Air Defense: ESSM Comes Ashore


June 30, 2011: Thirteen years after it was introduced, the U.S. RIM-162 ESSM (Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles) is now available in a land based version. The U.S. Navy, and a dozen foreign customers already use ESSM on their warships, and several are interested in the land based model. 

ESSM is a modified version of the standard Sea Sparrow shipboard anti-aircraft missile, which has been around since the late 1970s. Sea Sparrow was based on the Sparrow, a radar guided air-to-air missile first used in the 1950s. ESSM is basically a new missile, being different in shape and capabilities. ESSM can track and destroy high-speed anti-ship missiles and small, fast attack boats, as well as aircraft.

ESSM is 3.7 meters (12 feet) long, has a diameter of 254mm and weighs 280 kg (620 pounds). It carries a 39 kg (86 pound) blast fragmentation warhead, has a range of 50 kilometers, and a top speed of 4,210 kilometers an hour. Guidance is provided by the firing ship's radar, which directs the missile to the general area of the target. At that point, the ESSM missile uses its own guidance system, which homes in on the ship's radar signals bouncing off the target. The land version will be able to use one of various ground based radars.

The ESSM on ships is usually stored, and fired, from a container holding four missiles. Each of these containers will fit into one VLS (Vertical Launch Systems) cell. Each ESSM costs less than $500,000.

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