran hull variant called “Independence” and a flat-bottomed ship called the “Freedom” variant.

The SeaRAM is already installed on many of the trimaran hull Independence variants of the LCS and is slated to be integrated onto the Freedom variants starting with LCS 17.

Navy officials also said seaRAM will be integrated onto its now-in-development fleet of Frigates - those more survivable variants of the LCS which emerged out of the Small Surface Combatant program.

Arming the Littoral Combat Ship with SeaRAM can easily be interpreted as being part of the Navy's larger "distributed lethality" strategy wherein the service seeks to arm its surface fleet with a much larger number of offensive and defensive weapons. The idea is to help the Navy return more fully to a focus on "blue water" combat against potential "neer peer" adversaries following a decade of ground wars wherein the Navy expended more effort on things like counter-piracy, Visit Board Search and Seizure and counter-terrorism.

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