New Autonomous Anti-Ship Missile Hits Its First Target

By Valerie Insinna

The LRASM is an autonomous version of the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile - Extended Range

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Office of Naval Research  successfully launched the first prototype of a long-range anti-ship missile that can autonomously detect and hit targets, it was announced Sept 6. 

Current cruise missiles follow a pre-planned route based on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information, said Artie Mabbett, DARPA’s program manager for the long-range anti-ship missile, or LRASM. If adversaries have sophisticated air defense systems, those missiles might not hit their target, necessitating additional strikes.

LRASM, however, has autonomous capabilities that will allow the missile to reroute itself based on what it's sensing as it flies toward its target, he said.

"What we've done is we've taken a basic waypoint following cruise missile concept … and we've essentially added brains to it. We've put in the capability so that it can autonomously now detect, attack and engage the targets of interest without having to be dependent on lots of a prior knowledge,” Mabbett told reporters in a Sept. 5 conference call.

During the Aug. 27 test, a B-1 bomber released the missile, which first followed a pre-planned trajectory and then switched to autonomous mode. The missile was able to find and hit the mobile ship target, a 260-foot unmanned vessel that was operated by remote control.

"There were three vessels in the target area, all with representative emitters,” Mabbett said. “The purpose of the test really was to stress the sensor suite to be able to detect all of the threats, but only engage the one that we told it to engage." 

DARPA and ONR want the missile to be launched from both aircraft and surface ships. The organizations plan to conduct two tests of a surface-launched version next summer, as well as two more tests this year of the air-launched missile, he said.

If successful as a vertically launched system from a surface ship, DARPA could also further develop LRASM and create a submarine-launched version, he said.

Mabbett would not comment specifically whether the missile would be tested in an electronic warfare environment, but DARPA’s news release stated the missile would reduce dependence on ISR, network links and GPS navigation, which would be beneficial in such conditions.

The organizations are working closely with the Navy to determine whether there is interest in the long-range, anti-ship missile becoming part of the service’s arsenal, Mabbett said. One option is that LRASM could be considered for the “offensive anti-surface warfare” weapons portfolio that is ramping up over the next couple of years, he added.

Lockheed Martin’s missile and fire control division manufactures LRASM, which is based upon its non-autonomous joint air to surface standoff missile extended range system (JASSM-ED), a subsonic cruise missile currently used by the Air Force. BAE Systems is the prime contractor for LRASM’s new onboard sensor suite.

The prototype missile used an inert warhead during the test, but in combat it would deliver the same WDU-42/B penetrator as JASSM-ED.

DARPA initially planned to develop a second variant, LRASM-B, which would fly at high altitudes and at supersonic speeds. The agency abandoned LRASM-B in 2012 to focus on the current concept, which is based on an off-the-shelf system and seen as less risky.

Although the system is designed for maritime environments, the Air Force is carefully watching the program and has provided assets to DARPA and ONR, Mabbett said. “They are the carrier for JASSM in the U.S. arsenal, so they have a significant interest in the enhanced capabilities we're adding to their baseline program.”

Topics: Armaments, Gun and Missile, Bomb and Warhead, Shipbuilding, Surface Ships

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