Air Defense: October 31, 2003


Last August, SEA RAM, a shipboard, a close-in defense system with three times the effective range of the similar, but older, Phalanx system, was announced.  Already tested by the Royal Navy, SEA RAM could be deployed aboard US Navy ships by 2005, with a potential production run of up to 200 systems. Several members of Congress indicated that as much as $18 million could be appropriated for the system this fall. The SEA RAM  is under development jointly by Raytheon in the US and RAM-System GmbH in Germany.

SEA RAM is a combination of elements from the Phalanx  and the Rolling Airframe Missile Guided Missile Systems.  Like the Phalanx, only power and cooling water will be required from the ship. Thus, it is a combination of existing, proven technologies providing both better detection of incoming missiles and more firepower to destroy the threat at a much greater distance. SEA RAM is specifically designed to extend the inner layer battle space and enable the ship to effectively engage both existing and future high-performance, supersonic, and subsonic threats, especially in the crowded littoral warfare arena. 

SEA RAM will include the latest search and track radar, a new forward-looking infrared (FLIR) imaging system and an electronic surveillance measure (ESM) receiver. SEA RAM's sensors  will provide multiple search and targeting capability for the day and nighttime operation. New operators consoles (local and remote) provide the operator with video images from the FLIR for threat detection/track. The operator can establish positive identification (ID) of precisely where or what the system is tracking. Each console will contain a display, keyboard and joystick handle. For low velocity threats the operator will be able to move the mount, designate and engage the target. The local control station (LCS) will house the unique SEA RAM electronics and provide an interface to the SEA RAM. The LCS will also provide the necessary connections to the ship's combat system, should it be required or desired. 

SEA RAM has been in the works for several years. The Royal Navy tested SEA RAM aboard HMS York, a Type-42 guided missile destroyer, for most of  2001. Late last year, Raytheon and the USN fired some blast test vehicles at China Lake to test both the effects of the rocket motors on sensors and on new software. 

Since SEA RAM has the same footprint as Phalanx with only a little greater weight, the plan to replace Phalanx with SEA RAM is seen as relatively simple. Ideally, a ship will replace one of two or more Phalanx units with a SEA RAM, adding greater reach-out capability for self-defense with the close-in capabilities already provided by Phalanx to create a layered defense. If you can push a missile out over the horizon to kill a missile headed your way, everybody is happier. -- K.B. Sherman


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