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A True Autonomous Hunter-Killer Missile
by James Dunnigan
September 26, 2013

While the U.S. Navy is diligently working on robotic strike aircraft (the X-47 series), there is also an effort to develop autonomous hunter-killer missiles that can seek out targets without remote control and in the midst of enemy countermeasures (electronic and otherwise). The primary effort is the LRASM (Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile), which recently underwent its first field test. A LRASM was launched from a B-1B bomber and sent off in the direction where three destroyer size unmanned ships were moving about. LRASM flew via GPS waypoints for several hundred kilometers and then began flying a search pattern, seeking electronic or visual signs of one of the target ships. One was found and LRASM, armed with an inert warhead hit it.

LRASM is not just equipped to seek out targets in a general area (of several thousand square kilometers) but is also fitted out with electronics to resist GPS jamming and other anti-missile electronic defenses warships carry. LRASM also has a highly accurate INS (inertial guidance system) that cannot be jammed. The ultimate LRASM design will also incorporate stealth features (a special shape and largely passive sensors). 

The current LRASM development model is basically an existing long range bomb (JASSM ER) with a much improved guidance system. This, like the similar JSOW is basically a long range GPS guided smart bomb. The original JDAM bomb kit (added to 500, 1,000, and 2,000 pound bombs) cost $26,000 each and gave JDAM equipped bomb kits a small range, because of the guidance system. The longer range JSOW (JDAM with wings and more powerful guidance system) cost $460,000 each. The even longer range JASSM cost $500,000 (the 400 kilometer version) to $930,000 (the 900 kilometer JASSM ER) each.

The AGM-158 JASSM missiles are 1,045 kg (2,300 pound) weapons that are basically 455 kg (1,000 pound) JDAMS (GPS guided bombs) with a motor added. JASSM was designed to go after enemy air defense systems or targets deep in heavily defended (against air attack) enemy territory. The reason for buying these is to have something to deal with air defenses of a nation like China. LRASM is apparently meant to go after the growing number of Chinese warships showing up on the high seas. A ship-launched version of LRASM is also in development and two test launched from VLS cells are planned for next year. The first version of LRASM should be ready for deployment in a few years, and development will continue on the sensors and electronic countermeasures as well as the stealth features even after LRASM enters service.


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