The Navy successfully launched the Raytheon SeaRAM Anti-Ship Missile Defense System from an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer for the first time ever on March 4, a final step in rapidly fielding a self-defense capability on the Mediterranean-based USS Porter (DDG-78) through an unconventional acquisition process.
Porter last week went through structural test firings to ensure a shield would properly protect the ship from the SeaRAM blast, followed by tracking exercises to verify the accuracy of the detect-to-engage sequence. Finally, on Friday the Navy had its first-ever live fire test of a SeaRAM from a DDG, which took place on a Spanish Navy test range in the Mediterranean.
USNI News understands the qualification test was successful and Porter will soon be able to use SeaRAM operationally, according to a source familiar with the test event. Additionally, the SeaRAM system has recently been tested successfully in another location against supersonic targets, expanding the utility of the system meant to address close-in threats such as helicopters and cruise missiles.
The SeaRAM, which replaces the Phalanx Close-In Weapon System’s 20mm gun with a Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) Block II launcher, is in production for use on the Littoral Combat Ship.
Last spring an emergent need arose in the Mediterranean – a new Russian threat, the details of which remain classified, put the four Spain-based DDGs at risk as the ships focused on a ballistic missile defense target.
After looking at the threat and several possible options to address it, the Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems, U.S. 6th Fleet, the Surface Warfare Directorate and other organizations selected SeaRAM as the solution and got to work on the “quick reaction capability.”
Without discussing the nature of the new threat, Program Executive Officer for Integrated Warfare Systems Rear Adm. Jon Hill told USNI News on March 3 that SeaRAM was selected because “it allows them to have that additional layer – it’s a different missile system, it operates in a shorter range regime and it’s much more maneuverable, so it gives them a capability that complements the rest of the layers” of ship self-defense.
To engineer and field this solution as quickly as possible, Raytheon was able to pull SeaRAM systems coming off its production line for the DDGs, and the Navy got busy “making modifications and understanding how it worked with the Aegis Weapon System; the training, logistics, supportability, testing – all of it done in 12 months,” Capt. Michael Ladner, Surface Ship Weapons Office Program Manager at PEO IWS, said March 3 at the American Society of Naval Engineers’ annual ASNE Day.
“That is what we need to challenges ourselves with, challenge industry with, and our field activities and labs: how do we get to that capability, that kind of example, across the portfolio?” he said of the rapid prototyping and fielding effort.
“It’s not the way that we do business. How do we get to that? How do we get to this kind of flexibility to deliver capability faster?”
Speaking last month at WEST 2016, cohosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and AFCEA, Ladner said the Navy created its own luck in the case of SeaRAM on DDGs – all the pieces fell into place to act quickly, but Navy leadership acknowledged the severity of the new threat in the Mediterranean and focused on quickly implementing a solution.
Many destroyers have two Phalanx Close-In Weapon System (CIWS, pronounced Sea-Wiz) mounts. The idea, Ladner said, was to replace the aft mount with SeaRAM – which would normally take a couple years to engineer, taking into account the effect on the hull, the Aegis Combat System and the logistics and training pipelines. But the Navy didn’t have a couple years, so the service developed some self-imposed requirements: make no changes to the Aegis Combat System, make minimal changes to the ship hull, and find ways to concurrently test from the shore and the ship to speed up the timeline.
Porter will now be protected as it sails the Mediterranean, and the other three Spain-based ships – USS Donald Cook (DDG-75), USS Ross (DDG-71) and USS Carney (DDG-64) – will be outfitted with SeaRAM this calendar year.
Though the threat set – and the reason normal acquisition procedures were bypassed– is specific to these four ships, the surface warfare community may choose to put SeaRAM on other DDGs in the future. Between all the destroyer flights, all the Aegis Combat System baselines and other variances between ships in the class, not all destroyers have equal layered defense.
“We’re big believers in defense in depth. So there are programs of record that give us that layered defense, from (Standard Missile) SM-6 at long range, SM-2 medium range, and then the close-in weapons, either [Evolved SeaSparrow Missile] Block II, RAM or CIWS,” Ladner said last week.
“These Rota DDGs are an older baseline that don’t have ESSM Block II, because that capability doesn’t field until the mid-20s, so they pretty much have that standard missile defense and then CIWS. This gives them that RAM Block II layer, extra layer against those emergent threats.”
Cmdr. Michael Weeldreyer, weapons branch requirements officer at the surface warfare directorate (OPNAV N96), said at WEST 2016 that putting SeaRAM on additional DDGs with fewer layers in their self-defense capability “is something we continue to look at, and we continue to weigh within the cost-benefit analysis, along with the other Aegis baselines and weapons that the ships have for self-defense purposes.”
Weeldreyer told USNI News afterwards that in some cases an upgrade to a newer Aegis baseline would be the simpler way to address a threat but that N96 would make decisions based on operational need and the specific hull’s capabilities.