New Maritime Strike Missile Concept Unveiled By Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman has unveiled a new long-range, fast-flying maritime strike missile concept that features an air-breathing propulsion system. This comes after a recent announcement that the company had partnered with Raytheon to develop a very similar-sounding missile as part of a project that will feed into future variants of the U.S. Army’s Precision Strike Missile.

A mockup of Northrop Grumman’s new missile is on display at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space conference and exhibition just outside Washington, D.C., which opened yesterday. The model depicting the maritime strike concept is situated below another one of the company’s AGM-88G Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile-Extended Range (AARGM-ER), which you can read more about here.

Joseph Trevithick

Details about the maritime strike missile concept are limited. A Northrop Grumman representative at the show told The War Zone that the design leverages past work the company has done and could conceivably be air-launched from a suitable platform, as well as surface launched, such as from a ship or ground-based launcher.

The Navy did just recently award contracts for the development of an air-launched anti-ship cruise missile as part of a program called Hypersonic Air-Launched Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare, or HALO, as you can read more about here. A Northrop Grumman/Raytheon team received one of those deals, but the representative at Sea-Air-Space told us that the maritime strike missile concept isn’t being developed right now in response to any particular requirement from a branch of the U.S. military or another customer.

The model of the maritime strike missile features two pronounced strakes on opposite sides of the missile’s body, similar in broad strokes to those on the AARGM-ER, as well as just three tail fins. On the AARGM-ER, the strakes are designed to provide additional lift and maneuverability, especially at high speeds, in lieu of additional fins elsewhere along the body. This, in turn, helps reduce drag and increases range and overall speed.

A look at Northrop Grumman’s maritime strike missile concept from the side showing two of the three tail fins and the long strake along the side. Joseph Trevithick

In terms of speed, the maritime strike missile concept is air-breathing, at least in part. It has an intake under the nose often associated with ramjet and scramjet engines. Ramjets and scramjets do not work effectively at low speeds, typically requiring missiles and aircraft that use them to also have some kind of additional rocket booster to propel them first to an optimal velocity. Ramjets and scramjets are generally associated with designs capable of hypersonic or at least high-supersonic speeds. Hypersonic speed is generally defined as anything above Mach 5.

A close-up of the intake under the maritime strike missile mockup’s nose. Joseph Trevithick

The War Zone has reached out to Northrop Grumman for additional information about the maritime strike missile concept’s intended performance and capabilities, including how the company may expect to be guided to its target. The mockup has a solid nose that could indicate some kind of radar seeker, which is not uncommon for anti-ship missiles. The missile could also use some combination of inertial and satellite navigation to get to a target area first, which would give it a secondary capability against fixed targets ashore, as well.

It is just a mockup, so there is the possibility that a multi-mode guidance system could be part of the concept. Imaging infrared seekers, which offer increased accuracy and target discrimination, as well as resistance to electronic warfare and other countermeasures, are increasingly common on anti-ship weapons.

The appearance of the maritime strike missile concept at Sea-Air-Space 2023 comes just over a week after Northrop Grumman announced that it was partnering with Raytheon to develop an experimental long-range strike missile as part of the Army’s Long Range Maneuverable Fires (LRMF) program. The weapon the companies are developing together is called the DeepStrike-Extended Range (DeepStrike-ER), indicating that it is a derivative of Raytheon’s earlier DeepStrike short-range ballistic missile.

Raytheon had entered DeepStrike as a competitor for the Army’s Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) competition, but dropped out due to technical issues. Lockheed Martin subsequently won the PrSM contract. The LRMF effort is a science and technology program that is intended to mature an advanced air-breathing propulsion system and other technologies to inform the final design of what is presently referred to as PrSM Increment 4.

PrSM Increment 4 will be a missile with the same form factor as the baseline PrSM short-range ballistic missile from Lockheed Martin, but have a range of at least 1,000 kilometers (approximately 621 miles). PrSM is already designed to be fired from the Army’s existing wheeled M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and tracked M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) launchers. The baseline variant has already demonstrated a longer than originally planned range following the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, between the United States and Russia. The INF has prohibited either country from explicitly developing or fielding land-based ballistic or cruise missiles with nuclear or conventional warfares capable of hitting targets between 310 and 3,420 miles (500 and 5,500 kilometers) away.

“Northrop Grumman’s ongoing investment in new propulsion technologies and infrastructure support the growing need for efficient and effective missile systems,” Jim Kalberer, the company’s vice president of missile products, said in a statement about the LRMF contract on March 27. “Our mission-tailored solution will include advanced propulsion technology and key components designed to increase capacity within the launch system and achieve optimal range extension.”

At the time of writing, there do not appear to be any renderings or pictures of mockups available of the DeepStrike-ER missile. However, Lockheed Martin also won an LRMF contract and a rendering of that company’s design is very similar in general configuration to the Northrop Grumman maritime strike missile concept.

A rendering of Lockheed Martin’s Long Range Maneuverable Fires missile. Lockheed Martin

Whether or not the new maritime strike missile concept and the Northrop Grumman/Raytheon are directly related is unknown at this time and we have reached out for more information. In response to separate queries, Lockheed Martin did tell The War Zone that the final LRMF design, itself, is not intended to become an operational weapon.

“Phase 1 [of LRMF] focuses on design and risk-reduction activities, with optional follow-on phases leading to flight test demonstration. Following flight tests, LRMF will transition to the U.S. Army’s Strategic and Operational Rockets and Missiles (STORM) project office to inform the design of an extended-range Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) Increment (Inc.) 4,” a spokesperson for the company told The War Zone in a statement. “The Army has not yet issued requirements for the PrSM Inc. 4 program of record.”

It is also worth noting that the Army is separately working toward a PrSM variant or derivative with a still-to-be-finalized multi-mode guidance system that will be able to strike ships, currently known as PrSM Increment 2.

A Precision Strike Missile is fired during a test. Lockheed Martin

Regardless, Northrop Grumman’s new maritime strike missile concept and the Army’s LRMF program underscore the already large and still-growing interest within the U.S. military in longer-range missiles with at least some degree of maneuverability to hit a variety of targets over very long distances. There is also a clear continuing interest in new strike missiles with high speeds, if not hypersonic speeds, to help reduce the vulnerability of friendly forces and to be better able to address a variety of potential time-sensitive threats.

None of this is particularly surprising given the U.S. military’s current top focus on the possibility of a future high-end conflict in the broad Indo-Pacific region, potentially against China. Limited fixed basing options, and concerns about the ever-growing threats to such facilities presents a clear impetus for the development of longer-range weapons and new platforms to employ them from.

Beyond LRMF and PrSM, the Army, in cooperation with the Navy, is developing an intermediate-range missile with an unpowered hypersonic boost-glide vehicle payload that is intended to be fired from ground-based launchers, ships, and submarines. The first Navy vessels set to be armed with these weapons are its three Zumwalt class stealth destroyers.

Other types of surface-launched strike missiles with hypersonic or high-supersonic speeds, including the improved Block IB version of the multi-purpose SM-6 missile and the OpFires hypersonic missile, are now in development for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Army.

On the air-launched front, the U.S. Air Force is working on its own air-launched hypersonic cruise missile. The service had been working on the AGM-183 Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), an air-launched ballistic missile with a hypersonic boost-glide vehicle payload, but it is now looking to halt development on that weapon.

No matter how Northrop Grumman’s new maritime strike missile concept continues to evolve and how the Army’s LRMF program proceeds, more weapons in these general categories look set to be in the U.S. military’s future.

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