Hellfire Longbow for LCS

Sam LaGrone notes that the Navy has ditched the idea of equipping the troubled LCS family of ships with the Griffin short range missile, and will instead arm them with the millimeter-wavelength radar guided version of the popular AGM-114 Hellfire missile.

The Navy has traded Raytheon’s Griffin IIB missile for Lockheed Martin’s Longbow Hellfire AGM-114L for the surface-to-surface missile for early increments and testing for the surface warfare (SuW) mission package for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), the outgoing program manager for LCS Mission Modules (PMS 420), Rear Adm. John Ailes told reporters on Wednesday.

The choice between the missiles — roughly equivalent in size, range (about five miles) and warhead size — came in part from the ability of the Army’s Longbow to take targeting information from Saab’s Sea Giraffe radar and use its onboard millimeter wave seeker to find a target. The Griffin uses a semi-active laser seeker that requires the ship’s crew to ‘paint’ a target with a laser, limiting the number of missiles that can engage targets at once.

“We have these 10,000 [Longbow] missiles, there’s no cost risk at all, it’s vertically launchable and you can shoot lots of them at same time and you don’t have to do that thing where you keep the laser on it,” Ailes said.
“That’s why we’re excited about Longbow Hellfire.”

The Navy plans to test the missile aboard a LCS — likely USS Freedom (LCS-1) — next year. In 2013, the Navy tested the Longbow at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. against simulated small boat targets successfully.

Griffin is a pretty handy missile, but its selection never made any sense. First, it’s a semi-active laser homing weapon. That means you can only simultaneously attack as many targets as you have laser designators. The MMR Hellfire, on the other hand, is fire and forget.* For dealing with a swarming boat attack, that means as soon as you’ve assigned the missile to its target, you can launch and start targeting another. This, of course, greatly decreases the engagement cycle time.

I will admit, I had no idea anyone had looked at a vertical launch capability for the Hellfire, but according to our old friend Chuckles, the Navy tested it out on a 65’ patrol boat.


*The Hellfire missiles you have seen in videos from Iraq and Afghanistan are semi-active laser guided variants. There are a couple reasons for this. First, Laser Hellfire is good enough in the relatively benign air defense environment in Afghanistan and Iraq. Also, in a COIN environment, Rules of Engagement generally call favor a weapon under positive control in place of a fire and forget weapon. Finally, especially in the high/hot conditions in Afghanistan, removing the fire control radar from the Apaches means a big weight savings, and increased helicopter performance.

1 thought on “Hellfire Longbow for LCS”

  1. Griffin also does GPS direct attack. So you can use sensors to pick your GPS point and fire it at that, no laser designator necessary. It’s also tube-launched, which would make sense on a boat. Hellfire makes sense, too, of course.

Comments are closed.