This week has provided a couple of interesting clues as to how the U.S. Navy might deal with the proliferation of weapons meant to keep U.S. ships so far from an enemy's shore that its weapons would be useless.
On Wednesday, Lockheed Martin scored a $54 million contract to prepare its prototype next-generation anti-ship missile for a pair of test launches from a ship. DARPA gave the Bethesda-based defense giant the money to move ahead with its Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) program, according to a DOD contract announcement.
"LRASM is a joint DARPA/Office of Naval Research effort to develop and demonstrate standoff anti-ship strike weapon technologies," reads the announcement.
In English, that means the missile is meant to allow U.S. ships and planes to hit enemy ships from outside the range of the adversary's weapons and air defenses. The LRASM is supposed to use its own sensors to autonomously hunt for its targets once it is in the air, in case the enemy is jamming communications between the missile and the ship that fired it.
To keep costs and development time under control, DARPA is looking at basing the LRASM (under development since 2009) on the long-range version of Lockheed's stealthy Joint Air-to-Surface-Standoff Missile and packing it with additional sensors.
Today, Flight Global reported that the Navy is thinking about putting extra fuel tanks on its fleet of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets in an attempt to give them extra range -- something that would be helpful when fighting a nation with weapons aimed at keeping U.S. aircraft carriers at bay.
Remember, nations like China are developing radars and missiles aimed at keeping enemy ships and aircraft far from their shores in hopes of limiting the weapons that can be brought to bear against them -- a strategy the Pentagon calls anti-access/area denial, or A2AD.
U.S. defense officials want to overcome this by developing a new host of stealthy long-range carrier-based drones, a new fleet of stealth bombers and a variety of long-range missiles that can slip through radars screens, find targets, collect intelligence on them, and then destroy them. In addition, the U.S. is looking at ways to spread its forces among bare-bones bases throughout the Pacific in an effort to make them harder to target in case of a conflict.