Best Analysis of AGM-158C LRASM Stealth Cruise Missile

Designed by DARPA to empower the Air Force and Navy in eliminating high-value targets, here we delve into the Best Analysis of AGM-158C LRASM Stealth Cruise Missile. With its distinctive shape, the missile harnesses cutting-edge radar-evading technologies, rendering it elusive to enemy radar systems. This formidable characteristic drastically minimizes interception possibilities, bolstering its survivability in critical engagements.

Photo Credit: US Navy / Just released the AGM-158C LRASM Stealth Cruise Missile from F/A-18 Super Hornet during testing
Photo Credit: US Navy / Just released the AGM-158C LRASM Stealth Cruise Missile from F/A-18 Super Hornet during testing

The U.S. Navy’s current Harpoon anti-ship missile, in service since 1977, was slated to be replaced by the LRASM ( Long Range Anti-Ship Missile ), offering advanced autonomous targeting capabilities. The LRASM boasts numerous advantages and is specifically designed for engaging and neutralizing surface ships in high-threat maritime environments. Notably, its long-range capability enables target engagement from safe distances, a significant strength. By operating from a standoff position beyond the range of enemy air defence systems, the risk to the attacking force is significantly reduced. In June 2009, DARPA awarded Lockheed Martin a contract for the two-phase LRASM demonstration program. Furthermore, in December 2013, DARPA announced Lockheed Martin’s selection for a sole-source follow-on contract.

In February 2014, the Navy received authorization from the Pentagon to commence limited production of the LRASM as an operational weapon. This decision was prompted by the need to address range and survivability concerns associated with the Harpoon missile and prioritize the capability to counter enemy warships. This focus on naval warfare has gained significance due to the modernization of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, which had been somewhat neglected since the conclusion of the Cold War.

To effectively counter advanced electronic warfare and countermeasures, the LRASM incorporates anti-jamming technologies. These technologies ensure its ability to maintain target lock and successfully engage enemy ships, even in environments with electronic interference. Furthermore, the LRASM can leverage network-centric warfare systems, enabling it to receive real-time updates and target information from other platforms or sensors. This integration enhances its situational awareness and coordination, thus making it a valuable asset in joint operations.

Photo Credit: US Navy / Best Analysis of AGM-158C LRASM Stealth Cruise Missile
Photo Credit: US Navy / Best Analysis of AGM-158C LRASM Stealth Cruise Missile

The Development Story of the AGM-158C LRASM:

The development of the AGM-158C LRASM was driven by the need to address the evolving threats and challenges posed by modern surface warfare environments. The concept behind its development was to create a highly capable anti-ship missile that could effectively engage and neutralize enemy surface vessels in contested maritime scenarios.

The origins of the LRASM can be traced back to 2009 when DARPA awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin to develop a long-range anti-ship missile as part of the Joint Capability Technology Demonstration ( JCTD ) program. This initiative aimed to enhance the capabilities of the U.S. military in countering emerging maritime threats. In the initial years of development, Lockheed Martin focused on incorporating advanced technologies into the missile. This included integrating advanced sensors, guidance systems, and target identification capabilities. The goal was to create a highly autonomous and precise weapon that could effectively engage and neutralize enemy surface vessels in complex maritime environments.

On August 27, 2013, Lockheed conducted the inaugural flight test of the LRASM from a B-1B bomber. The missile seamlessly transitioned from a predetermined flight path to autonomous guidance. It effectively identified and targeted a moving unmanned ship measuring 260 ft, one of three targets in the designated area, and precisely struck the intended location using an inert warhead. The primary aim of this test was to evaluate the performance of the sensor suite, which demonstrated exceptional target detection and engagement capabilities by selectively engaging the designated target.

Notably, the LRASM utilized an advanced sensor developed by BAE Systems, specifically designed to facilitate targeted attacks within a cluster of enemy ships protected by sophisticated air defence systems. This state-of-the-art sensor autonomously located and targeted the moving surface ship by harnessing cutting-edge electronic technologies, allowing it to detect targets amidst complex signal environments and accurately calculate target locations for the missile control unit.

During its second flight test on November 12, 2013, the LRASM achieved a direct hit on a moving naval target. Launched from a B-1B bomber, the missile followed planned waypoints received in-flight before seamlessly transitioning to autonomous guidance. It effectively utilized onboard sensors to identify the target, adjust its altitude, and successfully strike the intended objective.

The AGM-158C LRASM is in a folded wing configuration
The AGM-158C LRASM is in a folded-wing configuration

In January 2014, Lockheed demonstrated the LRASM’s compatibility with the Mk 41 VLS ( vertical launcher system ) by requiring minimal modifications to the existing shipboard software. By 2013, the LRASM had advanced sufficiently to undergo its first captive-carry flight test, during which the missile was affixed to an aircraft to assess its compatibility and aerodynamic performance. The successful completion of this test validated the LRASM’s versatility for deployment from diverse launching platforms, including aircraft and surface ships.

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The LRASM program continued to advance, and in 2015, it received Milestone C approval from the U.S. Department of Defense. This milestone indicated that the LRASM had achieved the necessary development maturity and was ready for low-rate initial production. In August 2015, the Navy began load and fit checks of an LRASM mass simulator vehicle on an F/A-18 Super Hornet. Initial airworthiness flight testing of the LRASM simulator with the Super Hornet began on November 3, 2015, with the first flight occurring on December 14, and load testing completed on January 6, 2016.

In 2017, the LRASM achieved initial operational capability ( IOC ) and was successfully integrated into the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft. This milestone marked the significant transition from development to operational deployment, expanding the Navy’s anti-ship capabilities. The integration of LRASM with the Super Hornet provided an advanced standoff weapon for engaging hostile surface vessels. On July 26, 2017, Lockheed was awarded the first production contract for the air-launched LRASM, which included 23 missiles in the low-rate initial production Lot 1.

Subsequently, on August 17, 2017, the LRASM conducted its first flight test in a production-representative and tactical configuration. The missile was released from a B-1B Lancer, followed planned waypoints, transitioned to mid-course guidance, and approached a moving maritime target using data from its onboard sensor. Finally, it descended to a low altitude for the final approach, successfully identifying and impacting the target.

Photo Credit: art station
Photo Credit: Art station

The LRASM’s integration efforts continued, and in 2020, the U.S. Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a contract to integrate the missile onto the B-1B Lancer bomber aircraft. This expanded the LRASM’s compatibility and further diversified the platforms from which it could be launched. In the same year, the U.S. Navy started making preparations to incorporate the LRASM on the Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft.

By 2021, the LRASM had been successfully integrated into the B-1B Lancer, enhancing the bomber’s anti-ship capabilities and providing a strategic asset for maritime operations. In February 2021, the U.S. Navy and Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a $414 million contract for the continued production of the air-launched variant of LRASM, which is now operational on the U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F and the U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer.

Here is a chronological overview of the development of the AGM-158C LRASM:

  • 2009: As part of the Joint Capability Technology Demonstration ( JCTD ) program, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contracts Lockheed Martin to develop the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile ( LRASM ).
  • 2010: Lockheed Martin begins development work on the LRASM, focusing on integrating advanced sensors and target identification capabilities.
  • 2013: The LRASM completes its first captive-carry flight test, which involves carrying the missile on an aircraft without releasing it. This test validates the missile’s compatibility with the launch platform.
  • 2014: LRASM undergoes its first successful flight test, where it is released from an aircraft and flies autonomously to its target. This test demonstrates the missile’s ability to navigate and engage targets.
  • 2015: The LRASM program receives Milestone C approval from the U.S. Department of Defense, indicating that the system is ready for low-rate initial production.
  • 2016: The LRASM successfully completes its first over-the-horizon flight test, engaging a moving target. This demonstrates the missile’s long-range capability and its ability to engage ships beyond the line of sight.
  • 2017: The LRASM achieves initial operational capability ( IOC ) and is integrated into the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft. This marks the beginning of LRASM’s operational deployment.
  • 2018: LRASM completes additional successful flight tests, including engagements against multiple targets, demonstrating its effectiveness against complex scenarios.
  • 2020: The U.S. Air Force awards Lockheed Martin a contract for the integration of the LRASM onto the B-1B Lancer bomber aircraft. This expands LRASM’s compatibility with different platforms.
  • 2021: LRASM is successfully integrated into the U.S. Air Force’s B-1B Lancer aircraft, enhancing the bomber’s anti-ship capabilities.

It’s worth noting that the development of the LRASM is an ongoing process, and further tests, refinements, and integration with other platforms may continue beyond the provided timeline.

Photo Credit: USAF
Photo Credit: USAF /  The AGM-158C LRASM has just been launched from the B-1B Lancer Bomber, accompanied by the F/A-18 Super Hornet

An In-Depth Analysis of the AGM-158C LRASM Design:

The design of the AGM-158C LRASM ( Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile ) incorporates several advanced features and technologies to provide a highly effective and versatile anti-ship capability.

Airframe and Configuration: The LRASM has a streamlined airframe designed for aerodynamic efficiency. Its sleek shape reduces drag and enhances range and speed. The missile is equipped with foldable wings for efficient storage and carriage, allowing for compatibility with various launching platforms.

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Stealth Features: The LRASM incorporates stealth technologies to minimize its radar cross-section and enhance survivability. Its shape, materials, and coatings are optimized to reduce radar reflections and make it harder to detect and track. Aside from short, low-power data-link transmissions, the LRASM does not emit signals. This, combined with the low-RCS JASSM airframe and low IR signature, reduces detectability.

Unlike previous radar-only seeker-equipped missiles that would hit other vessels if diverted or decoyed, the multi-mode seeker ensures that the LRASM hits the correct target in a specific area of the ship. An LRASM can autonomously locate its own target by using passive radar homing to detect ships in an area, and then employ passive measures during its terminal approach. Similar to the JASSM, the LRASM is also capable of engaging land targets. As a result, this stealthy design significantly increases the missile’s chances of penetrating enemy defences, with an estimated success rate of up to 95% while remaining undetected.

Guided Systems:  The LRASM employs a sophisticated guidance system that combines multiple technologies for accurate and autonomous targeting. It utilizes an Inertial Navigation System ( INS ) for initial navigation, relying on internal sensors to track its position and trajectory. To enhance precision, the missile also incorporates the Global Positioning System ( GPS ), which provides precise positioning data. This enables the LRASM to navigate towards its intended target with high accuracy. To ensure survivability and effectiveness against a target, the LRASM is equipped with a BAE Systems-designed seeker and guidance system that integrates jam-resistant GPS/INS, an imaging infrared ( IIR ) seeker with automatic scene/target matching recognition, a data-link, and passive electronic support measures ( ESM ) and radar warning receiver sensors.

By combining these features with artificial intelligence software, the LRASM can effectively locate enemy ships and avoid neutral shipping in crowded areas. Overall, the LRASM is equipped with a Multimodal Sensor Suite that incorporates advanced sensors, including passive electro-optical and infrared sensors. These sensors enable the missile to autonomously detect, identify, and track targets even in challenging environments such as low visibility or electronic warfare scenarios.

Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin
Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

Multi-mode Anti-Ship Seeker:  The LRASM is equipped with a sophisticated anti-ship seeker system that is responsible for target detection, discrimination, and engagement. It effectively combines information from the multimodal sensor suite to accurately identify and track specific surface vessels. The advanced algorithms and target recognition capabilities of the seeker enable the LRASM to distinguish between target ships and potential decoys or other objects. This is a significant improvement over previous radar-only seeker-equipped missiles that had the potential to hit unintended vessels if diverted or decoyed.

The multi-mode seeker ensures that the LRASM hits the intended target precisely in a specific area of the ship. Autonomously, an LRASM can independently locate its target by utilizing passive radar homing to identify ships within a given area. Once in the terminal approach phase, the LRASM employs passive measures. It’s worth noting that similar to the JASSM, the LRASM is also capable of targeting land-based objectives.

Data Link:  The LRASM possesses a data link system that enables it to receive real-time updates and target information from other platforms or sensors. This data link capability significantly enhances the missile’s situational awareness, allowing it to engage targets using the most up-to-date information and effectively coordinate its actions with other friendly forces. While based on the AGM-158B JASSM-ER, the LRASM incorporates several additional features such as a multi-mode passive RF, a new weapon data link and altimeter, as well as an uprated power system.

It can receive directions to attack enemy ships from its launch platform, receive updates through its data link, or employ onboard sensors to locate its target. Consequently, the data link enables other assets to provide the missile with a real-time electronic overview of the enemy battlespace. By sharing data, multiple missiles can collaborate and coordinate an attack effectively, functioning as a swarm.

Warhead:  The LRASM is equipped with a formidable high-explosive blast fragmentation penetrator warhead, meticulously designed to inflict substantial damage on enemy ships. This warhead is specifically optimized for anti-ship missions, ensuring devastating effects upon impact. When the missile precisely hits the designated target area, the sinking of the ship becomes virtually inevitable, particularly when engaging medium to small-sized vessels. These considerations take into account ships within the People’s Liberation Army Navy, further highlighting the LRASM’s effectiveness in neutralizing such threats.

Countermeasures and Anti-Jamming:  To effectively counter advanced electronic warfare and countermeasures, the LRASM integrates cutting-edge anti-jamming technologies. These advanced technologies significantly bolster the missile’s resilience against electronic interference, empowering it to maintain target lock and decisively engage enemy ships, even in intensely contested environments. The missile system is meticulously engineered with next-generation counter-countermeasures, enabling it to deftly evade hostile active defence systems.

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Autonomous Operation:  The LRASM is designed to operate autonomously once launched, minimizing the need for continuous communication with the launching platform. This crucial feature will enable positive target identification, precise engagement of moving ships, and establishment of initial target cueing even in highly hostile environments. Additionally, it empowers the missile to operate effectively at extended ranges and autonomously carry out its mission, thereby enhancing its overall effectiveness in complex maritime scenarios.

Overall, the design of the AGM-158C LRASM combines advanced aerodynamics, stealth features, a sophisticated guidance system, anti-jamming capabilities, and autonomous operation. These design elements work together to create a highly capable anti-ship missile, capable of engaging and neutralizing surface vessels with precision and effectiveness in challenging maritime environments.

Photo Credit: US Navy / The F/A-18 Super Hornet with LRASM and HARM missiles is the perfect combination for SEAD missions
Photo Credit: US Navy / The F/A-18 Super Hornet with LRASM and HARM missiles is the perfect combination for SEAD missions

Technical Specifications of the AGM-158C LRASM:

  • Weight:  1,250 kg ( 2,756 lb )
  • Length:  14 ft ( 4.26 m )
  • Diameter/Width:  25 inches
  • Wingspan:  8ft 10 in ( 2.7 m )
  • Warhead:  WDU-42/B HE ( high explosive ) blasts fragmentation, penetrator, weighing 450 kg ( 992 lb )
  • Detonation:  FMU‐156/B impact fuze
  • Engine:  Williams F107‐WR‐105 turbofan
  • Range:  930 km ( 578 mi )
  • Accuracy:  Estimated 9 ft (2.74 m) CEP ( Circular Error Probability )
  • Guidance system:  Advanced Guided Systems by using GPS, INS, and IIR (EO) for Precise Navigation and Targeting
  • Launch Platform:  The LRASM is air-launched from various platforms, including the B-1 Lancer (bomber), the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and F-35 Lightning II (strike aircraft). Additionally, maritime aircraft such as the P-8 Poseidon can also deploy the LRASM. In terms of surface launch capabilities, the LRASM can be launched from the Mk 41 VLS (Vertical Launching System) found on shipborne missile canisters.

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In conclusion, The AGM-158C LRASM is a highly effective anti-ship missile, meticulously designed with advanced technologies. Its streamlined airframe, stealth features, and foldable wings enhance aerodynamic efficiency and reduce radar cross-section. The LRASM’s sophisticated guidance system, including inertial navigation, GPS, and a multimodal sensor suite, enables autonomous target detection, identification, and tracking in challenging environments. With its data link capability and high-explosive warhead, the LRASM ensures significant damage upon impact. Incorporating anti-jamming technologies and autonomous operation further enhance its effectiveness in contested maritime scenarios.

In light of the advanced technologies and the increasing challenges posed by the People’s Liberation Army Navy, the Australian Navy has made the strategic decision to incorporate the AGM-158C LRASM into their arsenal, specifically for their F/A-18F Super Hornet fighters. Reports indicate that on 7 February 2020, the US State Department disclosed the sanctioning of a potential Foreign Military Sale to Australia. This transaction encompasses the acquisition of up to 200 LRASMs, along with associated equipment, at an estimated value of US$990 million.

Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin / The Long Range Anti-Ship Missile successfully completed a dual-missile test, demonstrating its ability to provide critical capabilities to warfighters, such as the F/A-18 and B-1B
Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin / The Long Range Anti-Ship Missile successfully completed a dual-missile test, demonstrating its ability to provide critical capabilities to warfighters, such as the F/A-18 and B-1B

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