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DARPA Works On New Anti-Ship Missile

by Richard Sisk on November 14, 2013

anti-ship missileThe Defense Department’s top research agency has focused on developing a program to make sure that the Navy is not “outsticked” by China as U.S. forces re-balance to the Pacific.

“We’re looking at a long-range anti-ship missile” to counter China’s development of its own long-range strike assets, said Dr. Arati Prabhakar, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. “We’re concerned about being ‘out-sticked’” in what has been dubbed the “Pacific pivot” of troops and ships following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Prabhakar said.

Prabhakar spoke at the opening of an all-day forum on military issues sponsored by the Defense One website.

China’s development of the DF-21D ASBM (Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile), technically a cruise missile dubbed the “carrier killer,” has raised alarms on Capitol Hill. “We are technically ‘out-sticked’ by Chinese anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) right now,” Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., head of the Readiness Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.

Forbes told the RealClearDefense website last week that that the Navy’s main anti-ship missile, the Harpoon, “does not have the range or survivability” to match the threat from the Chinese Navy.

However, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service last spring reported that the threat from the Chinese anti-ship missiles was not quite the “game changer” that some defense analysts had feared.

The Navy and the Air Force could counter by “employing a combination of active and passive measures” against the Chinese missiles, the CRS said in a report. One of the methods suggested by the CRS to defeat the Chinese system would be to equip Navy ships with electronic warfare systems that could generate radar “smoke clouds” to confuse the terminal guidance systems of the Chinese missiles.

In August, DARPA and the Office of Naval Research conducted the first flight of a prototype in the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) program, which is meant to develop a weapon that can hit enemy ships out of the range of a counter-strike.

A B-1 bomber from the 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron conducted the mission from Dyess Air Force Base, Tex., to the Point Mugu Sea Test Range off the coast of southern California and successfully hit a moving target, DARPA said. Halfway to the target, the missile switched to its autonomous guidance system, which completed the mission, DARPA said.

“This fully functional test is a significant step in providing the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force with a next-generation anti-ship missile capability,” Artie Mabbett, the DARPA program manager for the LRASM, said after the test.

At the Defense One forum, Prabhakar said the autonomous guidance system for the LRASM was vital vital to counter an enemy’s potential ability to jam Global Positioning Satellite guidance.

Prabhakar also noted DARPA’s difficulty in doing work on space systems in an era of cost-cutting and declining budgets.

Space “is a place where cost is just an overwhelming issue,” Prabhakar said. “It’s so hard, it takes so long to do anything in space. Even the smallest satellite costs tens of millions of dollars,” she said.

The budget cuts also put the future of defense research at risk, Prahhakar said. Unless Congress lifts the sequester cuts that will take about $500 billion out of defense spending over the next 10 years, “we’re going to have a future of power point (presentations) and not real systems,” she said. “We want to do things that really get built.”

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