Sea Sparrow

In the late 1950s, the US began to realize the threat Soviet long range anti-ship missiles such as the SS-N-2 Styx and AS-1 Komet presented to the fleet. The primary counter to such missiles was to intercept the launch platforms at long range, either by attack aircraft sinking ships equipped with the Styx, or fighters shooting down bombers carrying Komet.

The backup was the long range  Talos, Terrier and Tartar guided missile equipped cruisers and destroyers.

But the cost and weight of the missile ships meant there were barely enough to support the fast carrier task forces. The huge numbers of other warships, amphibious warfare ships,  and auxiliaries were left with only the virtually useless twin 3”/50 gun for air defense.

And so, the Navy embarked on a program to field a low cost, lightweight missile system for the self defense of ships such as the Knox class ocean escorts.

For several years, the Navy cooperated with the US Army developing the RIM-46 Mauler. It was eventually cancelled for technical reasons. The Army instead opted to field a ground launched version of the AIM-9 Sidewinder at the MIM-72 Chapparal. The Navy considered adopting it as well, as it was very light, and very cheap. The problem was, the missile seeker, based on the AIM-9D, had no front quarter engagement capability. And almost by definition, any self defense missile system means any target you’re shooting at is pointing right at you, that is, you only see its front quarter. That meant a radar guidance system was needed. And what radar guided missile did the US Navy have handy? The AIM-7E Sparrow III, used on the F-4 Phantom!

With very minimal modifications, the AIM-7E became the RIM-7E* Sea Sparrow. The Mk112 ASROC pepperbox launcher was modified to become the 8 round box launcher for the Sea Sparrow. Guidance was by the Mk115 director. The Mk115 was a crude system, in which an operator optically tracked the target, manually traversing and elevating the director. The director also had two continuous wave illuminator radars.


Mk115 manned director for Basic Point Defense Missile System (Sea Sparrow).

The director operator would be cued to incoming threats by voice commands from the ship’s Combat Information Center and associated search radars.

The Sea Sparrow had Semi-Active Radar Homing. That is, it guided on the reflected radar energy that bounced off the target being illuminated by the Mk115. Because the Mk115 had a fairly wide illumination beam, that allowed for some degree of minor tracking errors on the part of the operator. Not much, but some.

The missile, launcher, and director were collectively known as the Basic Point Defense Missile System, and BPDMS would be installed on many Knox class frigates, amphibious warfare ships, and fleet auxiliaries.

But BPDMS had an obvious shortcoming. The director operator had to be able to see the target. At night, or in inclement weather, the chances of a successful intercept plummeted to just about 0%.


Our NATO allies also faced a similar missile threat. And so, working with several European allies, the Navy began work on an improve Sea Sparrow system, on that came to be known variously as either Improved Point Defense Missile System (IPDMS) or more commonly, NATO Sea Sparrow Missile System (NSSM).

NSSM saw improvements to all three components of the system. The missile used an improved motor, and utilized folding wings so it could fit in a smaller launcher box. The new launcher was lighter, and of course, used smaller launcher boxes. The biggest improvement was in the director system. The manual tracking of the Mk115 was abandoned. Instead, the Mk95 radar director automatically tracked the target via radar, as well as providing illumination for missile guidance.

NSSM formed the basic air defense weapon of the 31 ships of the DD-963 Spruance class destroyers, as well as arming most aircraft carriers, quite a few amphibious ships, and many auxiliaries. On board the Spruance class, the NSSM was controlled by the Mk91 Fire Control System. The ship’s primary air search radar, the SPS-40, wasn’t really that great at detecting missile threats. The Mk 91 consisted primarily of the NSSM with its missile, Mk29 launcher, Mk95 directors, and the addition of the Mk23 TAS. Mk23 TAS, or Target Acquisition System, was a relatively short ranged 2D radar with a rapid rotation rate optimized for detecting low flying anti-ship missiles. After detecting a target, the Mk23 cues the Mk95, which in turn cues the Mk29 in azimuth and elevation, and then illuminates the target at launch.

Our Canadian friends operate a vertical launch version of the Sea Sparrow in the Mk48 VLS system, but otherwise, it works similarly to ours.

The final version of the Sea Sparrow is so radically different, it’s actually a new missile, the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile. Using the latest guidance section and warhead of the Sparrow family, the ESSM has an entirely new, much larger motor, and instead of using mid-body mounted wings for steering, uses after fins for steering and mid-body strakes for stability. It can be fired either from the Mk29 launcher, from the Canadian Mk48 VLS, or can be “quad packed” with four missile in once cell of a Mk41 VLS, such as those aboard the DDG-51 Burke class guided missile destroyers. When fired from existing Mk29s, it’s guided by the Mk91 Fire Control System.  When fired from the Mk41, it is guided by the ships Aegis system and its Mk99 illuminators.

Similar guidance systems are used by allied navies, such as the Dutch.


*Under the tri-service missile designation system, AIM stands for “Air Launched Intercept Missile, while RIM is Ship Launched Intercept Missile.


The classic 40mm Bofors cannon was clearly obsolete versus high speed jet aircraft by the 1950s. The Royal Navy could ill afford to equip most of its fleet with expensive, and large, guided missile systems such as the Sea Slug missile system. So Shorts Brothers developed the lightweight, relatively inexpensive SeaCat missile system in the early 1960s.

A small, lightweight, subsonic missile using Command to Line of Sight Guidance, SeaCat could be mounted on just about any warship, and was for many Royal Navy ships the only air defense aboard. The gunner used a set of binoculars on a pedestal mount to track the target, and the guidance system relayed steering commands via a radio link.  Theoretically, as long as the gunner kept the target within the crosshairs, the missile would guide to the target.

It was also widely exported to the usual British client states.

In reality, the system, while very reliable, was not terrible capable. During the Falklands war in 1982, out of over 80 SeaCat firings, only one Argentine Skyhawk was brought down. Interestingly, the Argentinians also used SeaCat and its land based variant, Tigercat, though they scored no kills.


SWO’s on the go.

CDR Salamander is writing at the USNI blog again. As usual, he’s concerned about the poor shipbuilding program that resulted in the LCS and the DDG-1000, and the lack of offensive firepower in the surface fleet.

And, as usual, he shows the conflict between the traditionalists and the transformationalists.

We have been floundering since the end of the Cold War when it comes to our ability to advance the fight from our warships. “Build a little, test a little, learn a lot” has morphed in to “Spend a lot, testify in front of Congress a lot, learn new ways to make PPT slides.”

But Sal sees a ray of hope, this one emanating from the current Director Surface Warfare (N96), Rear Admiral Pete Fanta.

Fanta is basically arguing that the current risk adverse system stifles innovation, and is not allowing existing systems and platforms to be developed to their full potential. For instance, we’ve all spent the last quarter century watching the Tomahawk missile be used as the weapon of choice for land attack from the sea. The original anti-ship version of the missile was retired because the long time of flight meant that it was quite likely its intended target would move outside the radar seeker field of view before it arrived, and the risk of attacking innocent neutral shipping was too high. It was simply assumed tactical air would handle shipping strikes at longer ranges.

But improved network capabilities and vastly more powerful electronics* mean we should be able to incorporate more modes of attack. We chatted with SWO Pro Bryan McGrath a few weeks ago, and the coming improved capabilities of the Tomahawk were to him pretty much the most exciting development in the near term for increased lethality in the surface force.

Similarly, Rear Admiral Jon Hill discussed adding offensive capabilities to the Standard Missile SM-6. SM-6 is an active radar guided air defense missile that is the primary air defense weapon of the Aegis equipped destroyers. Its primary mission is to shoot down airplanes and missiles.

But there is no fundamental reason why we can’t use it for other missions. For instance, an autopilot with INS/GPS and midcourse guidance from the Aegis system yields an incredibly efficient kinematic flight profile. Coupled with the active radar seeker and a backup imaging infrared seeker, software updates should allow an anti-surface warfare use.  The warhead is hardly optimized for this role, but given the lack of armor on virtually all modern warships, it would still pose a considerable threat.  A land attack role should be easily feasible. While it would be a very expensive approach for most missions, it would be quite well suited for the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) role.

For instance, as we noted yesterday, the Russians have deployed the formidable S-400 SAM system in Syria.  Suppressing the system is normally seen as a job for E/A-18G Growlers working with jammers and HARM missiles. But if the location of the system can be pinpointed, why not toss a couple SM-6s from over a hundred miles away? If nothing else, while the S-400 is busy dealing with that (all while being jammed by the Growler) other systems can close in to finish it off in a more traditional manner.

RADM Fanta is right, that there is enormous room for improvement at relatively low cost, that good, workable ideas are out there in the fleet, and that not every program needs to be a massive top down all up system of systems transformation. Let’s hope his style begins to catch on.


*The original Harpoon and Tomahawk ASM seekers were late sixties, early seventies technology, fielded in the early eighties. Take a look the computer or phone you’re reading this on. Do you think there might be room for improvement on Tomahawk?

TOW Missile in Vietnam

Today, the US designed TOW missile is almost ubiquitous, being used by more countries than you can shake a stick at. It’s also in use by the Free Syrian Army rebels in that nasty little civil war they have going on.

But in 1972, the TOW was brand spanking new. The Army had its eye on the stupendous fleets of Warsaw Pact tanks in Europe, and wanted to get a good idea of just how well TOW would work, particularly mounted on a helicopter.

As it happened, the famous Easter Offensive of the Vietnam War broke out just about the same time that TOW was ready for operational testing. While we generally think of the Vietnam War as one fought by infantry supported by artillery in jungles or rice paddies, there was a shift in the Easter Offensive. The US had spent the years from 1964 to 1972 perfecting counter-insurgency warfare. But the the North Vietnamese Army in 1972 launched an entirely conventional, mechanized, invasion of South Vietnam. Large numbers of tanks, APCs and fleets of trucks supported the invasion. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam was ill equipped to deal with that mechanized threat. Only the prompt and massive application of American airpower staved off the invasion.

And one small part of that was the combat debut of TOW, mounted on UH-1B gunships.



The success of the interim XM-26 TOW armament system would inspire the Army to mount a similar system on its fleet of AH-1 Cobra gunships, which would be the primary attack helicopter in the Army fleet until introduction of the AH-64 Apache and its Hellfire missile in the late 1980s.


Pike Tiny Guided Missile and some others

Raytheon (and a few other companies) has put a lot of emphasis on designing ever smaller precision weapons.  Taking it down to just about the smallest I’ve seen, they’re developing (on their own dime, btw) what they call Pike.


That’s a guided missile designed to be fired from a standard 40mm grenade launcher.

They’re not shooting precision-guided bullets — yet.

But Raytheon may be the closest yet, with a tiny guided missile a soldier can launch from a rifle-mounted grenade launcher.

Meet the Pike, a 17-inch-long, laser-guided munition that Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems is developing on its own dime in hopes the U.S. Army and perhaps other allied armies will buy it.

The Pike and other small guided munitions Raytheon has developed in recent years meet a growing demand for precision, targeted strikes that leave minimal “collateral damage” — death or injury to civilians and property damage — in an era where enemies often hide in crowded areas.

“Nowadays we’re not worried nearly as much, about mass formations of an adversary’s armor,” said J.R. Smith, Raytheon’s director of advanced land-warfare systems. “A lot of it now is insurgents, and they’re in light vehicles or you’ve got people planting IEDs (improvised explosive devices).

One of the challenges an American infantry platoon faces in combat is that when you get right down to it, the organic firepower of a US platoon isn’t that much better than say, it’s Taliban opponents. Rifles? Check. Machine guns? Check. Grenade launchers? Check. Unguided rockets ? Check. There’s no decisive edge there. Oh, you might have your Javelin with you, and that gives you good overmatch against an enemy machine gun team. But Javelin is very big, bulky and really expensive.

The traditional American answer to this problem is to draw from outside assets. Fire support from company or battalion mortars, supporting artillery batteries, fixed or rotary wing air support. Which, that will always be the way  we fight combined arms.

But it sure would be nice if, rather than having to wait for supporting fires, a US platoon could almost instantly use organic assets to achieve fire superiority, ending the fight that much quicker.

We mentioned LTG McMaster the other day, and his role as the Army’s chief innovator. One of his consistent pushes since he was a two star at Ft. Benning was increasing the lethality of the rifle squad and platoon.

Should Pike work as advertised (or even reasonably close to it) that would seem to me a very handy capability to have.

Raytheon’s press release describes it as having a semi-active laser guidance system, and a range of about a mile and a half. At two pounds, a rifle platoon could carry a goodly number of these, limited more by cost than by weight.

It doesn’t look like they actually test fired any yet (or at least, release video of any tests), so let’s look at some other videos of small precision guided weapons.



I’d kinda like to see a shipborne MLRS/SDB variant for suppression of enemy air defenses. Mate a seeker from the AGM-88E AARGM on to the warhead and you’ve have a pretty nifty tool for attacking S-300 air defense systems in the littorals.

About that F-35 vs. F-16 dogfight…

The interwebs and Facebook exploded this week with the latest revelation that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a dog that can’t dogfight.

David Axe’s post has set off a firestorm of criticism over the inability of the F-35 to outperform the 40 year old F-16. Everyone who has access to the internet is up in arms over this horrible failure.

But here’s the thing. The JSF is not really a fighter. Or rather, the emphasis is on strike, more than on fighter. It’s a bomb truck. It does also have a robust air to air capability, but that role is somewhat secondary to its ability to attack ground targets.

The F-16 was conceived during the last years of the Vietnam war, and designed immediately following it. COL John Boyd’s Energy/Maneuverability Theory had a very large impact on its configuration. The ability of outmaneuver potential Soviet threat aircraft was the paramount concern of the design. And the aircraft had to be able to outmaneuver because of the limitations of the armament of the day. To wit, the plane John Boyd and the Fighter Mafia wanted was to be dirt simple, with only the most crude radar for cueing weapons, and armed only with a pair of AIM-9P Sidewinder short range missiles, and the M61 Vulcan 20mm cannon.

The other jet fighter the Air Force was buying at that time, the F-15 Eagle, took a completely different approach, with the biggest radar they could stuff into a fighter sized jet, and a whopping 8 air to air missiles, four of the big AIM-7 Sparrows (the primary armament) and four Sidewinders, as well as a gun.  The Eagle also was built with the E/M theory very much in mind, but primarily saw itself as a beyond visual range fighter, picking off Soviet MiG-21s and MiG-23s before they could even return fire.

The anti-F-35 camp (the loudest members of which are probably David Axe, Eric L. Palmer, and Pierre Sprey*) insist that any fighter simply must follow the E/M theory, or it is utterly worthless.

The problem is, E/M theory isn’t applicable to just airplanes. Turns out, it applies pretty well to air to air missiles also. And whereas a manned airplane can’t really go much above 9G without harming the meatware, missiles have no problem pulling 60G or more.  Building agility (high G capability) into an airplane involves tradeoffs. The structure has to weigh more or it will crack sooner, and conversely, intense efforts at weight reduction have to be implemented, as weight factors strongly into the equation. Having reached an effective plateau of about 9Gs, it simply makes more sense to concentrate on enhancing the maneuverability of the weapon, not the airplane.


Furthermore, it should be noted, there’s quite a few people pushing back against Axe’s sensationalistic piece. Far from being the true test that shows once and for all the F-35 is a POS, it was in fact, a first look, aimed at finding out not so much how well the F-35 performed against the F-16, but rather at what parts of the flight control software could be improved to give the F-35 more maneuverability, particularly at high Angles of Attack (AoA).  It appears the F-35 used in the test, AF-2 the second build “A” model for the Air Force, was also using flight control software that restricted certain portions of the envelope. And my sources also tell me the test took place during a time when there were restrictions on the engine performance. While the pilot might have no restrictions on throttle movement, the Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) was programmed in a manner that would restrict some of the output.

From Aviation Week:

“…The operational maneuver tests were conducted to see “how it would look like against an F-16 in the airspace,” says Col. Rod “Trash” Cregier, F-35 program director. “It was an early look at any control laws that may need to be tweaked to enable it to fly better in future. You can definitely tweak it—that’s the option.”

Emphasis mine.  The F-35 has already demonstrated a 9 G capability. It’s cleared through a flight envelope up to 50,000 feet, and a speed of Mach 1. 6. It was a deliberate decision to accept a considerably lower top speed than the Mach 2.0 of the F-16, particularly since most air to air engagements take place in the transonic regime, from about Mach 0.8 to maybe Mach 1.1.

Incidentally, the F/A-18 Hornet is really a 7.5G fighter, and yet fought the way it was intended to be fought, it has an excellent reputation against the US Navy’s Aggressor F-16s.

The gang at aren’t exactly impressed with Axe’s article.

Nor is SMSgt. Mac at Elements of Power

UK Defense Journal points out that in other exercises more representative of real operations than a canned BFM scenario, the F-35 has performed quite well against the F-16.

Over the last few years there have been occasions where a flight of F-35s have engaged a flight of F-16s in simulated combat scenarios, the F-35s reportedly won each of those encounters because of its sensors and low visibility.

C.W. Lemoine, who has flown both the F/A-18 and the F-16, points out a few reasons why the Axe article is, in his words, garbage.

There are a great number of valid reasons to criticize the F-35 program, from its very inception envisioning one jet operating as a vertical jump jet, a carrier jet, and a conventional runway jet. The costs associated with the avionics and computer programming have been astonishing.  The deliberate spread of subcontracts across every possible Congressional district as a defense against cancellation is another issue worthy of debate.

But taking one small canned scenario, one intended not to see if the F-35 could out fight the F-16, but rather explore the flight envelope, and proclaiming that it invalidates the entire development program, is the type of sensationalistic clickbait reporting that does little to inform the public on the actual state of the program.



*Pierre Sprey is a statistician and a music producer. He also still contends to this day that the F-15 is a failure, in spite of a combat record of something like 105-0 in air to air combat. Take his words with that thought in mind.

Surface to Air Missile for Surface to Surface use. DIY weaponeering.

So, the other day, @ThinkDefence shared a tweet that took me here:

The surprising move by Libya Dawn that resulted in the conversion of several S-125 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) into surface-to-surface missiles is not the only of its kind in Libya. Indeed, initiated at roughly the same time, Libya Dawn also worked on the conversion of 2K12 SAMs to the surface-to-surface role. The first contraption, seen above, combines an Italian produced Puma 6×6 APC with the launch section of a Soviet designed 2K12 SAM system.

The collapse of Libya into a mishmash of competing factions means that there really isn’t a lot of new weapons being imported beyond perhaps some small arms.

That being the case, the combatants are forced to make do with what they have on hand. There’s not really much of an air war going on, so Surface to Air missile systems are not exactly a priority. But in the old Ghaddafi days, they were, if only because they’d been raided a few times by A-6s, A-7s, and F-111s.

The 2K12, better known in the West as the SA-6  Gainful, was something of a rude surprise to the Israelis when they first faced it in Egyptian hands in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It’s rather dated technology by today’s standards, but still a credible threat.

But again, the factions in Libya don’t really need SAMs. So apparently, they’re using these as unguided surface to surface missiles.  As the Onyx Blog notes, they have a poor warhead and fuze for this role, but shooting something is better than nothing.

And it isn’t as if they’re the only ones to use SAMs in a surface to surface role. US Navy Arleigh Burke class destroyers beginning with DDG-79 USS Oscar Austin don’t carry the Harpoon anti-ship missile, and so rely on their anti-aircraft SM-2 missiles for the anti-surface role.

One program that never came to fruition, sadly, was a recent one involving the SM-2. Earlier blocks of SM-2 missiles have been replaced in service by newer, longer ranged versions of the SM-2, and now also by the SM-6, featuring basically the same airframe and autopilot, but also incorporating the radar seeker from the AIM-120 AMRAAM and the IIR seeker from the AIM-9X.  This new production meant a couple thousand earlier SM-2s were surplus to needs. Someone in the Navy or at Raytheon had the bright idea to convert them for land attack use. The SM-4* Land Attack Standard Missile (LASM) program was born.

LASM took a surplus SM-2 and replaced the Semi-Active Radar Homing guidance system with an INS/GPS system. The firing ship would simply input the map coordinates of the target, and launch the missile. The missile could fly a very efficient ballistic or semi-ballistic path to the target, which meant its range would be considerably greater than for the air to air role. While its warhead would be no great shakes against any hardened target, it would be fairly effective against soft targets.

For whatever reason, most likely budgetary, LASM was cancelled. Which, to us, seems a shame, as the next logical step to us would have been to equip it with the seeker from the AGM-88 HARM, and use the LASM to suppress land based air defenses in support of carrier operations.


*SM-3 is a ballistic missile defense variant of the Standard Missile Family.

Sea Skua

Elizzar mentioned the Sea Skua missile’s use in the Falklands war in the comments of an earlier post. And it’s one of my favorite little missiles.

Developed in the late 1970s to give Royal Navy helicopters an Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) capability against smaller ships such as patrol boats, the Sea Skua had a remarkably fast development time from the first test firings, on the order of about three years, and was fielded and operational in time for the Falklands in 1982.

The helicopter it was designed for, the Westland Sea Lynx, is a fairly small helicopter, so the Sea Skua was designed to be fairly small itself, with an all up round weighing in at around 300 pounds. Each Sea Lynx could carry up to four missiles.

Most anti-ship missiles use either active radar homing (that is, they carry their own radar to search for a target) or infra-red homing, seeking the heat of the target. The Sea Skua, somewhat unusually, uses semi-active radar homing. That is, the launching Sea Lynx shines its radar on the target, and a radar receiver in the missile homes in on the reflected radar energy. This has a significant drawback in that the launching helicopter has to keep its radar locked on the target for the entire time of flight of the missile. But the choice of guidance systems also has some advantages. First, it was likely cheaper and faster to develop. Second, with the decent range of Sea Skua (roughly 15 miles) the launching helicopter is out of range of most small ship defenses, so tracking the target isn’t an unduly risky proposition. Third, semi-active homing means that the launching helicopter can be sure the missile attacks the correct target, and will not be spoofed to attack either a neutral or lower value target. As a contrast, the Argentine Exocet that destroyed the MV Atlantic Conveyor was (probably) targeted as HMS Illustrious, but was spoofed by chaff, and stumbled upon Atlantic Conveyor afterwards.

The Sea Skua has a small warhead, by anti-ship missile standards, just 62 pounds. And given that it strikes above the waterline, it’s highly unlikely for one missile to sink any but the smallest of targets. But the warhead is sufficient to render most small vessels incapable of continuing the fight. That’s called a “mission kill.” For the most part, simply taking a ship out of the fight is sufficient.

In its introduction to combat in the Falklands, Sea Skua was used to damage an Argentinian patrol boat. Its next foray into combat was during Desert Storm, where considerable numbers were expended against the Iraqi navy with good effect, sinking or badly damaging about a dozen ships.

Just as the Westland Lynx has enjoyed considerable export success, so naturally has the Sea Skua. Users beside the Royal Navy include Germany, Brazil, Malaysia, India, Kuwait, Pakistan, and Korea.


The Sea Skua can also be installed and launched from small surface ships too small to accommodate other larger anti-ship missiles.



The US Navy, finding itself in need of a missile system to equip its own SH-60 Seahawk helicopters, opted instead for the Norwegian designed Penguin missile. Unlike Sea Skua, Penguin uses an infra-red seeker. In addition, for even smaller threats, most Seahawks can now carry four or eight Hellfire semi-active laser guided missiles, with a range of about 5 miles. The much smaller Hellfire is quite sufficient for attacking the very small fast boats that would constitute a swarm type attack.

Sea Skua itself, after an admirable career over three decades long, is slated to be replace by a newer missile, Sea Venom, sometime around 2020.

Offensive ASuW- Range and the Kill Chain

So, the surface navy side of the US Navy is starting to get serious about reestablishing a credible offensive capability against enemy surface forces. ‘bout damn time.

It should be noted that offensive ASuW is currently, and will continue to be, primarily the province of  tactical airpower and submarines. One great strength of our way of war is our ability to fight asymmetrically, using our system of systems against enemy platforms. Why get into a toe-to-toe slugfest with enemy surface ships if you have better ways of doing business?

But that approach presumes that an individual ship or small task force has immediate access to either airpower or a submarine. If that’s not the case, our notional force must be able to defend itself, and take the offense. The goal of a military force, after all, is to make his life miserable, not to make yours safe.

Jon Solomon, who’s been doing some great stuff at Information Dissemination, writes about one aspect that has been getting a lot of press, but not so much deep thought- the range discrepancy between most US anti-ship missiles, and those of potential enemies

The U.S. Navy is clearly at a deficit relative to its competitors regarding anti-ship missile range. This is thankfully changing regardless of whether we’re talking about LRASM, a Tomahawk-derived system, or other possible solutions.

It should be noted, though, that a weapon’s range on its own is not a sufficient measure of its utility. This is especially important when comparing our arsenal to those possessed by potential adversaries. A weapon cannot be evaluated outside the context of the surveillance and reconnaissance apparatus that supports its employment and the overall size of its inventory.

One of the original variants of the Tomahawk missile was the TASM, or Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile. It could deliver a 1000lb warhead to a range of about 250 nautical miles at about 500 miles per hour. We fielded this capability in the early 1980s, but by the early 1990s, the TASM was withdrawn from service.


Because even though we had a missile that could fly 250nm, what we didn’t have was a reliable way to detect, localize, classify, identify, and track a target at that range. Oh, sometimes, use of SH-60B LAMPS III helicopters could make it theoretically feasible. But for the most part, it wasn’t practical. Most of the time when a potential target was found at 250nm, it was found by tactical air. And that brings us right back to tactical air being a preferred ASuW system.

Mr. Solomon uses some math in his post to illustrate some of the challenges that mean the maximum range of a missile isn’t the same as the maximum effective range, yet less the optimum engagement range.

Suffice it to say, the side that generally has the better ability to leverage Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets to line up its targets is likely to prevail in any missile duel.

We’re reminded of an early criticism of the Spruance class destroyers- that they looked very lightly armed compared to their Soviet counterparts bristling with missiles and guns. What that overlooked was that the SpruCans were instead heavily laden with sensors, such as onboard helicopters, that gave them a better ability to see the battlespace, while still carrying sufficient weapons to dominate that battlespace. The Soviet counterpart, by contrast, was a deadly threat if, and only if, it could find the enemy.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union (and its fleet) the Navy has stressed the sensor side of the sensor to shooter relationship. With the resurgence of a potential blue water foe, the Navy is again attempting to balance that relationship with a boost to the shooter side.