National Harbor, Md — The Navy is integrating a vertically-launched longbow Hellfire missile onto the Littoral Combat Ship as a way to give the platform more fire-power, service officials said Wednesday.
Unlike other missiles that would require laser-designation to pinpoint targets, the longbow Hellfire can use what’s called millimeter wave seeker technology that can autonomously track and destroy multiple targets simultaneously.
“We’re very excited about the autonomy that the missile brings. Each of the missiles has an independent ability to be targeted against a different foe by use of its millimeter wave seeker so we can get a lot of firepower,” Rear Adm. John Ailes, Program Executive Officer, LCS, said at the Sea Air Space Exposition here.
Hellfire missiles, most frequently fired from helicopters and drones such as the Predator or Gray Eagle, are 64-inch guided missiles that weigh about 100-pounds. Hellfire missiles can strike targets at ranges out to eight kilometers.
Navy leaders said they will have access to an existing Army stockpile of 10,000 Hellfire missiles.
The Navy will test fire the Hellfire on the LCS later this year after Lockheed Martin conducted a successful demonstration of the technology at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., last year.
“Last fall we did three different testings against representative threats. We destroyed all three targets,” said Timothy Fouts, Lockheed’s LCS business development manager.
Navy leaders want to give the LCS — often criticized by lawmakers and analysts for not being survivable enough — an ability to better defend itself against a wider range of threats such as small boats and aircraft.
“As part of the surface warfare mission package, Hellfire brings that additional reach for small boat threats. This is a new weapon for the Navy. It is fire-and-forget which means it finds targets autonomously. You don’t have to have a laser designator,” Fouts said.
Ailes said the Navy has also been considering the Griffin missile, a 45-pound laser or GPS-guided missile that can fire a 13-pound blast-fragmentation warhead out to ranges further than 12 miles.
The Navy needs to acquire and integrate vertical launch tubes for the LCS that can fire the vertically-launched Hellfire, Ailes said. The Navy is also interested in developing a follow-on longer range variant of the weapon, Ailes said.
This past January, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the Pentagon would truncate the planned LCS buy from 52 to 32 ships, suggesting that the existing LCS was not sufficiently survivable to meet its mission requirements. He directed the Navy to develop alternative proposals for the last twenty ships.
As a result, this effort to strengthen the weaponry, lethality and combat performance of the LCS comes as the service is also exploring alternative designs for a modified LCS that is more effective in combat.
The Navy’s director of surface warfare, Rear Adm. Tom Rowden, told Military.com that the LCS was designed to be flexible enough to accommodate technological changes and adjustments as they emerge.
“The flexibility these ships bring really gives us the opportunity to ensure that if we need to make modifications we can do that in a rapid fashion and in a cost-effective fashion,” he said.