Home » Budget Industry » U.S. Navy Considering Adding Anti-Ship Missiles Back to Submarine Force

U.S. Navy Considering Adding Anti-Ship Missiles Back to Submarine Force

An artist's conception Ohio-class guided missile submarine launching Tomahawk Land Attack Missile

An artist’s conception Ohio-class guided missile submarine launching Tomahawk Land Attack Missile

The Navy is investigating adding an anti-ship missile to its submarine force — bringing it inline with the majority of the world naval submarines, the director of Naval Reactors said on Wednesday.

In response to a question from the audience at the 2015 Naval Submarine League Symposium, Adm. Frank Caldwell said the Navy was exploring adding the capability to the fleet.

“For this audience, I’ll tell you we are considering that and we are taking some some steps to delivering that kind of capability to our submarine force and I can’t really say anymore than that,” he said.

The U.S. submarine fleet did use the UGM-84A Harpoon anti-ship missile but that Harpoon variant was retired in 1997. The current primary attack submarines is the anti-ship weapon is Mk 48 heavy torpedo and is limited in its range relative to anti-ship missiles developed and deployed with foreign navies.

In particular, Russian and Chinese submarines field a variety of anti-ship missiles with ranges that far exceed the Mk-48s.

For example, the emerging Chinese YJ-18 supersonic anti-ship cruise missile, capable of launching from a People Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) attack boat has an estimated range in excess of 300 miles. Likewise, Russia’s newer Oscar-class attack boats field the supersonic P-700 Granit — known by NATO as the SS-N-19 Shipwreck — with a more than 300-mile range.

For the U.S. submarine fleet it makes sense to return anti-ship missiles to boats to provide a greater standoff range for the force, Eric Wertheim — naval analyst and author of U.S. Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets of the World — told USNI News on Wednesday.

“When you look at potential combat operations and you can see how an anti-ship missile from a sub could prove useful,” Wertheim said.
“I do think it would add options to today’s submarine fleet to operate farther from high threat environments. Standoff capability adds a lot of options for military commanders.”

If the U.S. elects to include anti-ship missiles in its submarines there are several options to chose from beyond the legacy Harpoons.

The Norwegian company Kongsberg — that recently partnered with Raytheon — unveiled a subsurface launched version of its Naval Strike Missile in 2014. Lockheed Martin’s Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) being developed for DARPA is currently air launched, but Lockheed has examined firing the missile from a surface ship and it could likely be adapted for submarine use.

Additionally, U.S. attack submarines all field Raytheon Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM). Earlier this year, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) tested a Block IV TLAM as an anti-ship missile.

“If you have Tomahawks already onboard then it could be dual purpose [land attack or anti-ship],” Wertheim said.

Studying a sub-launched ASM conforms to an overall trend in the Navy in the last few years to empathize high-end warfare after years of supporting the low intensity conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Categories: Budget Industry, Education Legislation, Submarine Forces, U.S. Navy
Sam LaGrone

About Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He was formerly the U.S. Maritime Correspondent for the Washington D.C. bureau of Jane’s Defence Weekly and Jane’s Navy International. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.

  • 2IDSGT

    I’m usually not a fan of supersonic cruise missiles as their speed results in heavy weight/range penalties. But in this case, I think something along the lines of Brahmos/LRASM-B would be ideal. Submarines can close the distance more easily than surface combatants and don’t have the weight concerns of aircraft.

    • @USS_Fallujah

      Considering how far the SSN has to go to reload it’s magazine I’d suggest something smaller that can be carries in a multi-round cannister like they are using for tomahawks. It frees up the torpedo room for torpedos (so you don’t have to compromise the boat’s anti-sub duty, or force it to return to base prematurly for replacement war shots).

      • 2IDSGT

        A supersonic ASM could easily fit in the Tomahawk’s footprint… VLS or tube-launched. You’d give up some range or payload on the missile (likely both), but that wouldn’t really matter in this particular case, especially against contested targets.

        You scared or something?

  • Rexford L

    TLAM with the LRASM seeker, problem solved and rather inexpensively..

    • sferrin

      You get what you pay for. In this case it would be “target practice for the other guy” and not much of a challenge either.

    • Michael Rich

      I support the use of a Tomahawk as a dual use missile, gives the fleet a flexible missile if needed. But to propose the Tomahawk as our only ASM is beyond ridiculous. Any modern navy could sit there swatting Tomahawks out of the sky.

      • Under the Sea

        Most modern Navies don’t have jamming technology built into their cruise missiles.

        • Michael Rich

          Not sure what this has to do with anything I just said.

      • vegass04 .

        LRASM will do just fine. Although LRASM is just increment 1 of Navy’s anti surface warfare missile. We have to wait for increment 2 somewhere in 2020 where we’ll probably see something in the vicinity of LRASM-B (supersonic) or even hypersonic.

        • Michael Rich

          The LRASM is a great improvement over the current generation ASM’s. I just don’t see how people think that a Tomahawk can be a better solution.

          • vegass04 .

            I really don’t know who could think that Tomahawk as it is, is a good enough solution for anti ship missile. Serbs knocked a few of those during the Balkans campaign and we all know they weren’t the sharpest tools in the military box. Missile should be super stealthy or super fast, Tomahawk is neither. I wonder how come the Navy hasn’t started some kind of Tomahawk replacement program if they wish to use cruise missiles for strike missions in A2/AD environment.

  • James Bowen

    This is a bit of good news. It looks like the Navy is slowly waking up to the realization that our potential adversaries have superior anti-ship missiles to our own, and more of them too. I never understood why the Navy just dropped sea combat and control from its list of concerns in the 90’s and just assumed we would have control of the sea. That violates just about every sound principle of strategy there is, not to mention common sense.

    • true but Harpoons are subsonic and getting old. Adversaries have supersonic ASuW missiles

      • James Bowen

        Totally agree. This is a step in the right direction though, even if it is backtracking over previously lost ground.

  • Beerking1

    “The current primary attack submarines is the anti-ship weapon is Mk 48 heavy torpedo and is limited in its range” HUH? Was there an editor for this article?

    • sferrin

      He’s right.

      • Bill

        He’s complaining about the atrocious grammar, not the meaning.

    • Michael Rich

      He is comparing the MK-48’s range to the range of an anti-ship missile.

      • Beerking1

        He should try doing it in real English. Grammar counts. So does writing so you make some sense!

    • Pat Patterson

      The MK-48 ADCAP has a max range of 23 miles. Shorter than the 74 mile range of the Harpoon.

      • Under the Sea

        wrong answer shipmate…low/ low has much further range.

    • Robert

      Alarmingly, the bio at the bottom says he IS the editor!

      And it’s “to emphasize high-end warfare”, not “to empathize high-end warfare”, in the last sentence.
      Who edits the editor? 😉

      • john Schneider

        “The current primary attack submarines is the anti-ship weapon is Mk 48 heavy torpedo and is limited…” I think needs to be rewritten, too

  • sferrin

    Don’t look for them to develop anything original. They’ll just blow the dust off 40 year old Harpoons or Tomahawks. While the other guys use Brahmos, Shipwreck, and Sizzler. The US has lost it’s ability to develop anything like those.

    • Pat Patterson

      They were never a priority. Just buy one from India and reverse engineer it just like the Chinese do for everything we have.

    • @USS_Fallujah

      Each country has it’s own set of limitations and capabilities, in the US case putting a large number of smaller, slower and harder to detect over sea clutter ASCMs (preferebly from tactical aircraft) has a better probability of success than a smaller number of high speed ASCM (all that speed costs fuel and thus increases the size of your missile, and decreases it’s range).
      The usefulness of high speed ASCMs is highly dubious IMO, beyond the size and range issues I stated above, you also have a missile much easier to detect because of size (or in the case of the sizzler the sprint distance is so short it’s already been in the engagement window of a SM-6 for over 100 miles).

    • Secundius

      @ sferrin.

      Correct me if I’m wrong. But, BOTH BrahMos and Sizzler are Ballistic Trajectory Missiles, NOT Sea Skimmer’s…

      • hatfey

        nope you’r wrong


    Sub launched anti-surface?? It’s called the Mk-48. Our modern subs are perfectly capable of maintaining a safe distance from a surface target while delivering a one shot solution with little possibility of counter detection. I think this rhetoric was developed for the russo-chinese “threat”. If the need ever arrises to launch a missile at a surface combatant we can target it with subs and launch from a surface ship.

    • well yes but that’s the result of hype.

    • @USS_Fallujah

      The defense press is obsessed with the idea that whatever the adversary is doing must be better than what we are doing. This article completely overlooks two key problem, which are 1. Providing targetting data and 2. Probability of hitting the target. ie a USN SSN has a high probability of maneuvering into tracking range of PLAN surface ships w/o being detected. It can then provide targetting info to other platforms to deliver long range ASCM or target them herself with MK-48s that are exponentially more likely to provide both a hit and a kill on the target than an ASCM (be it as Tomahawk, NSM, LRASM or Harpoon).

      • adaptus primus

        I agree with you. The torpedo has a far more probability of scoring a hit than firing a ASCM from standoff range. And our attack boat can get really close to their surface ships without being detected. But still, Mk48 is not a recent design, it lacks the necessary speed and range no matter what incremental upgrade/improve offers. There is still valid requirement for a new heavy torpedo round.

        • STS1SS/SW/RET

          MK48 is an old designator but highly modified to to meet todays requirements. No military seagoing vessel can outrun a modern Mk48 and it has more range than we’ll ever really need. We wouldn’t outfit our ENTIRE submarine force with a torpedo that isn’t up to task, I promise you.

      • STS1SS/SW/RET

        My sentiments EXACTLY!

      • USNVO

        While a MK-48 is great, it can really only go where the submarine can go. An ASCM, especially something like a JASSM based LRASM, can fly over land and hit ships cowering in port or in extremely shallow water where you don’t want the submarine to go. Having said that, I am not sure that capability is worth giving up a multi-use torpedo to gain. But if you put a few in the Tomahawk Vertical Launchers, now you could really complicate the enemies defensive issues. But I still see it as a niche capability at best.

        • @USS_Fallujah

          Ultimatly sinking PLAN ships is not a major problem for the USN, there are just so many ways to crack an egg, now striking significant ground targets on the Chinese mainland, or maintaining air superiority over the first island chain…..well that is a serious challenge.

          • STS1SS/SW/RET

            Aaaaand that’s where the Tomahawk comes in. I just fail to see a hole in US sub offensive capabilities….as much as I’d love to see deck guns brought back!

  • Chesapeakeguy

    You still gotta know who and what you’re firing at. The longer the range, the more problematic that can be, even with an extremely fast missile. In open waters away from shipping lanes, that might not be so much to deal with. But, a missile will still have to expend fuel if it is in ‘search’ mode, reducing its range, unless it is guided in some way to within a relatively short range of its target. But seeing how impacting and taking out the other guy’s shipping is one of the classic submarine missions, it does make eminent sense to give our subs every advantage they can get. When other factors like potential sub-launched UAVs are considered (if they are successfully developed and implemented) that can help in targeting, then long ranged anti-ship missiles can certainly complicate things for those other guys!

  • projob66

    you mean like Harpoon ?? They probably have 500 of them sitting around getting rusty.

  • disqus_zommBwspv9

    With only the MK48 our submarines are one dimensional. With anti ship missles that adds another dimension. But here is a twist, remember the Tom Clancy red storm rising sublaunch SAMs that would be cool Or the ability to launch a drone from a tube, that could provide additional targeting data? Imagination Wonder if the Brits would sell us spearfish’s . did not the navy experiment with a 76mm gun that stowed inside the hull on one submarine. (historical Search ) but was removed.

  • Inline with most navies–the Royal Navy removed Harpoons from their SSNs quite a while back

    • disqus_zommBwspv9

      Israeli Submarines reportedly have long range cruise missiles and torpedos too

  • @USS_Fallujah

    Comparing the ranges of US vs PLAN sub launched ASM is so silly, each navy has very different problems. In this case the USN SSNs are more likely to be providing targetting info to other platforms to launch ASCMs than to fire their own war shots (of the missile or torpedo variety), whereas the PLAN subs have almost no ability to maneuver into position to target USN ships with their ASCM and would instead hope to avoid detection by remaining at the maximum range of those missiles and depend on other platforms to provide targetting info.
    Each country and each service have very different and unique challenges that require different solutions based on their capabilities, so a strict comparisons of things like missile range completely miss the point of which nation has an advantage in a particular scenario. And that doesn’t even get into the target’s survival probability in a missile vs torpedo attack!

  • Weaponeer

    Heavyweight torpedoes also have the power-weight ratio that they could fly with detachable winglets and an air propeller, also adding to the arsenal options with such a ten times greater range torpedo.

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  • Rob C.

    Hope they decide to do it. This stupid not having these weapons on board. Heck the Russians have Torpedoes moving a supersonic speeds for pity sakes. Too slow.

  • sferrin

    “Likewise, Russia’s newer Oscar-class attack boats field the supersonic
    P-700 Granit — known by NATO as the SS-N-19 Shipwreck — with a more than
    300-mile range.”

    Ye gods. “Newer”? They’ve had that since the 80s. That and the P-500/1000 Vulkan (SS-N-12). And the AS-4 & AS-6. Oh, and let’s not forget Sizzler,Sunburn and Yakhont (Brahmos). To say the US is outclassed in the antiship missile department (and has been since the 60s) would be a vast understatement. Furthermore, regarding the Shipwreck, it’s got technology that would blow the tiny minds of the average New Age blogger. They’d launch formations of them with one flying high, doing the searching, and the rest down on the deck to hid from radar. They are networked together, communicating with each other. If the high guy gets shot down one of the others flies up to take it’s place.

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  • Praque Forqsk

    Can’t believe that the US has fallen so far behind. Some of these Chinese and Russian supersonic missiles were known about a decade ago! God help the USN navy if it comes up against a real conflict.

  • Praque Forqsk

    What degree of risk is there if a US destroyer comes up against one of these heavily armed Chinese vessels?