Initial combat unreadiness. The AGM-158C LRASM missile needs additional testing

AGM-158C launch from a B-1B aircraft, September 25, 2013 Photo by DARPA

The US Air Force and Navy are receiving the advanced AGM-158C LRASM anti-ship missile. It has already been announced that the initial operational readiness of such a weapon in conjunction with several aircraft has been achieved, and its integration with other carriers is expected. However, the Pentagon has expressed concerns about possible missile flaws, which is why additional tests are necessary.

Recommendations for the future

An interesting message about the course and prospects of the LRASM program appeared on January 14 in the Defense News edition. It has accessed a report from the Department of Defense’s Office of Operational Testing and Evaluation for the past year. Among other things, this document describes the current state of the AGM-158C missile and makes new recommendations.

The Office’s report notes that the first version of the AGM-158C anti-ship missile system, known as LRASM 1.0, encountered numerous hardware and software problems during testing. In this regard, the current version of the rocket, LRASM 1.1, is proposed to undergo additional tests.

The department invites the naval forces to conduct a new stage of testing the missile and its carriers in conditions as close as possible to a real combat operation. Such tests will have to show the real characteristics and capabilities of the missile, its resistance to various factors and the actual combat qualities.

Initial combat unreadiness.  The AGM-158C LRASM missile needs additional testing

Experimental LRASM product in flight. Lockheed Martin Photos

Whether the Navy’s leadership will heed the FDA’s recommendations is unknown. The timing of the proposed tests, if any, has not yet been determined. In addition, we are talking about an additional check only of the missile systems of the fleet. For unknown reasons, the Air Force’s LRASM missiles are not eligible for the new proposal.

Trials of the Past

In the course of development work on the LRASM theme, full-scale factory and state tests of prototype missiles in various configurations were carried out. Preliminary tests at stands and with transportation on carrier aircraft have been carried out since the beginning of the tenth years. Soon the program reached full-fledged launches.

In the summer of 2013, preliminary tests were completed, and on August 27, the first test launch of an AGM-158C rocket from a B-1B bomber took place. An experienced rocket successfully entered the target area, detected three surface objects and aimed at the designated one. On November 12 of the same year, a B-1B missile first hit a moving surface target. At the beginning of 2015, the third launch was carried out, during which the missile’s ability to maneuver and avoid obstacles was tested.

In September 2013, the first launch took place from the USS Desert Ship (LLS-1) ground stand equipped with the Mk 41 ship mount. At the beginning of the next year, another launch was carried out at the test site. After a fairly long preparation, the shooting started from the Self Defense Test Ship (former destroyer Paul F. Foster). The first such test took place in July 2016.

Affected target, August 29, 2013 Photo by DARPA

In the summer of 2015, work began on the new carrier. In the interests of the Navy, the LRASM missile was integrated into the armament complex of the F / A-18E / F fighter-bomber. The first flight with a rocket on a suspension took place in December, and the launch was carried out only on April 4, 2017.

In August 2017, the B-1B aircraft first launched the AGM-158C anti-ship missile system in the standard configuration of a serial product. The rocket successfully coped with the route, search and defeat of the target. Since December of the same year, tests have been carried out with the launch of two missiles at one target.

In recent years, after reaching the necessary stages of operational readiness, LRASM missiles have been repeatedly used during various exercises of the Air Force and Navy. As reported, all launches ended with the successful defeat of the intended targets.

Rocket carriers

The first experienced carrier of LRASM missiles was the B-1B bomber. A similar missile system was created and worked out in the interests of the Air Force. In December 2018, the command announced the completion of the integration progress and the achievement of initial operational readiness. From that moment on, the AGM-158C became the standard armament of the Air Force. At the same time, it is not massive, and the achievement of full readiness has not yet been reported.

Launch of an AGM-158C rocket from an experimental vessel. Lockheed Martin Photos

Work on the inclusion of a new anti-ship missile system in the “arsenal” of the carrier-based fighter F / A-18E / F was completed in November 2019 by successfully achieving initial operational readiness. Thanks to this, the naval forces now have new weapons, although full operational readiness has not yet been obtained.

The LRASM missile has been successfully tested in a naval version proposed for use with the Mk 41 unified launchers. However, the Navy is no longer going to use this opportunity. Several years ago, a fundamental decision was made, according to which the AGM-158C will only be an aircraft missile and will not be used by ships.

In 2020, work began on the introduction of the LRASM product into the ammunition load of the P-8A base patrol aircraft. No later than 2021-22 flight tests can begin, and by the middle of the decade it will be possible to reach initial and then full readiness.

The nature of the problems

Against the background of reports of past years, the latest news from the Pentagon looks very interesting. Over the years, various tests of the AGM-158C anti-ship missiles were accompanied by constant reports of success. This whole process culminated in the adoption of the rocket into service and the launch of a full-scale series. Now it turns out that the Office of Operational Testing and Evaluation is not entirely a fairly new weapon.

LRASM against the background of the deck F / A-18E. Photo by US Navy

The exact claims of the Office for the LRASM rocket in its current form have not been published. The reason for the current recommendations is some software and hardware problems observed in the past. Probably, the Office doubts the success of the finalization of the draft version and fears that its modern version “1.1” may retain some of the shortcomings of the previous version of the rocket.

It is noteworthy that the recommendation for additional testing applies only to the Navy and does not apply to the Air Force. This may indicate problems of technical and software compatibility of AGM-158C missiles with F / A-18E / F aircraft. At the same time, it follows from this that the development of the B-1B as a carrier of the new anti-ship missile system was completed successfully and does not cause any complaints.

Additional tests

In all likelihood, the US Navy will heed the recommendations of the FTA and will conduct the necessary additional tests. To fulfill all the recommendations of this organization, such events can be organized within the framework of future exercises of the fleet, incl. full-scale. This will allow you to try out LRASM in the most difficult conditions, close to real combat.

The Navy is directly interested in such events. The profile organization of the Pentagon doubts the successful and complete development of the new anti-ship missile system, which indicates the presence of real problems. The latter can negatively affect the combat potential of missiles and carrier-based aircraft in general. Of course, the AGM-158C is not the only anti-ship missile for F / A-18E / F fighter-bombers, but they will not put up with the lack of combat-ready products of this type.

Thus, it can be expected that this year the US Navy will organize and conduct new tests of the promising AGM-158C LRASM 1.1 anti-ship missile. Based on the results of these measures, a new stage of development is possible, the result of which will be a full-fledged combat-ready weapon for deck and patrol aircraft – and a corresponding increase in the combat potential of the Navy.

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