Navy Missiles for all my Friends
There are some smart decisions being made by the Army when it comes to what the cool kids call “long range fires” (I don’t care if they call it medium) … and the products are blue and gold.
Instead of picking a single missile to be its thousand-mile Mid-Range Capability, the Army has chosen to mix two very different Navy weapons together in its prototype MRC unit: the new, supersonic, high-altitude SM-6 and the venerable, subsonic, low-flying Tomahawk.
Lockheed Martin won the OTA contract, worth up to $339.4 million with all options, to integrate the two missiles – both built by Raytheon – into the Army fire control systems, vehicles, and support equipment required for a fully functioning artillery battery. Lockheed builds the current wheeled HIMARS and tracked MLRS launchers, which can handle a wide variety of current and future Army weapons, but neither the service nor the company would say whether they could fire either SM-6 or Tomahawk, citing security concerns.
They are set to enter service in 2023.
The most important factor in the Pacific remains what it has always been, range.
The subsonic Tomahawk cruise missile is the long-serving mainstay of long-range strike. It was first fielded in the Reagan era and has been much upgraded since, with more than 2,000 fired in combat since 1991. There used to be a whole family of different versions, but nuclear-tipped, land-based, air-launched, and anti-ship variants were retired after the Cold War. That left the Navy’s conventional-warhead Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM), which can only be fired from ships and submarines, and only at stationary targets ashore.
The supersonic SM-6 is the latest and sexiest version of the Navy’s Standard Missile family, whose primary role is defensive, built to shoot incoming enemy aircraft and missiles out of the sky. But the new SM-6 is also capable of striking surface targets on land and sea.
Range, range, range. For reasons probably best discussed between them and their confessors, since the end of the Cold War our Navy has retreated from range. Our airwing forgot about it. Our surface force remembered it shortly, then forgot it again. I don’t think out submarine force ever did … but we don’t talk much about submarines because they seem to do a great job in most things (though that may change next week if I can get a post out of draft).
The SM-6 selection surprised me at first, because its reported ranges are well short of the 1,000 miles the Army wants for the Mid-Range Capability. While the real range is classified, estimates range up to 290 miles (250 nautical miles).
However, the Navy is now developing an extended-range model of the SM-6, the Block 1B. (It’ll use the rocket booster from another Standard Missile variant, the ICBM-killing SM-3, which is known to have a range greater than 1,000 miles). What’s more, while the current SM-6 maxes out at Mach 3.5, the SM-6 Block 1B will reportedly reach hypersonic speeds, i.e. above Mach 5. While the Navy plans for Block 1B to complete development only in 2024, it wouldn’t be a stretch to have a handful of missiles available early for the Army’s MRC roll-out in late 2023.
The maritime gods of the copybook headings are back, and they are pissed. All the non-transformational concepts such as range, affordability, production lines, and robustness are coming back to the front. Why? Simple.
We are running out of time to be unserious. From the Army's press release;
“The Army and joint service partners have conducted extensive mission thread analysis to solidify the kill chain and communications systems required to support MRC operations. Details are not publicly releasable due to OPSEC considerations,” Army officials wrote me in an email.
“The Tomahawk and SM-6 were chosen in order to accelerate a mature capability to address near-peer threats. They provide the required mix of capability to engage desired targets at mid-range distances. Working closely with the Navy, the Army will be able to integrate these missiles for the MRC prototype battery to meet the FY23 fielding date.
“The Army will not modify the Navy missiles. While working on materiel solutions, the Army is also consistently doing analysis to determine the best mix of weapons systems, how the enemy is going to fight against new capabilities, and how to address capability gaps.
“The MRC prototype battery is planned to include a mix of both SM-6 and Tomahawk missiles to provide the desired capability in FY23.”
The best way to keep the People’s Republic of China from being a danger to our interests is to keep her close to shore. To do that, you need to hit targets on the coast and inland. With her impressive S/M/IRBM forces, you need to do that at range at sea and ashore.
The maladministration of our airwing over the three decades is almost criminal, but we have what we have. Working at the speed of smell, NAVAIR may have a F/A-XX (AKA NGAD or whatever we are calling it this week) shadow on the ramp before the crack of doom, and one hopes that one of the primary design priorities is … range … but for the near-term fight to come, we and our sister services will have to do with what we have to keep a proper distance from shore based weapons systems. We knew that in the Cold War, but then we got smart enough to be stupid. We will have to find range other ways – and in missiles, the Navy has a lot to be proud of.
This is where the Army’s decision to go Navy and buy the updated 1970s era TLAM (though that is just the shape and speed. The warhead and guidance is 21st Century smart) and the SM-6 is just smart as it can be. We have good (actually, very good) now as we wait for better later that may or may not come. We need to be ready to fight now, not a decade from now.
A final note to my fellow geeks and classics fans.
Do you know what "Typhon" is on slide above?
... the Giant-God whose power is to overturn oceans. ... the largest and most fearsome of all creatures, his prowess exceeded that of even the Titans and was enough to be regarded as the deadliest threat to Olympus, and was one of the few beings in existence whom Zeus openly feared. ... His true form is always accompanied by a massive and devastating storm, obscuring his body and making it difficult to see. However, it is said that his human upper half reached as high as the stars, and his hands reached east and west. Instead of a human head, a hundred dragon heads erupted from his neck and shoulders; some, however, depict him as having a human head, with the dragon heads replacing the fingers on his hands. His bottom half consisted of gigantic viper coils that could reach the top of his head when stretched out and constantly made a hissing noise. His whole body was covered in wings, and fire flashed from his eyes,