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Naval fire in support of littoral and deeper in-land operations is registering a significant
shift towards longer range and higher speed weapon systems among major navies.

Confronting anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) and advanced air defence systems operational scenarios, larger naval forces are working on higher speed anti-ship and deep strike weapon systems alongside unmanned platforms and autonomous or semi-autonomous weapon systems. Nevertheless, there are still requirements for more conventional solutions such as guided munitions and missiles together with affordable loitering weapon systems to cope with a wide range of missions, especially in more permissive scenarios and crisis situations and for naval forces which do not possess large budgets.

European Naval GLR

According to Leonardo, the VULCANO family of guided long-range (GLR) munitions in 127 mm and soon 76 mm calibres for naval applications is the only qualified and available munition of its kind on the market today. Developed and based on a joint Italian Army-Navy requirement for both 155 mm and 127 mm, and qualified in both calibres in 2019 under a joint Italian and German MoU, the VULCANO 127 GLR was developed according to STANAG 4667,and is based on the common (with different calibres) fin-stabilised sub-calibre airframe design. It has canard control for extended range without the need for a rocket motor or changes to the gun system, in addition to a high lethality pre-fragmented warhead, alongside mechanical interfaces that are the same as standard ammunition, allowing no change to the gun’s rate of fire. Terminal guidance is assured by an IMU/GPS unit, a programmable multi-functional fuse (impact,delayed impact, height of burst, and time) and optionally infrared (IR) or SAL (Semi Active Laser) interchangeable and plug-and-play seekers developed and provided by German Diehl Defence. The first seeker is used to engage moving surface targets at sea, while the SAL is used to engage fixed/moving targets with third party laser designation. The operational validation campaign by the Italian Navy was carried out with live at-sea firings from the Leonardo 127/54C and 127/64 LW (LightWeight) guns in 2017-2018, making both guns the only in-service qualified to fire GLR munitions from the ships’ command management system (CMS) with a fully automated ammunition handling system. The Italian Navy also qualified the VULCANO Ballistic Extended Range (BER) ammunition (without guidance kit) capable of reaching 60 km with the Leonardo 127/64 LW and potentially with the BAE Systems Mk45 gun, as no integration was so far conducted with the US system. The VULCANO ammunition in a specific 155 mm variant was successfully land-tested also with the BAE Systems Advanced Gun System (AGS) installed on the US Navy’s ZUMWALT class destroyers. The VULCANO 127 GLR can reach up to 90 km with the 127/64 LW gun, providing an all-weather precision attack capability (<5 m CEP).

VULCANO Progress

According to the latest Defence Planning Multi-year (2021-2023) document, the Italian MoD has an ongoing VULCANO 127 GLR mass-production procurement and support programme with funding starting in 2021. In the meantime, the Italian group is developing and testing the VULCANO GLR munition for the 76/62 mm SUPER RAPIDO gun system under a contract awarded by the Italian Navy within the 76/62 SINGLE DECK gun mount development and qualification programme. The VULCANO 76 GLR, with a range up to 40 km, is planned to be available for production in the 2023-2024 period, further boosting the fire support capabilities of the SR gun on the international market, with the VULCANO 76 BER munition already qualified and in service with at least one South Asian customer. In addition to the Italian and the German Navies, the 127/64 LW VULCANO was also acquired by Algeria, The Netherlands, Spain and Canada, making them potential candidates also for the 127 GLR procurement. Egypt, which has already received two FREMM frigates equipped with the 127/64 LW VULCANO and is the first international customer for the VULCANO 127 BER munition according to Italian export documentation, could potentially soon acquire the VULCANO 127 GLR. Different 76/62 SR operators are showing strong interest in the VULCANO 76 GLR, as both 76/127 mm Leonardo guns are delivered fitted-for the GLR ammunition.

US Naval GLR and HVP Developments

As anticipated, the development and entry into service in recent years of new long-range threats represented by hypersonic weapon systems and the need to develop new defensive and offensive capabilities pushed the US Navy to recapitalise resources on longer range and higher speed weapon systems. In 2016, the service decided to cancel the 155 mm Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) to equip the BAE Systems AGS installed on the US Navy’s ZUMWALT class destroyers which was cancelled in 2016 due to munition costs and the programme of record that decreased it to three ships, making it impossible to benefit from economies of scale. The efforts to find an alternative to the LRLAP, were halted as the US Navy re-evaluated the missions for the ZUMWALT class platforms and shifted the core mission of the ship from supporting ground forces close to the littorals to blue-waters, capable of striking other surface vessels.

In April 2021, the US Navy Chief of Naval Operations announced that the ZUMWALT class destroyers will be the first hypersonic missile-equipped platforms at sea. In the meantime, the industry developed technologies and solutions to meet the US Navy requirements for Naval Surface Fire Support with 5-inch (127 mm) guns. Raytheon, together with the BAE Systems BOFORS, offered the already available 155 mm EXCALIBUR guided artillery round in production and service with the US Armed Forces and international artillery forces and developed a specific version known as EXCALIBUR N5 for naval applications. Designed to be fired from the Navy’s 127 mm (5-inch) guns, ”the EXCALIBUR N5 doubles the range of the Navy’s big guns and delivers the same accuracy as the land-based version”, according to Raytheon. Together with the Navy, the US group conducted a series of land-based firing campaigns to demonstrate the N5’s capabilities, which reuses the guidance and fusing components from the EXCALIBUR Block 1B. Both Lockheed Martin and Orbital ATK (today Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems) also offered solutions, the latter centred on the PGK (Precision Guidance Kit), while BAE Systems has been proposing the VULCANO GLR based on a partnership with Leonardo.

The abandonment of these activities means that the only potential solution is the Hyper Velocity Projectile (HVP), better known as Gun-Launched Guided Projectile (GLGP), developed by BAE Systems for the US Armed Forces and its allies. It is described as a next-generation, common, low-drag, guided projectile capable of executing multiple missions such as Naval Surface Fire, Cruise and Ballistic Missile Defence, Anti-Surface Warfare and other future missions for a number of gun systems, including the Navy’s 5-inch (127 mm), Navy, Marine Corps, and Army 155 mm systems and future electro-magnetic railgun (EMRG). It is also capable of speeds of Mach 3 when fired from the 127 mm and 155 mm and accredited by BAE Systems with a range of more than 93, 130 and 80 km respectively from the Mk 45 Mod 4, AGS and 155 mm artillery gun systems. Twenty HVPs were fired in summer 2018 from the DEWEY, an ARLEIGH BURKE class destroyer as part of a series of testing conducted by the Navy and the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD)/Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) as a low-cost weapon against missile weapon systems and unmanned aerial vehicles.

At the end of summer 2020, an HVP was fired from an AGS tube mounted on a M110 8-inch self-propelled artillery chassis during the Advanced Battle Management Systems (ABMS) Onramp 2 at White Sands Missile Range to successfully down a cruise missile surrogate target. However,, with its proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budget, “the DON (Department of the Navy) terminated the GLGP R&D. Potential reinvestment in the programme will be re-evaluated after an ongoing Strategic Capabilities Office demonstration effort in Terminal Defense Analysis is complete.” In the meantime, last March, the OSD/SCO, with support from the US Army, awarded BAE Systems a US$16M contract to mature and demonstrate the lethality of the HVP against ground targets at extremely long ranges. It will work with the SCO and the US Army to add capability, improve the existing HVP system and test the enhanced capability beginning this year through 2022. ”The award will allow for continued technological advancements while supporting efforts to further reduce development, production, and total ownership costs”, the company said.

Missiles and Long-Range Strike Weapon Systems

Deep strike and anti-ship missile systems represent the long arm of the current-generation of navies against both fixed and mobile high-value targets where the ship component is not supported by naval aviation with an aircraft carrier, fixed-wing and/or short take-off and vertical landing aircraft, which are also capable of carrying new generation air-to-surface weapon systems such as the MBDA SPEAR 3. A range of older generation Western anti-ship missile systems, such as the Boeing HARPOON, MBDA EXOCET and OTOMAT/TESEO families and Saab’s RBS 15 have been upgraded during the life cycle with a navigation suite including a GPS to give a land-attack capability on fixed targets, as well as more capable fuel tanks and efficient propulsion to extend their range. An enhanced land-attack capability against both fixed and mobile targets in highly contested environments comes from a deeper renovation or newer design with datalink and more advanced navigation and seeker systems. Although limited in scope and procurement, an example of specific land-attack capabilities comes from the UK’s Interim-Surface to Surface Guided Weapon (I-SSGW) programme. This provides ‘a ship launched over the horizon precision anti-ship capability and a terrain following precision maritime land attack capability’ as an interim system replacement of the HARPOON, waiting for the joint French-UK new Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon (FC/ASW) system, which according to the UK MoD, will equip the Type 26 frigates from 2028 onwards.

I-SSGW Options

Among the potential candidates are the latest western anti-ship missiles including the Naval Strike Missile (NSM), the RBS15 GUNGNIR Mk4, the GABRIEL V/SEA SERPENT and the Lockheed Martin Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM). Last July, the Norwegian and German procurement agencies awarded a contract to Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace for the replenishment and updating of the inventory stock of NSMs for the Norwegian MoD. With the procurement of the same missiles, the German Navy becomes the 6th customer to select the NSM, in addition to Norway, Malaysia, Poland, Romania and the US. The low-observable composite-made missile, able to operate in both blue waters and littoral environments, is equipped – differently from most competitors – with an advanced passive guidance package which combines GPS-aided navigation with laser altimeter and a dual-band imaging seeker with autonomous target recognition and selectable aim point for terminal guidance. A joint development by Germany and Norway of a future NSM is planned according to the German MoD.

The RBS15 Mk4 is the latest generation of the Saab anti-ship missile, which was awarded the development and procurement contract by the Swedish MoD in 2017 to equip GRIPEN E multi-role fighters and VISBY class corvettes. Characterised by a lighter composite airframe, the re-architectured development of the existing Mk3 version will be equipped with an advanced navigation and guidance system capable of operating on both sea and land and an RF seeker with enhanced processing and all-weather capabilities. The current Mk 3 version is under delivery or in service with Sweden, Germany, Poland and Algeria.

Last April, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) announced a joint proposal with Thales UK of the SEA SERPENT missile for the UK I-SSGW programme. The SEA SERPENT, whose details are limited, is based on the latest GABRIEL V variant, also known as the Advanced Naval Attack Missile (ANAM), which is in service with the Israeli Navy and has been procured by the Finnish MoD.

Lockheed Martin developed and tested a shipborne version of its AGM-158C LRASM, which was selected by the US DoD for the air-launched Offensive Anti-Surface Weapon (OASuW) Increment 1 programme to equip both the F/A-18 E/F and USAF’s B-1. Launchable from MK41 VLS and deck-mounted angled launchers, it is armed with a 453-kg penetrator and blast-fragmentation warhead. The LRASM also employs a weapons data link, an anti-jam GPS, and a multimode passive seeker suite with autonomous target recognition.

Upgraded Solutions

MBDA is working on the TESEO Mk2/E weapon system, which was awarded a development, qualification and industrialisation contract in November 2020 by the Italian MoD. MBDA Italia has conceived a completely new long-range missile weapon system for the Italian Navy. This is centred on a transonic (less than 5-m-long and 700 kg heavy airframe, not including the booster and single-shot canister for ship-launched operations) with significantly reduced radar cross section and efficient propulsion package providing an effective range in excess of 350 km at sea-skimming level. In addition to a state-of-the art scalable warhead and advanced 4D mission planning systems, alongside a fully autonomous integrated INS/GPS suite supported by an adaptive radar altimeter and a two-way satellite data link, the TESEO Mk2/E will be equipped with a new coherent RF seeker and semi-active laser (SAL) channel for highly precise engagement with third party support. The contract also includes an ongoing feasibility study to introduce an alternative next-generation Active Electronically Scanned Array-based seeker, funding permitting, representing a game changer capability offered by MBDA together with Leonardo.

The deep-strike Raytheon TOMAHAWK cruise missile is subject to a life recertification programme to ensure a 30-year service-life in support of US and UK inventories. The first batch were delivered last March. Upgrade activities will enable the system to operate with greater impunity in a jamming or anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) environment, collectively known as Block V. These include navigation and communications modernisation, a new anti-jam GPS (M-CODE), a new warhead combining new penetration with current blast and fragmentation capabilities (Joint Multiple Effects Warhead System) and the introduction a new multi-mode RF seeker (Maritime Strike TOMAHAWK) for anti-surface operations on an undisclosed number of missiles. Centred on an advanced Integrated Single Box Solution (ISBS) radio with two new satellite antennas (covering UHF and another band), the communications upgrade enables missile launch via a fine alignment solution and navigation using TERCOM/DSMAC/Vertical Update Point in a GPS denied/ degraded environment, according to US Navy documentation, with release to the fleet due in 2021.

Launched for the first time on October 2020 from the SUFFREN class nuclear attack submarine to provide the French Navy a deep strike underwater capability with a European-made cruise missile in addition to equipping surface platforms, the Missile de Croisière Naval (MdCN) shares the guidance system with the SCALP-EG/STORM SHADOW air-launched stand-off cruise missile. The latter combines INS, GPS and terrain profile matching with an imaging infrared (IR) seeker with Automatic Target Recognition (ATR) capabilities, to achieve metric accuracies in the terminal phase.

Early last September, the US OSD/SCO and US Navy revealed a live firing test video of a Raytheon SM-6 (RIM-174) weapon system with anti-air/anti-surface capabilities from a modular launcher embarked on an experimental unmanned surface vessel (USV) of the Ghost Fleet Overlord programme. This is the latest known live firing of the SM-6, which was successfully launched last April from an ARLEIGH BURKE class destroyer against a small drone boat with a complex kill chain using passive sensors. The SM-6 is an extended-range active missile designed for network-enabled operations using third-party targeting. The missile can be used in anti-air, sea-based terminal defence and anti-surface roles and was also selected by the US Army to satisfy its ground-based Mid-Range capability (MRC) as part of the larger Long-Range Precision Fires initiative.

New Solutions

Both industry and navies are working on innovative solutions to deliver an affordable capability for striking, in addition to providing intelligence against littoral and deeper land-based targets. Rafael Advanced Defense Systems has recently unveiled testing of the SEA BREAKER, ”a fifth generation marine and land-launched weapon system capable to reach distances up to 300 km for accurate strike with pin-point hitting of a vast variety of high-value sea and land targets” according to the company.

With a four metre long airframe with foldable wings and turbojet propulsion weighing less than 400 kg without booster, the new munition is launched by multiple canisters which can be fitted to fast attack missile boats from 100 tonnes. The SEA BREAKER, according to Rafael, is equipped with an advanced IIR (Imaging Infra-Red) seeker with Automatic Target Acquisition (ATA) and ATR, which, thanks to artificial intelligence, allows it to perform deep-learning and big-data based scene-matching, providing fully autonomous mission and target engagement. The missile is equipped with a datalink which supports real-time man-in-the-loop decision making and tactical updates and an advanced mission planning and control system.

Novel Systems

The US Department of the Navy, in addition to the GLGP, with its proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budget request, also terminated the EMRG (Electromagnetic Rail Gun) activities, putting an end to an R&D activity started in 2005 to provide naval fire support to troops ashore. In Europe last April, the European Defence Agency (EDA) assigned the leadership role to the Franco-German Institut Franco-Allemand de Recherches de Saint Louis of the 24-month “Projectile for Increased Long-range Effects Using Electromagnetic Railgun” (PILUM) programme. The latter is a feasibility study on the use of the electromagnetic railgun (EMRG) as a long-range artillery system. The project will further examine the possibility of integrating the EMRG into land and naval platforms.

Missile weapon systems derived from land-application programmes such as the Rafael NAVAL SPIKE NLOS (Non-Line-of-Sight) with a 32 km range are already operational with naval forces worldwide. However, the extensive use of loitering strike weapon systems during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, significantly influenced the future plans of not only land-operations forces, but also navies and amphibious forces worldwide. Last January, the USMC System Command awarded the US Mistral company a contract to design, develop, build and test the Organic Precision Fires – Mounted (OPF-M) munition system and integrate the it onto the LAV-M and JLTV land tactical vehicles and the future LRUSV (Long-Range Unmanned Surface Vehicle). The US company teamed with Israeli company UVision to deliver the USMC with a loitering strike munition capability based on UVision’s HERO 120. Weighing 12.5 kg and launched by canister, it carries a 4.5 kg warhead and has a 60-minute flight endurance to provide both ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance). It has highly accurate and precision indirect fire strike capabilities, but the company also offers the HERO-400EC for naval applications weighing 40 kg, with a 10 kg warhead, a 150 km (LOS) range and 120- minute flight endurance.