Surface Forces: Norway Arms LCS

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May 18, 2016: The U.S. Navy has selected the Norwegian NSM (Naval Strike Missiles) for installation on one of its 3,000 ton LCS warships. NSM was designed for use on ships or land based launchers. The 409 kg (900 pound) NSM anti-ship missile is 3.95 meters (13 feet) long, has a 125 kg (275 pound) warhead and a range of 185 kilometers. NSM uses GPS and inertial guidance systems, as well as a heat imaging system (and a database of likely targets) for picking out and hitting the intended ship. NSM is competing with the Harpoon

The LCS is fast, able to sprint at speeds as high as 90 kilometers an hour. But it is under armed. The only standard weapon on the LCS is a 57mm gun and some machine-guns. The LCS needs some kind of anti-ship missile for additional firepower and the U.S. Navy has spent over a decade trying to decide which missile to use. The problem was one of space and weight as the LCS is a unique design and features a number of major innovations. For one thing, it is highly automated, and has a crew of less than fifty. The LCS has a large cargo hold that can be quickly fitted with gear to turn it into a mine clearing ship, a fire support ship (with containers of missiles), a submarine hunter, or just about anything (anti-aircraft, commando support, or even command and control.) Each LCS also carries a Black Hawk size helicopter (MH-60), and has a hanger for it. There is also a water level dock for launching USVs (Unmanned Surface Vessels).

The NSM has an excellent reputation, is compact and inexpensive and popular with users. In 2013 Norway held a SINKEX (sinking exercise) in which a NSM was fired at a decommissioned 2,100 ton Oslo class frigate. The NSM, fired from a smaller missile boat, hit the frigate, did a lot of damage, but did not sink it. If the frigate had been loaded with fuel and ammo the NSM would have started fires and probably put the ship out of service and possibly caused it to go down.

Despite the many lightweight (under a ton) anti-ship missiles on the market, NSM still gets sales because it is effective, reliable, and affordable. It is also offered for use on all platforms (ships, aircraft, and trucks as part of a mobile coastal defense system). There is lots of competition, the main ones being the U.S. Harpoon and similar missiles from Russia and China.

The 546 kg (1,200 pound) Harpoon anti-ship missile is 4.6 meters (15 feet) long, has a 222 kg (487 pound) warhead, and a range of 220 kilometers. It approaches the target low, at about 860 kilometers an hour. GPS gets the missile to the general vicinity of the target, then radar takes over to identify and hit the target. The Harpoon has successful combat experience going back two decades. The Russian Kh-35 anti-ship missile is similar to the American Harpoon but lighter (610 kg/1,340 pounds, compared to 728 kg/1,600) and has less range (130 kilometers compared to 224 for the latest version of Harpoon). The Kh-35 (also known as the SS-N-25 or Switchblade) can be fired from helicopters, aircraft, ships, or shore batteries.

China sells a lot of C-801 and C-802 anti-ship missiles. The C-801 is 5.81 meters (18 feet) long, 360mm in diameter, has a max range of 42 kilometers, and weighs 636 kg (1,400 pounds) each. The C-801 is similar to the French Exocet and is believed to have been based on that missile.

The C802A is a 6.8m (21 foot) long, 360mm diameter, 682kg (1,500 pound) missile, with a 165kg (360 pound) warhead. The C802 has a max range of 120 kilometers and moves along at about 250 meters a second. The French Exocet missile is the same size and performance but costs twice as much (over a million dollars each, but the manufacturer is known to be flexible on pricing).

The new Exocet MM Block 3 has twice the range (180 kilometers) because of their turbojet engine. This is a 670 kg (1,500 pound) missile that has been around for over three decades, has been proven in combat, and is known to be reliable. The C802 is known to be less capable than the Exocet but it looks similar.

Russia pioneered the use of larger (up to three ton) supersonic “carrier killer” anti-ship missiles. The most common example is the Yakhont, which is an 8.9 meter (27.6 foot) long, three ton missile with a 300 kg (660 pound) warhead. Russia has been building missiles like this since the 1970s, but they are only popular with the few nations that have a need to destroy American aircraft carriers.

 


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