By Craig Hooper
Defense Tech Naval Warfare Analyst
As the venerable Tomahawk missile becomes too vulnerable for certain targets, naval observers have wondered why the Navy isn’t racing to fill the U.S. surface fleet’s 7,804 Vertical Launch System (VLS) cells with a new generation of anti-ship or fast land-attack munitions.
Our wait is over. The big brains at DARPA are aiming to appropriate VLS cells for the Prompt Global Strike Mission.
Meet ArcLight–the weapon that will change the way the world thinks about U.S. surface combatants:
“The ArcLight program will design, build, and flight test a long range (> 2,000 nm) vehicle that carries a 100–200 lb payload(s). ArcLight is based on an SM-3 Block II booster stack, a hypersonic glider and is capable of being launched from a Mark 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) tube. The development of the ArcLight system will enable high speed, long range weapons capable of engaging time critical targets and can be launched from Naval surface and sub-surface assets, and Naval/Air Force air assets.”
Enlisting VLS cells for the Prompt Global Strike (PGS) Mission would be a boon to PGS advocates. First, by decoupling PGS from conventional ballistic missile platforms (the assumed primary delivery system for PGS), Congressional concerns that certain countries might misinterpret a PGS hit as a nuclear strike evaporate–and with Congress aboard, the funding that has crimped PGS development will, assuredly, open.
This development also may resonate with
Acting Navy Secretary Robert Work (ok, ok, he’s still Undersecretary of the Navy…for now). Undersecretary Work has long preached the virtues of America’s VLS-equipped surface fleet, and any prospect of leveraging new technologies for the old launch system will spark the Undersecretary’s interest.
In short, this is gonna get done.
But what does it mean? Putting PGS into the VLS does something far more interesting than just “add capability”. It changes everything. PGS on a surface ship transforms the largely defensive nature of the U.S. surface combatant/carrier escort to, well, “offense”.
And that shift from the “Missile Defense” destroyer or “Air Defense” cruiser of old to a “Global Strike Combatant” will pose a real conceptual challenge for everybody–from those walking Aegis deckplates to any potential adversaries.
The idea that America’s 7,804 VLS cells may soon gain the ability to rain almost instant havoc on targets some 2,000 nm away should put a bit of a damper on those who counted on overwhelming a hunkered-down and relatively passive “defense-oriented” AEGIS fleet. It’s a big deal.
You heard it here first–A shift of the U.S. surface combatant fleet from defense to offense is a real game changer.
Photo: U.S. Navy