The Navy’s advanced weapons shopping list

Just what are the new "payloads" that CNO thinks will be so critical down the road?

There’s a reason Adm. Jonathan Greenert didn’t call for the Navy to back out of F-35, his spokesman said Tuesday — he doesn’t think it should.

The chief of naval operations continues to support F-35C, said Capt. Danny Hernandez. So what was all that stealth skepticism in his Proceedings piece this month questioning the value of low-observable strike aircraft? That was Greenert arguing that stealth has a limit, Hernandez said, and that there may come a point at which the Navy has to draw the line or risk diminishing returns.

Greenert believes one alternative is relying on tomorrow’s more precise, longer-range munitions to reach out and touch the bad guy. That way stealth makes less of a difference because you can stay out of his range. What does that mean in terms of programs?

Hernandez told DoDBuzz there are at least three weapons in the works that Greenert believes will be promising in the context he set up in Proceedings: The AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapon model C; an anti-ship version of the Block IV Tactical Tomahawk; and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s new long-range anti-ship missile. The first two are built by Raytheon and the third is still in the early technology phases, but as we heard earlier this year, Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work expects to see it in the fleet.

Hernandez also hinted there’s more behind the scenes, too: “There’s obviously some classified stuff I can’t talk about,” he said.

Raytheon’s sales pitch for the JSOW-C and the anti-ship version of its TacTom sound tailor-made for Greenert’s vision: Networked, precise, long-range weapons that could let the U.S. Navy out-range a … sigh … “advanced adversary” and keep to the periphery of his air defenses.

Crucially, they might also give the Navy more punch in dealing with a “peer competitor” in a no-kidding naval battle. The Navy has shorn away some of its ability to fight other ships at sea — getting rid of its first-generation anti-ship Tomahawk and dialing back the number of Harpoon anti-ship missiles it fields — but Greenert wants to get that back.

According to Raytheon, JSOW-C’s “long standoff range of approximately 70 nautical miles allows delivery from well outside the lethal range of most enemy air defenses.” It’s supposed to achieve initial operational capability next year. Company officials also have pitched an “extended range” version of JSOW with its own engine, pushing its standoff distance to as much as 300 miles.

The state of the anti-ship TacTom is less clear; we’ve asked Raytheon for an update. But when the company announced that it was pursuing moving-target capability for its flagship cruise missile in 2009, it said it wanted the weapon to be able to hit a maneuvering object from more than 900 nautical miles.

We can only speculate about what’s going on behind the curtain, but the Pentagon has enjoyed mixed success with a new generation of fast, precise, extended range weapons. Its Prompt Global Strike; Revolutionary Approaches To Time-Critical Long Range Strike; and other efforts have yet to bear fruit for the operational fleet. That’s another one of the key questions Greenert did not address in his Proceedings piece — how long does the U.S. have to get all this right?