Rowden calls the concept “distributed lethality” and says it would ensure that U.S. ships would be better armed to respond to threats and could operate independently if they are isolated from the fleet.
Rowden told the conference that further analysis was needed to determine the cost and timing of potential weapons changes, but said it would likely be cheaper to upgrade current weapons than buy new ones. Unmanned systems could also help expand naval capabilities, he said.
In addition to buying new weapons and sensors, the Navy could also adopt new tactics for how it uses its ships to keep potential adversaries on their toes, he said. U.S. allies such as South Korea, Japan and Australia could also benefit from adding offensive weapons to their warships, he said.
Increasing the offensive capability of the US Navy’s surface fleet is more than a matter of bolting on some anti-ship missile canisters somewhere. Credible ASuW is a surprisingly complex task.
Having said that, simply bolting on some anti-ship missile canisters would be a good start. After the end of the Cold War, and with the so-called Peace Dividend, in the absence of a near peer blue water naval threat, the US Navy simply seems to have taken a holiday from both ASuW and ASW, instead preferring to concentrate on strike warfare via the Tomahawk cruise missile, and ballistic missile defense via the Aegis platforms.
Our current anti-ship missile is the rather aged Harpoon. In service since the late 1970s, it is still a formidable weapon, but quickly facing obsolescence. It’s also lacking in some technologies that are common in threat anti-ship missiles. It lacks the ability to accept updated targeting after launch. That means that the fire control solution cannot be improved after launch, and discriminating between a genuine threat target and, say, a neutral fishing vessel is almost impossible. That severely limits its utility, particularly in littoral waters, where non-combatant shipping is chock-a-block.
The only other offensive missile we have is the Standard 2 (SM-2) missile, which is really an air defense missile, but can be used against surface targets. But the SM-2 is limited to the radar horizon of the launching ship, which can be a very short range. Further, its warhead is small, and not optimized for attacking ships, but rather fragile aluminum airplanes.
At least some people in power in the Navy are starting to address the issue.