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

April 16, 2018 7:05 PM - Updated: April 17, 2018 6:53 AM
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.

Ben Werner

Ben Werner

Ben Werner is a staff writer for USNI News. He has worked as a freelance writer in Busan, South Korea, and as a staff writer covering education and publicly traded companies for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., Savannah Morning News in Savannah, Ga., and Baltimore Business Journal. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from New York University.

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