Surface Forces: USN Adopts PAM and LAM

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May 22, 2010: The U.S. Navy is taking over development of a missile system that the U.S. Army has discarded. Last month, the army announced that it was cancelling its NetFires (or NLOS-LS) missile system. With the successful introduction of GPS guided rockets, artillery and mortar shells, NetFires was redundant, too expensive, and still in development. The army has already spent $1.21 billion on NetFires development, and was due to spend another $431 million next year. But the navy believes it can finish development more cheaply, and convinced Congress to give it $75 million to do just that. This despite the fact that NetFires has not been successful in its most recent tests, although one missile was able to hit moving targets.

When development of NetFires began in 2004, the project was only supposed to cost $1.1 billion, and be completed by now. But there were problems, and more money and time was needed. Each missile is supposed to eventually cost at least $50,000 (if the original plan to buy nearly 10,000 missiles are implemented). However, the first missiles would cost about ten times that. Early on, however, the navy let it be known that it would buy NetFires to arm its new LCS (Littoral Combat Ships). The navy apparently did not want to look for a replacement weapon, and was confident enough in NetFires to take it over. There were few good alternatives here, as the LCS isn't really big enough to handle the standard navy VLS (Vertical Launch System), which handles much larger anti-aircraft, anti-ship and cruise missiles in other ships.

NetFires is actually two different missiles, identical in weight and size, but different in how they operate. The main one is PAM (Precision Attack Missile). This is a 178mm diameter missile that weighs 55 kg (120 pounds), and has a range of 40 kilometers. PAM attacks from above, with a 13.2 kg (28 pound) warhead. This enables it to kill any tank by hitting the thinner top armor. PAMs are vertically-launched from what looks like a 1.3x1.9x1.3 meter (4x6x4 foot wide x deep x high) cargo container. Actually, it IS a cargo container. The missiles are shipped from the factory in this sealed container. Each one ton container holds 15 missiles and can be carried on the back of a truck, or a ship. Once you plug a PAM container into the wireless battlefield Internet, the missiles are ready to fire. the fire control officer on the LCS send one or more PAMs against any enemy target that shows up on their screen (usually a larger flat screen.) The battlefield Internet is using aircraft, UAVs, satellites and ground sensors to pick up targets for LCS. When the fire control officer sees a target he wants to kill, a point and click will send the coordinates of the target to a PAM container on board, launch a PAM to the approximate location where the missiles own sensor will pick up the target and home in on it. The sensors will, most of the time, pick up the vehicle as destroyed and adjust the fire control officers screen accordingly.

Recognizing that there will be situations, like where there are a lot of woods or jungles, that will prevent sensors from spotting a lot of targets, there's a second NetFires missile, the LAM (Loitering Attack Missile). Same weight and all of the PAM, except it is actually a mini-cruise missile and can fly around an assigned area for 45 minutes looking for a target. If one is not found, it just crashes. If a target is detected with the built in radar (laser radar, or LADAR, actually) and the built in software recognizes the vehicle as an enemy one, the missile attacks from above. Alas, the LAM warhead isn't large enough to take out most tanks, but anything else would likely be toast. The navy sought to use LAM against missile and torpedo boats, as the LAM can search about 150 kilometers from the ship for targets.

The 3,000 ton LCS is itself a unique weapon. It is fast, able to sprint at speeds as high as 90 kilometers an hour. The only standard weapon on the LCS is a 57mm gun and some machine-guns. The LCS needs NetFires for additional firepower. The LCS 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 NetFires containers), 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).

 

 


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