‘Distributed Lethality’ Concept Boosts Navy’s Need For New Weaponry

By Valerie Insinna
The Navy can’t afford to buy an abundance of new ships during a time when defense budgets are stagnant, so service leaders are pushing a new concept called “distributed lethality,” in which legacy vessels would be packed with off-the-shelf weapons and sensors that make them more deadly and survivable.

During a speech in January, Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, commander of naval surface forces and U.S. Pacific Fleet, called for the Navy to explore putting new guns and missiles on everything from destroyers and littoral combat ships to logistics and amphibious vessels. These solutions, he said, must be non-developmental.

Defense executives said they are ready to meet those needs. For instance, Raytheon is pushing forward on testing two new missiles light enough to be integrated on small surface ships, said Ron Jenkins, director of LCS systems for Raytheon Missile Systems.

The Griffin C missile incorporates a different front end than the company’s Griffin B missiles, which have been fitted on the Navy’s coastal patrol vessels, he said. The dual-mode seeker on the front end allows the user to designate a target with GPS coordinates, a laser or infrared. Raytheon is also developing an extended range version with a motor that triples its range.

“It’s going to be quickly available to the U.S. Navy should they decide to go that particular direction,” he said. The Griffin C is undergoing internal demonstrations and could be ready for Navy testing by the end of this year, while the extended range version could be available for tests as early as 2016.

The Griffin C doesn’t fit the bill of the over-the-horizon surface-to-surface missile that the sea service plans to acquire over the next few years, Jenkins said. The range of the extended range Griffin will not exceed 10 miles.

However, as potential adversaries invest in swarms of small boats that can be used to overpower U.S. ships at choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz or in shallow littoral waters, shorter range missiles will be invaluable, he said.

“The swarming boat threat is proliferating in kind of the same way that anti-ship cruise missiles were proliferating about 15 years ago,” he said.

Raytheon last fall conducted tests of the Griffin C’s flight retargeting capability, which allows a user to change the trajectory of the missile in mid flight. “If a friendly [ship] gets in the way in between you and the target, you’ve got the capability now ... to retarget it, go after a moving target or terminate the engagement,” Jenkins said.

The Navy originally planned to acquire the Griffin B for the LCS’ surface warfare mission package, but cancelled procurement in 2014 in favor of buying Lockheed Martin’s Longbow Hellfire missile. That was a blow for Raytheon, but the company is watching closely as the service decides how it will up-gun the vessel, which was recently re-designated as a frigate.
“It doesn’t appear that a real clear acquisition strategy has been formed as to the way they’re going to go,” he said.

“The Navy is very, very interested in upgrading the [patrol coastal vessels]” with new missiles, he said.

Topics: Missile Defense

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