The state of the art (SOTA) in naval missiles, as with so many other military systems, is not a simple definition, varying from nation to nation, navy to navy, fleet size and type – and mission. But as Teal Group senior missiles analyst Steven Zaloga noted, it basically boils down to the U.S. Navy – then everyone else.
“The U.S. Navy really doesn’t have any peer threat and isn’t likely to have one for a long time to come,” he told Defense, adding that the situation has created a significant disparity in what is considered “state of the art.” “The U.S. Navy is always looking at new components and capabilities, but the programs themselves are not really changing.
“The Chinese and Russians are different, as are the Europeans, in terms of new developments and marketing. The USN also is very dependent on aircraft and air-launched missiles. That is not the case with other navies, which don’t have a lot of carriers.”
In the international marketplace, the definition of SOTA, therefore, boils down to the best technology a buyer nation can afford – and whether it has the platforms on which to deploy those missiles. It also depends on the seller, with each of the major missile marketeers addressing specific markets.
The United States has the most advanced – and expensive – inventory, even while withholding its own state-of-the-art missiles and components from any but its closest allies. Given the wide range of missiles it can offer, however, the United States remains the top exporter.
Europe is next on the technology chain, but without the ships that set the U.S. Navy apart from all others, must depend largely on exports to finance further research and development (R&D) and production. That leaves them selling to small navies with limited platforms – and budgets.
Russia faces a similarly restricted market, even as it struggles to expand beyond its traditional customers – many of whom, having broken out of the Soviet Bloc, have worked to update their militaries with U.S. and European weapons. But Russian naval missiles are far less expensive and more likely to fit the needs and capabilities of many nations – if Russia can convince them the new Federation is a more reliable source than the old USSR was.
Traditionally, the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy have developed significantly different missiles to meet their surface-to-surface and surface-to-air needs. And while there has been some overlap in air-launched missiles, especially as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has evolved as a tri-service, multinational platform, the Navy tends to view its carrier-based aircraft as extensions of its shipboard missiles, rather than the independent strike capability desired by the Air Force.
The current SOTA within the Program Executive Office (PEO) Integrated Warfare Systems (IWS) 3.0 portfolio, in terms of technology and functionality, are the Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) and Rolling Airframe Missile Block 2 (RAM Block 2). Both are produced by the Navy’s primary missile manufacturer, Raytheon Missile Systems, which also builds the Standard Missile-2 (SM-2), Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM), NATO Sea Sparrow Missile System, RIM-161 SM-3, and Griffin.
“Both SM-6 and RAM Block 2 just completed major development programs and have entered into the production phase,” PEO IWS Surface Ship Weapons Major Program Manager Capt. Timothy Batzler said. “The SM-2 and ESSM, in their current configurations, are undergoing modifications to support Zumwalt [DDG 1000] with state-of-the-art datalink and guidance. In addition, ESSM is in a Risk Reduction Phase and expected to begin a major development program for a SOTA upgrade in calendar year 2014. PEO IWS is also working with the Littoral Combat Ship [LCS] Mission Modules Program Office to adapt the Army’s Griffin missile into a maritime environment and thus provide state-of-the-art performance for the LCS surface warfare [SuW] missions.
“All guided-missile cruisers [CG] and destroyers [DDG] equipped with Aegis Weapon System support ESSM, SM-2, and SM-6. The DDG 1000 Zumwalt class, with its Total Ship Computing Environment, supports both SM-2 and ESSM. The new large-deck amphibious assault ship [LHA 6] and aircraft carriers [CVN] support both ESSM and RAM; the smaller amphibious dock landing ships are supported by RAM. The very capable NATO Sea Sparrow Missile System continues, alongside RAM, to protect the older large-deck amphibious assault ships. The LCS class features either RAM in the 21-cell launcher or the 11-cell SeaRAM launcher configuration, in addition to the Griffin missile.”
The primary mission for the SM-2 and SM-6 is naval area defense against Anti-Air Warfare (AAW) threats. The SM-6 extends that capability by combining SM-2 Block IV propulsion and ordnance with the AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile) active seeker, working in concert with the other missile systems to create a protective “bubble” around the fleet.
“This configuration provides for over-the-horizon engagements, enhanced capability at extended ranges, and increased firepower,” Batzler explained. “The primary mission for ESSM and RAM is ship self-defense. RAM provides an antiship missile [ASM] defense against current and evolving threats, while ESSM provides greater self-defense battlespace and firepower against fast, low, small, maneuvering antiship cruise missiles. Griffin’s primary purpose is SuW, providing surface-to-surface engagements against small craft.”
The SM-3 is a co-development with the Japanese Self-Defense Force, which is looking to field it as a missile defense system toward the end of this decade. For the United States, it is part of an ongoing effort to develop a capability to intercept both intermediate range and intercontinental ballistic missiles (IRBMs and ICBMs) – essentially both a tactical and strategic missile defense system now called BMD Aegis – and possibly function as an anti-satellite weapon, as well. The U.S. Navy had 23 BMD-capable ships at the end of 2011, with plans to build that fleet to 38 by 2015.