HomeNews & MediaFeatured StoriesAiming for Long-Range Success 

March 18, 2014

Aiming for Long-Range Success

The DARPA/ONR Long Range Anti-Ship Missile
The DARPA/ONR Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) program successfully launched its first prototype in August 2013, from a
B-1 bomber.
Credit: DARPA

Capped by the successful completion of two flight tests in 2013, a team from APL’s Force Projection Sector provided technical leadership in the development and testing of a new type of missile that will meet a critical national need.

In 2008, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) released a broad area announcement for a new program. The Navy had an urgent operational need for a Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) that could fly farther than the same type of weapon used by near-peer adversaries—and, additionally, the LRASM had to operate effectively within a dense shipping environment that offered limited access and was defended by capable air-defense systems.

As DARPA searched for an independent technical trusted agent for the LRASM program, the decision to choose APL came in part because of groundwork that established the Laboratory’s expertise, explains APL LRASM project manager Walt Bowen, of the Precision Engagement Systems Branch.

“In 2008, APL briefed DARPA on several Navy-sponsored, APL-led anti-ship missile analyses, and the Lab described its experience as the technical direction agent for the Tomahawk program,” Bowen says. “That led to more conversations, and eventually DARPA asked APL to assemble and lead an independent government team that would provide independent technical assessments of LRASM. The goal was to provide unbiased technical information that DARPA and ONR would use to make programmatic decisions, and to help the program succeed in creating and demonstrating a tactically representative design that could be rapidly transitioned to production.”

Adapting and Evolving

Developing LRASM quickly meant there was no time to start from scratch. DARPA selected a Lockheed Martin LRASM concept that heavily leveraged that company’s existing Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER). A stealthy, 14-foot-long, winged missile launched from an airplane, JASSM-ER provided longer range and larger payloads than the Navy’s primary current anti-ship weapon, the Harpoon.

The most difficult part came next: creating the avionics and guidance systems needed for the challenging maritime mission. “LRASM needed the ability to engage a heavily defended moving target over long ranges, with or without a data link or GPS in the target area,” says Bowen, “while also having the ability to autonomously discriminate the desired target from other ships.”

APL leads the LRASM Government Assessment Team that includes staff from multiple Navy research and testing facilities across the nation. The Laboratory team members, some two dozen in number, lead many subtasks on the program, including those for the air vehicle; survivability; guidance, navigation, and control; and seeker subtasks. “APL does preflight performance predictions,” Bowen says, “and leads ongoing technology maturation assessments. Our years of expertise from multiple tactical missile programs were also brought to bear to make significant contributions to the missile’s performance.”

The LRASM program has two areas of focus: first is preparing for a series of three end-to-end, long-range, over-water flight demonstrations (called free-flight transition tests) that culminate in the engagement of a moving ship target. In addition to providing a compelling demonstration of warfighting capability, these tests provide flight telemetry data to validate the simulation models that will be used to support the second focus area, which is the assessment of warfighter utility of LRASM in a tactical environment.

Successful Tests

APL’s preflight assessments and other collaborative efforts with the missile contractors set the stage for the first free-flight transition test of the missile last year, in August, as well as the second, in November.

For both tests, a U.S. Air Force B-1 bomber carrying an inert LRASM left Dyess Air Force Base in Texas and flew to the Point Mugu Sea Test Range, located off the coast of Southern California. Once on site, it released the LRASM, which had been programmed to engage a moving 260-foot-long target barge after flying more than 200 miles (about the distance from Washington, DC, to New York City). To provide real-world challenges to the LRASM, there were additional “confuser” ships stationed near the target.

ship for target
In August 2013, the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) test vehicle detected, engaged, and hit an unmanned 260-foot mobile ship target with an inert warhead at a range off the coast of California. The black circle indicates where the missile punched straight through the target.
Credit: DARPA

In both tests, the LRASM was deliberately programmed with an inaccurate initial target location cue, which made it more difficult for the missile to find the target vessel.

After the launches, the missile flew on a pre-directed course for a period of time and then transitioned to a purely autonomous mode to acquire, discriminate, track, and guide itself to the target using only its own sensors. In both the August and November tests, the LRASM scored a direct hit on stacked empty containers on the moving target barge.

Also during both tests, “the missile used its onboard sensors to find and identify its target and then develop its own routing solution that optimized its performance, while respecting the specified flight test safety zone,” Bowen says. “It self-guided and hit the target with high accuracy, as predicted in our preflight analyses.”

After the success of these flight tests, the Department of Defense recently directed the Navy to procure LRASM for a rapid Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare air-launched missile program. Given this, and the success of the first two flight tests, DARPA and the Navy are now looking to expand the scope of the third and final DARPA missile flight test. Depending on the extent of the augmentation, the final test could be flown in spring 2014.

In addition to the air-launched LRASM, APL is working with DARPA, ONR, and Lockheed Martin on a ship-launched variant that can be loaded into existing Mark 41 Vertical Launch Systems aboard many Navy vessels.

“APL’s contributions substantively contributed to the successes that positioned the DARPA LRASM demonstration program to address a significant Navy operational need,” says Bowen. “We have developed a good working relationship with the contractors as well as our sponsors. Everyone worked together toward success on this.”

Media contact: Geoff Brown, 240-228-5618, Geoffrey.Brown@jhuapl.edu