Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The sixth successful launch of the air-to ground version of the AGM-158C Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) — the longest-range anti-ship cruise missile in the U.S. Navy — was conducted last week and heralds the operational deployment of this new weapon aboard attack aircraft by 2019.
The U.S. Air Force successfully tested Lockheed Martin’s LRASM off the coast of California. LRASM is a DARPA and U.S. Navy-funded program meant to provide the U.S. Navy and Air Force with an Offensive Anti-surface Weapon (OASuW) to counter the growing threats from Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) defenses such as those deployed by China in the South China Sea.
During the test, a U.S. Air Force Rockwell B-1B Lancer from the 337th Test Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas launched a LRASM over the Sea Range at Point Mugu, California. It blasted a maritime target and meet test objectives, said Lockheed Martin.
LRASM has now proven itself in six consecutive flight missions. Lockheed Martin said the reliability and outstanding capability of LRASM will provide an unmatched weapon for U.S. warfighters “in their quest for sea control in contested environments.” The air-launched variant of LRASM was first integrated onboard the B-1B Lancer supersonic strategic bombers this year and will do so on the Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornets in 2019.
The first release of the LRASM from the F/A-18E/F will be a major milestone towards meeting early operational capability in 2019. The program is executing the integration and test contract, maturing subsystems and proving flight worthiness.
The air-launched LRASM prioritizes the destruction of enemy warships, which has been neglected since the end of the Cold War in 1991, but which has since taken on importance with the modernization and aggression shown by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and its growing surface fleet.
LRASM can find a warship target on its own by using its onboard AI to locate a specific warship from among a fleet of enemy warships. A multi-mode seeker guided by the AI ensures the correct warship is hit in a specific area to maximize the probability of sinking the target.
The AI enables autonomous targeting by using on-board targeting systems to independently acquire a target without the need for prior precision intelligence, GPS or data-links.
These capabilities allow positive target identification and the precision engagement of moving warships in an enemy fleet heavily defended by surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and electronic countermeasures. The missile is designed with counter-countermeasures to evade active defense systems on enemy ships.
LRASM can be launched at a target PLAN warship from as far away as 370 kilometers. That places the launching U.S. attack aircraft well out of the range of the Chinese HHQ-9 SAM defending many of the PLAN’s modern warships. HHQ-9, the PLAN’s most modern SAM, has a slant range of 200 km.
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