Home » Sea » Navy Upgrades Vertical Launch Systems

Navy Upgrades Vertical Launch Systems

by Kris Osborn on July 2, 2014

Mk 41 Vertical Launch SystemsThe Navy is upgrading the missile-firing vertical launch tubes aboard its cruisers and destroyers in order to add new fire power and extend their service life, service officials said.

Lockheed Martin recently received a contract from the Navy to work on the Mk 41 Vertical Launch Systems, or VLS, which allows engineers to work on designs, integration, support services and maintenance for the launchers.

The VLS, which can fire offensive and defensive missiles, have been firing weapons since the early 1980’s, primarily aboard Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, Lockheed and Navy officials said.

The launchers already fire a wide range of missiles to include Tomahawks, RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missiles, anti-submarine rockets, the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, ESSM, and various Standard Missiles such as the SM-2 and SM-3, said Brian Bohs, business development manager for controls, launchers and weapons, Lockheed Martin.

“For parts that become obsolete or new capabilities that come in, this is the contract that the customer says ‘I need you to redesign this component,’” Bohs said. If all options on the contract are exercised, the cost-plus deal could go up to as much as $182 million.

With the upgrades, the Mk 41 VLS will be able to fire the Block 2 ESSM which has improved guidance technology as well as the new SM-3 Block 2a missile which is a new, larger standard missile designed to achieve longer ranges compared to other SM variants.

The ESSM Block 2 is engineered with what’s called a semi-active, active guidance system, meaning the missile itself can achieve improved flight or guidance to its target by both receiving and actively sending electromagnetic signals, Raytheon officials said.

“Each new Mk 41 VLS missile or combat system integration provides the opportunity for new launcher capability and performance improvements, such as increased data through put via ethernet, new bi-directional digital interfaces such as Mil-Std-1553B, GPS data feed and new missile test functionality with future missile variants,” said Matthew Leonard, Naval Sea Systems Command.

Along with being on U.S. Navy ships, the Mk 41 VLS are also in service aboard 12 allied Navies around the globe, Bohs said. The allied countries using Mk 41 VLS include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Thailand, Turkey and New Zealand.

“It is the only multi-mission launcher in the world. It provides anti-air, anti-submarine, surface to surface and strike capability,” he added.

The maintenance and upgrade contract includes work to engineer the VLS to better support ballistic missile defense missions, Bohs added.

“The Mk 41 is capable of firing any missile in the U.S. inventory. The missiles come in canisters and canisters go into the launcher. The ordnance crew connects the umbilical of the launcher to the connector of the canister and then the launching system recognizes which missile that is,” Bohs said. “The Mk 41 is being configured so that it can accommodate new missile technology as it emerges.”

Overall, as many as 9,000 launch tubes are currently configured on approximately 90 ships.

Share |

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

oblatt22 July 2, 2014 at 12:52 pm

The primary objective here is to take existing working systems and replace them with more expensive higher maintenance ones.

Reply

Curt Conway July 2, 2014 at 9:10 pm

At present well over half the platforms cannot launch ESSM or have SM-3 IIA capability. The SM-2 Blk (anything) missile is expensive and a waist on a medium range target. The ESSM is ever bit as capable and at a significant cost reduction. These missile systems require greater fidelity, and larger quantity (bandwidth) of communications to the more sophisticated weapons. If we are to stretch the older platforms utility into the coming decades and get the full lifespan out of the ship, and enable the use of the medium range AAW weapon (ESSM), and enable the ship to be a Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) platform, then these modifications are REQUIRED! It also brings all the platforms to the same configuration equipment wise significantly simplifying logistics . . . which saves a LOT of money in the future supporting one equipment set of parts. This is a common sense approach to improving the fleet plain and simple. Way to go NAVY!

Reply

Tom July 7, 2014 at 7:27 am

So how many billions has the US Navy wasted on using SM-2's when an ESSM could have been used to destroy an enemy target? How many billions will be wasted over the next 5, 10, 20, 100 years? Obviously this is the DoD run amok making financially unsound decisions, for just a few hundreds of millions they would have saved untold billions it sounds like!

Reply

Peter Erik Bensen July 9, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Sparrows and their derivatives are largely obsolete. Recent years have seen advances which have extended the various Sparrows utility. Without advanced Standard Missiles, we would cease to have a capable aircraft carrier navy. Sparrows are a last-ditch close-in weapon which can be fired in volleys, used on lesser threats, or used in restricted ROE scenarios.

Reply

rtsy July 2, 2014 at 11:57 pm

Seems to me like its designed to counter China's growing missile capabilities and keep our own force modern.

Reply

hibeam July 2, 2014 at 3:56 pm

The Marines will want a runway launched version.

Reply

blight_ July 2, 2014 at 4:51 pm

Modularity working as intended.

As for ESSM: http://www.dodbuzz.com/2013/08/20/navy-works-to-d

And from LM:
http://www.lockheedmartin.com/us/news/press-relea

Contract sounds very mundane. From LM:

"This contract combines purchases for the U.S. Navy and eight allied navies under the Foreign Military Sales program. Included in the work is missile integration, software development, integration of VLS into new ships, technical refresh, systems engineering and life cycle support for MK 41 VLS. These services will also be done on the U.S. Navy's Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers. "

Sounds like a cycle of upgrades to perhaps ensure that older Burkes get their hardware refreshed to match the newer Burkes.

Reply

StealthFlyer July 2, 2014 at 7:38 pm

“It is the only multi-mission launcher in the world." Uh, no. Even limiting the conversation to just ship-based launchers, the US (Mk 57 VLS on DDG-1000) and other nations (Russia, Great Britain, South Korea, etc) have several.

“The Mk 41 is capable of firing any missile in the U.S. inventory." Again, more hyperbole, even if we drastically limit the comment to just ship-launched missiles (it can't fire Harpoon, RAM, Griffin, Stinger, etc).

Reply

Brian B. Mulholland July 2, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Anything that expands antiair / antimissile capacities sounds good to me. What Blight said.

The majority of the ships that will get the new VLS and ESSM II also have a 5-inch gun. A laser-guided Excalibur round is probably a better Boghammer swatter, in terms of flight time, and cheaper.

Reply

jsallison July 3, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Show me that it can be replenished underway and not have to go back to a friendly, secured port to reload. That would be an upgrade I could get behind.

Reply

Launchertech July 9, 2014 at 10:19 pm

It can be replenished underway IF necessary, but not in a high sea state, after all who wants to handle anything in a high sea state?. Put the missiles on the deck and the crane that is stowed in the launcher is capable of placing them into the cells.

Reply

Brian B. Mulholland July 5, 2014 at 8:19 pm

EvilBlight, how effective were the Standard missiles fired against ships during Praying Mantis

Reply

Brian B. Mulholland July 7, 2014 at 9:39 pm

Thank you.

That's a convincing argument for a better warhead, be it Standard, Harpoon, Skipper or other.

Reply

kevin July 10, 2014 at 10:05 am

Damn, the world sure has been spending huge amounts of $ building up new tech weapons. The day of the fireworks, I hope I don't do something silly like sleep in and miss it!

Reply

liken01 July 2, 2014 at 9:37 pm

If you look at that picture again they are not putting the harpoon in the vls. They are putting it on the rack.

Reply

ghostwhowalks July 2, 2014 at 10:15 pm

Normally anything that needs to gain altitude is helped by being fired upwards.
Harpoon of course stays low so being launched nearly horizontal suits its mission

Reply

Jay Gibbs July 3, 2014 at 6:18 pm

"Conversely, anyone who isn't cowed by America is buying nice anti-ship missiles from the Russians, or cooperating with them to build their own, like Brahmos, with plans to launch lots of them. Russian anti-ship VLS aren't all that big, but they probably carry more anti-ship missiles than an American ship."

If they carry more than eight ASM's, it's more than American ships. It's ridiculous that we don't have a more modern ASM capability than the four-round Mk 141 and the 30+ year old Harpoon. In my opinion it's an egregious failure to plan and prepare for an essential mission, (ASuW), while we focus almost entirely on long range land attack capabilities.

Even more frightening, is our negligence in ASW weapons as well. We haven't developed a new ASW missile for decades.

Staggering failures in our capabilities.

Reply

StealthFlyer July 4, 2014 at 11:33 pm

Standards would have to be the main anti-ship missiles used by any of the 34 Flight IIA DDG-51 Arleigh Burke destroyers today. No US warship commissioned in the last 14 years has included Harpoon. If the US had anti-ship capable torpedoes that could be fitted to ASROC missiles, that could offer another option, especially against large ships.

About 90-110 LRASM missiles will be produced later this decade for initial use on some aircraft (Super Hornet, B-1) and ships (via Mk 41 VLS), but it will have to win a competition to gain a larger production order as the official Harpoon replacement (see DefenseIndustryDaily for more on LRASM).

Reply

Paul Navarrete July 10, 2014 at 9:10 am

SM's were never designed to sink vessels. They only use in the ASM role to disable sensors and inflict collateral damageor attempt to set the vessel on fire. If anything, it is purely a kinetic weapon.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: