Fire from the Sea

The AGM-158C is a derivative of the AGM-158C, equipped with ASuW specific guidance and navigation including a data link, enhanced GPS and a multimode sensor/seeker. (US Navy)

Investment is flowing into naval surface weaponry, notably anti-ship and land-attack missiles, plus naval gunnery, the latter of which is experiencing a renaissance as a versatile means of engaging hostile vessels and land targets.

In May 2016, the US Navy completed developmental free flight testing of its next-generation Boeing AGM-84N Block-II+ Harpoon Anti-Ship Missile (AShM) onboard a Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The AGM-84N is the latest iteration of the air-, ship-, land- and submarine-launched versions of the AGM-84 family, which entered in the US Navy inventory in 1977 and has since witnessed 7500 rounds delivered.

About 20 years later, an advanced upgrade was introduced by Boeing with the AGM-84 Block-II, which incorporated a GPS (Global Positioning System) assisted Inertial Navigation System, enabling the missile to have both an anti-ship and a land attack capability. The AGM-84 Block-II missile is employed by 29 foreign militaries, acknowledges the US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR). The AGM-84 Block-II+ provides a rapid-capability enhancement that include a new guidance navigation unit with GPS; enhancements to the reliability and survivability of the weapon; a new data link that enables in-flight updates, improved target selectivity, an abort option and enhanced resistance to electronic countermeasures.

With the US Navy fleet fielding expected in the fourth quarter of 2017 onboard the F/A-18E/F, to be followed by Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft in the 2021 timeframe, the new version will join the Raytheon AGM-154C1 Joint Stand-Off Weapon as the US Navy’s only two air-to-ground network-enable weapons. During the US Navy League Sea-Air-Space symposium in April 2015, Boeing unveiled the AGM-84 Harpoon Next Generation as an upgrade kit for existing AGM-84 family weapons which includes a more fuel-efficient engine, additional fuel and a smaller 297 pound/lb (135 kilogram/kg) warhead. These enhancements, together with the AGM-84 Block-II missile’s data link and missile guidance system, doubles the missile range from 67 nautical miles/nm (124 kilometres/km) to more than 134nm (248.2km).

More recently identified as AGM-84 Harpoon Block-II Extended Range (ER), this weapon is being proposed to meet the US Navy’s urgent requirement to equip the force’s ‘Freedom’ and ‘Independence’ class Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and the force’s new Fast Frigate (FF) programme with an over-the-horizon missile. Boeing has already ‘fundamentally’ demonstrated the in-service AGM-84 Block-1C missile integration with a live firing in July 2016 onboard the USS Coronado ‘Independence’ class LCS. An over-the-horizon missile capability Request For Proposals (RfP) is slated for release by the end of 2016, with the expected participation of Boeing, Raytheon/Kongsberg and Lockheed Martin.

The first launch of the AGM-84C1 Harpoon from the USS Coronado. Boeing is proposing the new AGM-84 Next Generation version as an update kit providing the missile with a range exceeding 134nm. (US Navy)

The US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) has, meanwhile, awarded Lockheed Martin a contract for the final development, integration and early operational capability for the company’s AGM-158C Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM). Conceived as a joint Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)/Office of Naval Research programme to prove the concept for an autonomous, precision-guided anti-ship stand-off missile, the weapon is being developed to meet the US Pacific Command’s urgent need for an offensive anti-surface warfare capability against combatants in a contested environment, with reduce dependence on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms, communication and GPS navigation.

The AGM-158C is a derivative of the AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER) air-launched cruise missile, equipped with a new sensor package specific to the anti-surface warfare mission. With a range of over 200nm (370km) range and armed with a 1000lb (454kg) penetrator and blast-fragmentation warhead, the AGM-158C employs a data link, an enhanced digital anti-jam GPS, and a multimode sensor/seeker to detect and destroy specific targets within a group of ships. The sensor/seeker package, combining a passive radio frequency long-range sensor for wide area target acquisition and an optronics seeker for terminal targeting, has been developed by BAE Systems.

The programme has completed transition from DARPA to the US Navy and is scheduled to complete technology maturation and systems engineering reviews by the end of 2016, while beginning the test and integration activities to award production lots from 2017 and to field the AGM-158C on the Rockwell International/Boeing B-1B Lancer strategic bomber by the end of 2018 and on the F/A-18E/F by the end of 2019.

The AGM-158C is a derivative of the AGM-158C, equipped with ASuW specific guidance and navigation including a data link, enhanced GPS and a multimode sensor/seeker. (US Navy)

Lockheed Martin has demonstrated the surface-launched AGM-158C variant from a ship while underway through three test shots; the latest on July 2016 from USS Paul F. Foster, a ‘Spruance’ class destroyer which now serves as a US Navy test ship. To ensure maintaining its strike capability in the next decade and beyond, the US Navy is working to develop a family of more lethal, survivable, and affordable multi-mission stand-off weapons which can be launched from multiple platforms.

The Next Generation Land Attack Weapon (NGLAW) programme, for which the Request For Information (RFI) was released in late October, is expected to provide the US Navy with a surface and submarine-launched long-range strike capability from 2028 and beyond against surface targets. The NGLAW is envisioned to complement, and then eventually replace, the Raytheon BGM-109 Tomahawk family of surface-to-surface missiles, which will be operational until the 2040s.


Since entering service in 1972, almost 4000 MBDA Exocet family of AShM have been sold to at least 35 countries. Since the first delivery to French DGA (Direction Générale de l’Armement/General Armament Directorate) in December 2010, the latest MM-40 Block-3 version has been sold to eleven customers (including the French Navy), with new supply contracts awarded to MBDA by the Qatari Navy for an undisclosed number of rounds to equip the force’s new corvettes, offshore patrol vessels and new coastal mobile AShM batteries.

The latest Exocet variant is designed for high-g manoeuvres, and reduced infrared and radar-cross section signatures. The MM-40 Block-3 features a powerful Microturbo TRI-40 turbojet providing an extended operational range at sea-skimming altitudes of around 108nm (200km). The advanced hybrid INS/GPS navigation package allows for the programming of three-dimensional way-points, optimised trajectories and simultaneous terminal attacks employing multiple missiles. Equipped with an insensitive warhead providing high explosive blast and pre-fragmented effects, triggered by an impact fuse with proximity function, the MM-40 Block-3 version’s terminal guidance is provided by an advanced radar seeker with adaptive search patterns, offering enhanced target selection and countermeasures resistance.

In parallel, MBDA has also successfully sold the latest SM-39 Block-II Mod.-II submarine-launched fully-digitised version of the missile to different customers, while the latest air-launched version, theAM-39 Block-II Mod.-II versions are finding new platforms, such as on Brazilian Navy’s Airbus Helicopters H-225M naval support helicopters.

Almost 500 examples of MBDA’s MM40 Block-3 AShM have been sold and are in-service or being delivered to eleven customers, with the latest supply contracts awarded to MBDA by Qatari Navy. (MBDA)


The Saab RBS15 missile family has been in service for over 30 years with the Swedish and Finnish navies, as well as coastal batteries demonstrating reliability and performance in operationally-complex littoral scenarios such as Swedish and Finnish coastal and archipelago waters. The latest version of the weapon is the RBS15 Mk.3 and the RBS15F-ER which have been designed to operate in a wide spectrum of threat scenarios, from anti-ship engagement in blue waters and littoral waters, as well as land attack missions.

Marketed by Saab and Diehl BGT Defence, the RBS15 Mk.3 is in service with the Croatian, Finnish, German, Polish and Swedish navies and is reported in open sources to have been sold to the Algerian Navy. With a range of over 108nm using all-weather and fire-and-forget capabilities and providing stand-off attack while using over-the-horizon targeting, or a flexible trajectory with multiple three-dimensional waypoints, the RBS15 Mk.3 is equipped with an advanced active radar seeker with a built-in ECCM (Electronic Counter-Counter Measure) which together with a true sea-skimming flight profile, random and evasive manoeuvres, including re-attack, and increased thrust in the terminal phase, provide advanced defence penetration capabilities. For the end game, missile is equipped with a large and lethal 440lb (200kg) blast and fragmentation warhead triggered by a delayed impact or proximity fuse function.

The Saab RBS 15 missile family has been in service for over 30 years with the Swedish and Finnish navies on ships, and also deployed in coastal battery configurations with other customers. (Saab)

The RBS-15F-ER is the latest generation air-to-surface model of the RBS-15 family, which thanks to its modular design and standard interfaces, can be easily integrated and installed onboard a variety of platforms, from fighters to maritime patrol aircraft. Designed for a 30-year service life with only one major overhaul, the RBS15F-ER features twice the range of the original RBS15F and an improved capability that puts its on a par with the surface-launched RBS-15 Mk.3.


During the Farnborough air show, held in southern England in July 2016, Raytheon and Kongsberg revealed plans to establish a final assembly, integration and testing facility for the Naval Strike Missile (NSM) in the US. A month later, Kongsberg awarded Raytheon the contract to product the first NSM launchers in US, as the two companies look to prepare themselves for the upcoming US Navy’s LCS/FF over-the-horizon missile competition (see above).

A target is struck during a missile test involving the NSM. The US Navy has shown interest in the weapon which is in service with the Royal Norwegian Navy. (Kongsberg)

Entering service with the Royal Norwegian Navy (RNoN) in 2012, the NSM was developed by Kongsberg to meet that force’s requirements for a highly discriminative, low-observable, sea-skimming AShM able to operate effectively in blue waters and littoral environments and to penetrate shipboard defences. With a low-observable composite airframe and capable of operational range in excess of 108nm, the NSM features an advanced passive guidance package which combines GPS-aided multi-sensor navigation with an advanced dual-band imaging seeker and autonomous target recognition for terminal guidance.

According to Kongsberg, the high-resolution imaging seeker provides autonomous target recognition and a selectable aimpoint for each ship-class. Capable also of precision land attack, a high thrust-to-weight ratio, together with programmable endgame manoeuvres provide the NSM a high probability of defence penetration. The NSM is equipped with a 484lb (220kg), combined insensitive blast and fragmentation warhead activated by a programmable fuze.

The NSM is in service with RNoN and Polish navies respectively in shipborne and mobile coastal defence applications, and has been selected by Malaysia. On the US market, the NSM was successfully launched from the USS Coronado in September 2014. The NSM is also available as an air-launched weapon called the Joint Strike Missile (JSM), with a modified airframe allowing it to be internally carried and launched from a Lockheed Martin F-35A/B/C Lightning-II fighter. Being developed with Australian participation and is currently in the test phase with the missile expected to be available from 2017.


Launched in 2013 as a company-funded project and supported by Italian Government funding during its early development, MBDA’s Marte Extended Range (ER) missile has founded a launch customer in the form of the Qatari Navy. The Marte ER differs mainly from the second-generation of Marte AShM family via the introduction of a Williams International turbojet to achieve an effective range of beyond 54nm (100km). With full-scale development launched at the beginning of 2016, the first ground firings to test the launch phase with boosters and the engine ignition are expected by the end of 2017, with weapons qualification expected by 2020.

The Marte-ER features includes a 154lb (70kg) semi-armour piercing/high-explosive insensitive warhead and Leonardo’s SM-1S active radar seeker-based guidance and navigation system, with the addition of a GPS receiver, while providing enhanced evasive manoeuvres in the terminal phase and advanced mission planning features. The helicopter, ship and ground-launched variant of the Marte-ER will be identical with central folding wings, while the fast-jet launched variant differs mainly via its absence of boosters, and fixed central wings. A new technology insertion roadmap currently under development includes RF-guidance enhancements, a more powerful warhead and eventually, a multi-sensor guidance package.

The new coastal AShM defence system developed by MBDA is focused on the new Marte-ER MM-40 Block-3 anti-ship missiles. (Luca Peruzzi)

Following a series of initial flight release trails in December 2015, the MBDA Sea Venom/Anti-Navire Leger (ANL/Light Anti-Ship Missile) programme has entered its qualification phase, to be completed with a series of guiding firings by the end of 2018.

The Sea Venom/ANL is being procured to meet the respectively Royal Navy Future Anti Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy) and the French ANL requirements for a lightweight helicopter-launched multi-role high-subsonic surface attack missile to replace the existing Royal Navy’s British Aircraft Corporatoin/MBDA Sea Skua and the French Navy’s Aérospatiale/MBDA AS-15TT AShMs. While the missile will be capable of flying a fully autonomous profile, operator-in-the-loop control will enable capabilities such as in-flight re-targeting, aim point correction/refinement and safe abort.

The SAL (Semi-Active Laser) guidance, if enabled, would allow the engagement of targets outside the line-of-sight in concert with third-party laser designation. Suitable for both blue water and littoral operations, the new missile will equip the Royal Navy’s AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2 naval support helicopters and the French Navy’s NFH-90 and Eurocopter/Airbus Helicopyers AS-565SA Panther naval support helicopters. Regarding warships, the weapon can also equip vessels of fast attack craft to corvette sizes.