Home » Aviation » USS John Warner is First Virginia-Class Attack Sub to Fire Missiles in Anger

USS John Warner is First Virginia-Class Attack Sub to Fire Missiles in Anger

A Tomahawk land attack missile launched from USS John Warner (SSN-785) as part of the April 13, 2018 strike against Syrian chemical weapon strikes. US Navy Image

THE PENTAGON — Saturday’s pre-dawn joint air strike against three Syrian chemical weapons facilities was notable not just for its success, but for also being the first time a Virginia-class submarine fired missiles in combat and the first time Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles-Extended Range (JASSM-ER) were used tactically, USNI News has learned.

When attack boat USS John Warner (SSN-785) launched six Tomahawk land-attack missiles from the Eastern Mediterranean, it was the first time a Virginia-class submarine fired shots “in anger,” or at an enemy target rather than for testing or training purposes, according to a Navy spokesperson.

John Warner not only hit its assigned target but did so during its first deployment and while successfully evading a Russian sub-hunter, which was reportedly tracking a British Astute-class submarine also operating in the region, according to Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

“Using these new systems in this particular operation can provide U.S. leaders and planners information regarding the ability of a high-end competitor like Russia to counter them,” Clark told USNI News.
“These real-world operations provide valuable feedback on tactics and employment concepts.”

The JASSM-ER strikes were noteworthy for their effectiveness reaching targets and also because of the platform firing these missiles. These missiles were fired from two U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers that remained about 200 miles outside of Syrian airspace. All JASSMs were able to evade Syrian air defense systems.

B-1B bombers don’t have the same level of stealth as the Air Force F-22 Raptor or the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber and could be more easily detected by Syrian air-defense systems, Jerry Hendrix, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, told USNI News. But the Russian-made systems reportedly never detected the B-1B bombers because they remained safely out of range.

Lockheed Martin, the JASSM-ER manufacturer, is currently developing a Navy version – the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) – to be fired from F/A-18E/F warplanes. The company and Navy officials have previously stated they expect the LRASM will be ready for use in 2019.

During a December test, a B-1B bomber simultaneously launched two production-configuration LRASMs against multiple maritime targets, marking an important step toward meeting early capability milestones, according to a statement released by Lockheed Martin.

USS John Warner (SSN-785) conducts sea trials in the Atlantic Ocean on June 9, 2015. US Navy Photo

“What we saw here is the JASSM, or LRASM, is going to be able to give legacy aircraft the ability to use these stand-off missiles outside their (air defense) range,” Hendrix said.

In addition to Warner and the B-1B strikes, the operation was also the combat debut of the French Missile de Croisiere Naval land attack missile, according to the news site Navy Recognition.

“Designed and produced by MBDA, the naval cruise missile (French designation Missile de Croisiere Naval or MdCN) provides deep strike capabilities within enemy territory. With a range of several hundred kilometers, the naval cruise missile is capable of destroying infrastructure targets of high strategic value,” reported the site.

The French frigate Languedoc (D-653) fired three MdCN missiles, which is the naval variant of the air-launched SCALP land-attack cruise missile, as part of the operation.

  • iwrestledabearonce

    So be it. Threaten no more. To secure peace is; to prepare for war.

  • NavySubNuke

    The process of not allowing chemical weapons use to be normalized – and of upholding a red line against it’s use established by the President of the United States of America (even if it isn’t the current one – isn’t cheap or easy — but it is the right thing to do. John Warner and her crew, along with all the ships and aircraft who fired into Syria, just did a service for the entire world.
    Well done to the John Warner and her crew.

  • Hugh

    Did the Ruskie weapons hold fire so as not to give away their capabilities, yet?

    • @USS_Fallujah

      Possibly, they probably also didn’t want to risk potentially hitting an allied aircraft, and new ahead of time where the strike was going and that none of their own personnel were at risk.
      That said, even if they had wanted to shoot down some or any of the inbound TLAM or JASSMs there ability to do so is highly suspect, and even more important, we fired more missiles then they have interceptors, so why shoot off your whole magazine to no purpose? Even if they were wildly successful it would have zero real effect on the US strike and leave their own forces unprotected against allied aircraft if something awful happens in the following days or weeks.

    • Duane

      Ground based radars like the S-400 are not capable of sensing, tracking, and taking out treetop flying cruise missiles with internal targeting like latest TLAM Block IIs, LRASSM, and SCALP, as used in this attack. Flying at over 550 mph at 100 feet altitude, using 3D digital computer terrain mapping and IR imaging sensors, the missiles emit no RF and fly well below the radar. Ground based sensors require higher altitude targets or targets that give themselves away with RF emissions.

      The only way to sense, track, and shootdown VLO missiles like these is via sophisticated air-based radars with highly precise scanning that can pick out a small missile from the vegetation and ground clutter. These latest radars (AESA with synthetic aperture) are what we have on the F-35, and are being retrofitted to legacy fighters like the F-15, F-16, and the new Super Hornet Block IIIs. I don’t know if the Russians have an equivalent look down shootdown radar as yet, or if so, if are deployed in significant numbers yet … but the Syrians certainly don’t.

      • Spectreoneone

        Yeah…no. Again, the current Block of Tomahawks is Block IV. Block II was introduced in the 80’s. Tomahawks are not VLO, either. And the current Block IV DOES emit RF, how do you think it’s able to be re-targeted in flight? You assessment that only modern AESA aircraft radars can detect moving objects amongst clutter is also incorrect. Do you even know what MTI is? Most modern air defense radars are equipped with MTI processing, which allows a radar to detect a moving object through high-clutter environments. Please, before you start trying to talk shop, you need to get out of the 80’s, where some of what you say was still true.

        • Duane

          I described the current TLAM, not the early 80s models that used radar targeting sensors nor did they use IR imaging nav. Yes, they are VLO. They emit no RF, they fly below ground radar. You cannot get any less observable than not observable.

          You are misinformed. A cruise missile cruising at 100 feet above land is very difficult to pick out of ground clutter by a look down radar unless synthetic aperture AESA radar is used.

          If it is as easy as you so breezily claim for any old radar since the 80s to shoot down TLAMs and similar CMs, the the Syrian Air Force would have taken out a lot of the 164 fired at Syria in the last year. Their record is 0-164. For the reasons I gave.

          • Spectreoneone

            You keep using these words…I do not think they mean what you think they mean… You don’t even know what Block of Tomahawk is the current version, as you have stated in TWO separate articles that the current Block is Block II! And, yes, they do indeed emit RF…what do you think a data link is, magical, undetectable pixie dust? The old TLAM Blocks also did not use radar targeting sensors…they used DSMAC and TERCOM. The only version of previous Tomahawks to use a radar was the TASM. And, no, I am not misinformed when it comes to the capabilities of air defense radars. I also did not say any old radar, either. I said a modern radar with MTI processing, which many air defense radars built since the 1980’s (some even in the 70’s) have, is capable against low-flying threats. These include helicopters, low-flying aircraft, and cruise missiles (especially slow, lumbering ones like the Tomahawk). On another point of yours I didn’t address yet, you don’t need an AESA radar to shoot down a Tomahawk, either…look-down/shoot-down has been around since the 70’s, and was first deployed by the Soviets on the MiG-23 (Sapfir-23P), so it’s not a new capability by any means. The Tomahawk is a 21-inch diameter, 18-foot long telephone pole with wings…it is not VLO, it flies routes that are pre-planned to take advantage of terrain and holes in air-defense systems, because it would not be able to make it through even a generation-old air defense system that was searching. Syria did not manage to shoot any down because they probably did not know the attack was coming ahead of time, so they did not have most of their defense systems prepared. Operator skill also comes into play…can’t shoot something if you don’t know what you’re supposed to shoot at looks like, or if you don’t have your radar parameters set properly. There’s also another factor you forget…there were other assets utilized by the coalition…namely in the electronic warfare realm…can’t hit anything if you’re blinded. I will leave you with this: multiple Tomahawks were shot down over Iraq, and at least one was shot down during Operation Allied Watch (there’s the pieces of a Tomahawk in a museum in Belgrade).

        • Scott Ferguson

          Yeah, so what is the RCS of a current Tomahawk?
          What is the RF it emits?

          “And the current Block IV DOES emit RF, how do you think it’s able to be re-targeted in flight?”?

          Wrong, but cute.
          Retargeting would only require it to RECEIVE data, not transmit.

          • Spectreoneone

            Uh, no…it sends imagery and other data back via a two-way data link. As for RCS…that’s a classified number. But, apparent RCS is also different based upon the frequency and polarization of the radar being utilized to detect a target. Based upon the shaping of the Block IV, it’s apparent RCS is smaller than Blocks I-III, but still not small enough to be called VLO. It’s a very capable weapon, but it’s not invisible (NO weapon is). And, if the Russians had actually utilized their S-400 systems, we might not have had the success we had.

          • Scott Ferguson


    • Ed L

      Wonder if an EC-135 was up

  • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

    Guess we are testing the new S-400? Did the Russians bite? Nothing like a little ELINT to keep engineers busy?

    • Kypros

      We don’t know. But we do know that the Russians, (and Iranians) vowed to defend Syria but were unable or unwilling to.

      • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

        I doubt the Russians are willing to let us gather that info to protect one of their useless proxy states?

        • Kypros

          Could be. Something for their useless proxy states to consider, then.

        • Scott Ferguson

          Yet Mad-Vlad vowed to shoot down every missile…