Where to now for naval missiles?

The critical design review for the upgrade of the Evolved Seasparrow Missile (ESSM) that currently provides the RAN’s primary anti-ship missile defence capability will be completed by the end of this year; one of several ongoing weapon developments that in due course will enhance the surface fleet’s anti-air and strike capabilities.

Julian Kerr | Sydney

These developments include confirmation that depending on final design and radar cross section analysis, both of the RAN’s Canberra class Landing Helicopter Docks (LHDs) are to be equipped with up to three 4,500 rounds per minute Phalanx 20mm Close-In Weapon Systems (CIWS).

Such a move has long been anticipated, given that the self-defence capabilities for such large and important assets are presently limited to four 25mm Typhoon remotely-controlled weapon systems. While these should be effective against asymmetric attacks, they would be incapable of dealing with any anti-ship guided missiles that might escape the defensive screen thrown up by accompanying escorts.

Commodore Rob Elliott RAN, Director General Surface Combatants and Aviation within Navy’s Strategic Command, told ADM that planning for the ESSM upgrade by the 12-nation NATO Sea Sparrow consortium, of which Australia is a member, was on track.


The bulk of the RAN’s inventory of SM-2 Block IIIA missiles ... has now been modified to the Block IIIB configuration."


He did not disclose further scheduling, but both the US Navy and contractor Raytheon Missile Systems (RMS) expect the ESSM Block II to be fielded in 2020.

BAE Systems Australia and Brisbane company Micreo have been involved in Block II engineering development, and CDRE Elliott said both Saab Australia (9LV combat system) and Canberra-based CEA Technologies (CEAFAR radar) have been included in Australian representation at six-monthly consortium meetings, the most recent of which took place in Norway in May.

The Raytheon ESSM Block 1 now equipping the RAN’s Anzac class and Adelaide class FFG-7 frigates and, eventually, the Hobart class Guided Missile Destroyers (DDGs), utilises a semi-active guidance system that receives electromagnetic signals bounced off a target by a ship-based illuminator.

While retaining its semi-active capability, the Block II missile will also feature an active seeker, meaning it will itself transmit and receive an electromagnetic signal to engage a maneuvering target, at times independently of illumination from the launch ship.

CDRE Elliott said there would be no change in the missile’s 50km range but it would be slightly wider than the present 254mm diameter. This would not involve any modifications to the tactical length Mk 41 Vertical Launch Systems (VLS) aboard the Anzacs and FFGs, or to the strike length VLS on the DDGs, nor to the ability to accommodate quad-packed ESSMs in each VLS cell.

“Every government wants to save money and we’re hoping a swap-out upgrade package will be possible. That’s in its infancy and it’s one of the options that Raytheon Missile Systems is working for the consortium,” CDRE Elliott noted.

“The intention is that as with ESSM Block I, components will be built in different countries and assembled in the US. Production workshare is currently being negotiated. Australia is the second largest procurer of the missile after the US and Canada is third, but we’re all treated the same as part of the SeaSparrow Consortium,” he stated.

The deployment of ESSM Block II on the Future Frigate that will replace the Anzac class starting from 2027-2030 under Project Sea 5000 Phase 1 seems virtually certain, although CDRE Elliott pointed out that weapons procurement for the new class was a function of Sea 5000 Phase 2, which is not yet fully scoped.

“We’re working that space at the moment; we’re currently focused on Phase 2 of the Competitive Evaluation Process (CEP) which will downselect one of the three government-directed Future Frigate options before we get to what type of ordnance we will need to out on it,” he commented to ADM.

Additionally equipping the Future Frigate with a longer range anti-air missile – presumable the 169 km range Standard SM-2 Block IIIB seems possible but less certain, given that the nine-ship class is to be optimised for anti-submarine warfare.

“The Future Frigate is not an area defence air warfare ship, it’s about contributing to the defence of the Task Group,” CDRE Elliott said.

“Giving it an SM-2 type capability is an option on which the government must decide, but all three ship-types being considered under the Sea 5000 Phase 1 CEP do have the ability to accommodate that if required”.

In a typical Task Group operating in the littoral and comprising a Hobart class DDG, a Future Frigate and a high value unit such as a Canberra class Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD), the DDG would provide area air defence while the Future Frigate would provide an inner layer of protection for the LHD and contribute to the Task Group’s air defence.

FMS sale

In a linked development, the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) disclosed in May that the US State Department had approved the sale to Australia of SM-2 Block IIIB missiles, equipment and support costing an estimated US$301 million (A$418 million).

The sale included up to 80 Block IIIB rounds, up to 15 Block IIIB guidance sections, and an undisclosed number of Mk 13 vertical launching system canisters.

The missiles would be used for anti-air warfare test firings during qualification trials for the DDGs, the agency said, disclosing that Defence’s Orchard Hills ammunition depot west of Sydney had recently received new test equipment to enhance its maintenance of SM-2s.

The bulk of the RAN’s inventory of SM-2 Block IIIA missiles – all configured for the Mk 13 single arm launcher on the RAN’s three remaining Adelaide class FFG-7 frigates – has now been modified to the Block IIIB configuration for deployment in the Mk 41 vertical launch systems aboard the DDGs.

The upgrade has also involved the replacement of the missile’s X-Band datalink with an S-Band unit to communicate with the DDGs’ AN/SPY-1D (V) radar, and the addition of an infrared guidance mode to improve performance against heavy electronic countermeasures.

The need to retain some Block IIIA inventory for long range fleet air defence until the first DDG is operational and the last of the FFGs is retired, probably in late 2019, is likely to be driving the requirement for additional missiles not just to meet qualification firings but also to build DDG warstocks.

NUSHIP Hobart will begin sea trials later this year and is scheduled to be delivered to the RAN in the last half of 2017. Ships Two and Three should be starting their sea trials in 2017 and 2019 respectively.

Since the first SM-2 was deployed by the US Navy in 1981 the type has undergone a series of upgrades as well as being further evolved into the SM-3 with its LEAP (Lightweight Exo-Atmospheric Projectile) hit-to-kill kinetic manoeuvring warhead for short to medium range ballistic missile defence , and the SM-6 for extended-range air defence.

SM family

Consideration of future upgrades for the RAN’s SM-2s is included in Defence’s Integrated Investment Plan (IIP) as Area Air Defence Weapon Integration – Sea 5001 Phase 1.

“Australia has been invited by the US to be a member of the Standard Missile community and we’re moving in that direction now”, said CDRE Elliott.


"The SM-6 is also featuring in RAN-RAAF discussions on options to present to government on the Integrated Air and Missile Defence project included in the IIP."


“Instead of being an FMS (Foreign Military Sales) buyer we could become above-the- line with regard to the modification of the missile from a through-life perspective.”

Consideration of the IIP’s Maritime Extended Range Air Defence Project (Sea 1360 Phase 1 in the 2012 Defence Capability Plan) includes SM-6 as an option and that is currently being explored with the US, CDRE Elliott stated.

The same project was included in the 2012 Defence Capability plan as Sea 1360 Phase 1 and mandated the SM-6 for the DDGs, with anticipated Initial Operating Capability (IOC) between 2021 and 2024.

Given the versatility of the SM-6 and an understandable preference by government to remain within the Standard weapons family, no alternative readily springs to mind although the missile is expensive at about $4 million per round.

“It’s important to understand we’re not going out fishing for brand new missiles. The Chief of Navy wants to maintain a level of commonality in the fleet and that includes weapons,” commented CDRE Elliott.

The SM-6 combines the proven airframe of the SM-2, the propulsion booster stack of the SM-3, and an enlarged version of the active seeker on the Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile (AMRAAM) in service with the RAAF.

Not only is the missile capable of over-the-horizon engagement of enemy aircraft and cruise missiles using networked targeting information but, as demonstrated last year by the SM-6 Dual I upgrade that is expected to enter US service in 2018, also of successful terminal phase defence against ballistic missiles.

Although Australia has no current counter to ballistic missiles, Defence is required to maintain a level of knowledge sufficient to provide options to government for such a capability and CDRE Elliott acknowledged “it wouldn’t take much” to task the DDGs appropriately presumably with SM-6.

The SM-6 is also featuring in RAN-RAAF discussions on options to present to government on the Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD) project included in the IIP. Stretching from 2018 to 2013, the project includes a medium range surface-to-air missile system to be operational in the mid to late 2020s.

And, as disclosed by US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter in February, modifications now under development will turn the SM-6 into a Mach 3.5 anti-ship weapon with its range increased from 250 to 370 km.

Here there are realistic alternatives on the horizon albeit all sub-sonic – the 1,400km range Tomahawk Block IV cruise missile with a new seeker designed to hit moving ships at sea, and the Boeing Harpoon Block II+, which doubles the range of the ubiquitous Harpoon to 260km and adds a datalink for inflight retargeting.

The new generation Harpoon is currently competing with the stealthy 185km range Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) for eventual deployment on the frigate variant of the USN’s Littoral Combat Ships.

Both Harpoon and the NSM – the latter already in service with the Norwegian and Polish navies can be deck-mounted, saving valuable space for anti-air missiles in vertical launch systems.

Two of the 290km range air-launched Joint Strike Missile variant of the NMS can be accommodated in the internal mission bay of the F-35A Joint Strike fighter.

The integration work for this is being jointly funded by Norway and Australia, foreshadowing the potential benefits of commonality between the air-launched and ship-launched missiles to be derived by a customer operating both types.

Future of Phalanx and Typhoon

As mentioned earlier, each LHD is to receive up to three Phalanx CIWS, a move likely to see the removal of the ships’ four Typhoon 25mm mounts and their associated TopLite electro-optical targeting systems.

Rafael's Typhoon mount. Credit: Rafael

Rafael's Typhoon mount. Credit: Rafael

This is unlikely to occur until 2018 at the earliest, when the first of the RAN’s current inventory of 12 Phalanx mounts returns from the US after being upgraded to the Block 1B Baseline 2 configuration.

The DSCA announced in October 2014 that the US State Department had approved the sale to Australia of three upgrade kits for Phalanx Block 1B Baseline 1 mounts to the Baseline 2 standard, and overhaul and upgrades for up to nine Phalanx Block 1A Baseline 0 mounts to Block 1B Baseline 2.

Three Block 1B Baseline 1 mounts are already in Australia awaiting installation on the DDGs. Six Block IA Baseline 0 mounts are destined after overhaul and upgrade to the Block 1B Baseline 2 standard for the LHDs, one for the Landing Ship Dock (LHD) HMAS Choules, and one each for the two Auxiliary Oiler and Replenishment (AOR) vessels ordered from Spanish shipbuilder Navantia in March.

The priorities for installation are firstly training systems, followed by the LHDs – dependent on mount and ship availability – then HMAS Choules and the DDGs. The DDGs will be delivered with the in-country Block 1B Baseline 1 mounts, with the upgraded Block 1B Baseline 2 systems being installed post-delivery.

Two additional mounts are being procured under Project Sea 1654 (Maritime Operational Support Capability) to inform the yet-to-be-determined self-defence requirements for the Future Frigate.

The Phalanx Block 1B Baseline 1 incorporates a stabilised Forward-Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) sensor, an automatic acquisition video tracker, longer and heavier gun barrels, and Mk 244 enhanced lethality cartridges that are engineered with a 48 per cent heavy tungsten penetrator and an aluminium nosepiece.

The Baseline 2 upgrade adds a new digital radar with the ability to track, detect and engage threats closer to the surface of the water than previous configurations.

Although the LHDs were not fitted with the Nulka active missile decoy, CDRE Elliott said government consideration of this awaited completion of the ships’ Phalanx capability.

This article first appeared in the July 2016 edition of ADM.

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