Back to news

July 2, 2019 | International, Naval

US Navy eyes new launchers on destroyers for hypersonic weapons


WASHINGTON — With bigger, faster missiles in development and bound for the fleet, the U.S. Navy's engineers are considering installing upgraded launchers on the stalwart Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

The head of Naval Sea Systems Command, Vice Adm. Thomas Moore, told an audience at a conference of naval engineers that the Arleigh Burkes — due to their vertical launch system and Aegis missile capabilities — were easier to keep relevant than other destroyers such as the Adams and Spruance classes. Still, with the service attempting to keep the ships longer, new launchers may be in order to pace the threat from Russia and China, which have been developing their own hypersonic weapons.

“Vertical launch system has been a real game changer for us. We can shoot any number of things out of those launchers,” Moore said. “We'll probably change those out and upgrade them for prompt strike weapons down the road.”

Putting hypersonic weapons on surface ships would greatly increase the effectiveness of their strike capabilities. The current main strike weapon, the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile, is a subsonic missile that is vulnerable to evermore advanced Russian and Chinese air defenses.

Prompt strike, which refers to a Pentagon-wide effort to field hypersonic weapons to quickly strike anywhere in the world, are most likely coming first to submarines, said Thomas Callender, a retired submarine officer and analyst with the Heritage Foundation. Because subs are stealthy and can sneak in close to land undetected more easily than a surface ship, they make the most sense.

“They're looking at putting hypersonics on submarines first because where you can get access,” Callender said. “You can potentially then put them on surface ships as an added capability for them, but the submarines would be the priority for access and the ranges you can achieve.”

The Navy is designing a new large surface combatant to replace the cruisers and ultimately the destroyers with larger missiles in mind. As a result, the ship may be fairly large, former Surface Warfare Director Rear Adm. Ron Boxall told Defense News last year.

The benefit of larger vertical launch cells is that you can pack more missiles into each cell, if you are not using the cell for the larger hypersonic missiles, Boxall said.

“We are going to need, we expect, space for longer-range missiles,” he said. They are going to be bigger. So the idea that you could make a bigger cell, even if you don't use it for one big missile, you could use it for multiple missiles — quad-pack, eight-pack, whatever.”

The missiles that would go into a larger launcher are still very much under development.

The Navy is teamed with the Army to develop a booster for a hypersonic missile, and the Army is leading a team with the Navy and Air Force to internally build a common glide body that is producible on a larger scale.

Radar upgrades

Naval Sea Systems Command is also examining installation of a scaled-down version of the air and missile defense radar AN/SPY-6, under development for the Flight III DDG. The scope of that project, however, remains to be determined.

“We are looking at a scaled-back version of the air and missile defense radar to back-fit the Flight Is and Flight IIs, similar to how we are looking for a version of the [Enterprise Air Search Radar] developed for [the Ford-class aircraft carriers] to back-fit on some of the old Nimitz class,” Moore said.

“I'm not sure how many ships it is going to go on, we're still doing the design work. It's a fairly significant change to the structure of the ship, AMDR versus Spy.”

The purpose of the upgrade would be used to track the faster, more dynamic missiles under development by Russia and China.

The array is a smaller version of the SPY-6 intended for the Flight III DDG, the first of which is now under construction at Huntington Ingalls Industries. The SPY-6 destined for DDG-125 will have 37 radar modular assemblies, or RMA, which are 2-foot-by-2-foot-by-2-foot boxes that use gallium nitride technology to direct radar energy on air targets. The Flight IIA version will have 24 RMAs in the array.

A version of the radar planned for the FFG(X) future frigate is a nine-RMA configuration.

The Navy wants to upgrade all of its DDGs to Aegis Baseline 9 or higher with a ballistic missile defense capability and extend the service lives to 45 years as part of an effort to grow the fleet.

But the Navy is going to try to get 50 years out of its Flight IIA ships. The IIAs make up the bulk of the DDG fleet, with 46 total planned for the service — DDG-79 through DDG-124. DDG-127 will also be a Flight IIA.

That upgraded SPY-6 will be far easier to maintain than the current SPY-1D. Raytheon claims the radar can be maintained by simply removing an RMA and switching it out with a new one, with the rest of the work performed offsite.

On the same subject

  • DISA announces 3 new contracts to modernize communication

    July 23, 2018 | International, C4ISR

    DISA announces 3 new contracts to modernize communication

    By: Maddy Longwell The Defense Information Systems Agency has announced a program that it says will improve cyber capabilities and eliminate legacy network technology and infrastructure in the Pacific theater. The program, known as Pacific Enterprise Services – Hawaii (PES-HI), will modernize the Defense Department's information networks and communications infrastructure in Hawaii. The program consists of three contract vehicles to buy information network infrastructure services and upgrade internet protocol technology. The improvements will allow users of the DoD Information Network and communications technology in Hawaii to access features such as Voice over Internet Protocol and web conferencing. “Long term, PES–HI will modernize communications infrastructure to meet DoD requirements and provide cost savings and survivability to Pacific Command customers,” Army Maj. Ernesto Gumbs, the deputy program manager, said in a July 18 news release. PES–HI also will update technology provided under the previous contract vehicle, Joint Hawaii Information Transfer System (JHITS). AT&T had been the contractor on that program since 2006, when it won a $250 million deal. JHITS provided more than 45,000 Defense Switched Network telephone services for U.S. personnel in areas such as Singapore and Wake Island and 3,100 point-to-point intra-Hawaii transmission circuits for DoD telecommunications. Legacy services provided by JHITS were absorbed into the PES – HI program when it started, Gumbs said.

  • 'Irresponsible politics’ blamed for potential hiccup in Finnish aircraft purchase

    January 28, 2019 | International, Aerospace

    'Irresponsible politics’ blamed for potential hiccup in Finnish aircraft purchase

    By: Gerard O'Dwyer HELSINKI — Finland's left-leaning political parties have cast a shadow of doubt of the fate of the HX-FP fighter procurement program, questioning the number of multirole aircraft that the Finnish Air Force needs to acquire. The Air Force wants to retire its fleet of F/A-18 Hornet jets over the next 10 years. The HX-FP carries an estimated price tag of €11.4 billion (U.S. $12.9 billion). Life cycle service and maintenance are included in this cost. Finland will hold fresh parliamentary elections in April, and the leaders of election campaign-focused Left Alliance, Greens and Social Democratic parties have declared a willingness to revisit the center-right government's plan to purchase 64 multirole fighters. Similarly, the right-wing Finns Party's leadership is also open to reducing the number of aircraft Finland will buy. Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö described the “negative” pre-election positions adopted by the leftists and the Finns Party to the HX-FP program as “irresponsible.” “I am surprised by the positions the leftist parties are taking on the procurement. The purchase of new fighter aircraft is about whether we are interested in defending our country or not. If we reduce the number of planes, then we need to have a debate about which are the priority areas in our defense. In my opinion, this is irresponsible politics,” Niinistö said. The common positions taken by the leftist parties and the Finns Party have assumed a more significant stature given that the Social Democratic Party — which is leading popular polls ahead of the April election — may end up leading Finland's next coalition government in partnership with either the Greens or the Left Alliance. Finland's coalition government parties, the Center and conservative National Coalition, remain firmly supportive of a plan to procure 64 aircraft as part of the HX-FP. Other center-right parties in Parliament, including the Swedish People's Party, the Christian Democrats and Blue Reform, also back the Air Force's plan to purchase 64 jets. “This matter is not about a specific number of planes, but finding an overall solution. The number of fighter jets that can be bought is not written in stone. That number will not be known until responses to the invitation for tenders have been properly processed. We will then have different mapped-out options to examine,” said Sanna Marin, a spokeswoman for the Social Democratic Party. Niinistö is a staunch supporter of the HX-FP and favors the acquisition of 64 planes. He recently told a meeting of Parliament's Defence Committee that the Air Force, were it were not for budgetary spending constraints, ought to have up to 100 multirole fighters at its disposal to provide an enhanced level of air defense for Finland's borders. The dispute over potential HX-FP numbers comes as Lt. Gen. Jarmo Lindberg, the Finnish Defence Forces' chief, plans to step down from his role when his five-year term ends in August 2019.

  • Lockheed sees earnings growth in space business

    October 21, 2020 | International, C4ISR, Security, Other Defence

    Lockheed sees earnings growth in space business

    Joe Gould WASHINGTON ― Space emerged as Lockheed Martin's business area with the highest growth, driven by hypersonic weapons programs and an anticipated next-generation interceptor award, CEO James Taiclet said Tuesday on the company's third-quarter earnings call. Though F-35 fighter jet deliveries and classified programs drove growth in Lockheed's aeronautics segment, and demand for Hellfire missiles drove the missiles and fire control segment, low single-digit increases were largely Lockheed's norm for the quarter. “When we speak of hypersonics, I think there's a very big upside there because there's a very big threat. It's getting worse out of Russia and China, and the U.S. and its allies are going to have to meet it both on offensive and defensive hypersonic systems,” Taiclet said, adding that classified space systems are a “wide-open field.” Taiclet also said he expects the government will work with industry to counter emerging kinetic and non-kinetic threats to space assets, ground stations and the links between them. He pointed to the Space Development Agency's selection of Lockheed, which is one of the firms building its “transport layer” — a low-Earth orbit constellation of satellites that can transfer data globally through optical intersatellite links. Taiclet touted the satellite constellation's eventual ability to transmit data at high speeds to aircraft, ground troops, and surface and undersea vessels as synergistic with Lockheed's push into 5G networking, which Taiclet calls “” A telecom executive before he joined Lockheed in June, Taiclet speculated that the company's toehold will give it an advantage as competition in this business area heats up. SDA Director Derek Tournear previously stated that the transport layer will be the space component of Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or JADC2, a Pentagon effort to connect any sensor to any shooter across domains and services. The effort now has a “C” at the beginning — CJADC2 — for “Combined.” Lockheed reported Tuesday that its space segment's net sales in the third quarter of 2020 increased $163 million, or 6 percent, compared to the same period in 2019. The segment earned $90 million for government satellite programs due to higher volume (primarily Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared satellites), and about $60 million for strategic and missile defense programs due to higher volume (primarily hypersonic development programs). Space's operating profit in the third quarter of 2020 decreased $61 million, or 20 percent, compared to the same period in 2019. There was a decrease there of $50 million due to lower equity earnings from the corporation's investment in United Launch Alliance ― a joint venture with Boeing. Lockheed announced last week it will partner with Aerojet Rocketdyne to compete for the Next Generation Interceptor program, which is run by the Missile Defense Agency. The MDA plans to downselect to two companies, with an eventual winner expected to have a system ready in 2028. On Tuesday's call, Taiclet said Lockheed's acquisition of Integration Innovation Inc.'s hypersonics portfolio this month was to provide a new capability in thermal management for hypersonic glide bodies. The deal with i3 of Huntsville, Alabama, was part of a broader mergers and acquisition strategy, that includes joint ventures and commercial partnerships, to add to the company's “technological firepower” in areas like mission systems, he said. “We plan to be active, but we plan to be very, very prudent,” he noted. It was disclosed last week that the Pentagon's nascent hypersonic missile, during a March 19 test in Hawaii, hit within 6 inches of its target. The Army is developing a ground-launched capability and plans to field a battery-sized hypersonic weapon to soldiers by 2023. Lockheed executives were upbeat about space launch. Under a recent Pentagon award, potentially worth billions of dollars, to launch national security payloads over the next five years, ULA will receive 60 percent of the contracts and SpaceX will get 40 percent. Asked Tuesday about competition between ULA and SpaceX, Lockheed Chief Financial Officer Ken Possenriede acknowledged SpaceX as “more than an emerging threat right now.” “Of the recent competitions we've had with them, we've been pleased with where ULA landed relative to SpaceX,” Possenriede said. “We also think we now have a price point that is compelling to customers that will allow ULA to get its fair share of awards over SpaceX.”

All news