We have talked about the need for a small missile to deal with small, fast, highly maneuverable threats, with less chance of collateral damage than is inherent in using guns. We have talked about Hellfire, Brimstone, Griffin, and guided 70mm rockets. Now it appears there is now an even smaller and much cheaper weapon that seems almost ideal for this end of the target spectrum. It has been in development for quite a while, but appears ready for production. Its range and precision appear to be much better than the machine guns we are currently using.
The Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division at China Lake has developed a very small missile called “Spike,” and the price is right–a marginal coast for each additional missile of only about $5000. This should not be confused with the Israeli missile family also called Spike. The following from the Wikipedia entry on the system:
Spike was designed by the U.S. Navy, with assistance from DRS Technologies, and is proclaimed to be “the world’s smallest guided missile.” Initially made to be carried by U.S. Marines, with three missiles and the launcher able to fit in a standard backpack, it weighs 5.4 lb (2.4 kg), is 25 in (640 mm) long, and 2.25 in (57 mm) in diameter. The warhead weighs about 1 lb (450 gr) and employs the Explosively Formed Projectile (EFP) effect, made to penetrate before detonating. It is powered by a small rocket motor that gives it a range exceeding 2 mi (3.2 km), making it safer and more accurate than rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). The missile is directed to its target by either an electro-optical (EO) or semi-active laser (SAL) seeker; the EO camera is similar to a basic cellphone camera, containing a 1-megapixel video camera that allows the shooter to select the area to engage in a fire-and-forget mode. The EO seeker cannot operate at night, so the SAL would have to be used. A third targeting mode is inertial, meaning the user can “snap and shoot” at a target without needing to lock on out to 200 meters. Both the Spike missile and reusable launcher each cost $5,000 and weigh 10 lb (4.5 kg) loaded, compared to 49 lb (22 kg) for a Javelin missile and fire control unit.
It has an unusual development history, being developed in house, quickly, at low cost, in response to a “rapid development capabilities” (RDC) program. Consequently the government now owns the design and can be assembled by contractors with no prior missile manufacturing experience and uses Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) components.
It is included in the FY2017 Navy budget along with Griffin and Javalin as program element 3342: “Griffin Missile” intended to develop and deliver Counter-Swarm Small Boat defense capabilities for the Surface Fleet. (It is also interesting to see that this program still anticipates the use of the Griffin missile system (GMS) by the LCS even though the Long Bow Hellfire has already been selected to arm these ships.)
The missile is reportedly also effective against UAVs, helicopters, and some general aviation aircraft, so it should offer a degree of defense against attacks using these types of platforms.
Where should we have them? The six WPBs stationed in Bahrain and the two force protection units at King’s Bay and Bangor that escort SSBNs as they transit from homeport to deepwater come to mind as perhaps the highest priority, but we have at least 30 ports that need protection. Total distribution of the systems might be slightly more than 200 including ultimately one for each of the 37sectors, 58 Webber class WPCs, 73 Marine Protector class 87 foot WPBs, plus 34 larger ships.
If the reported costs are correct a unit might be outfitted with a shoulder launcher and three missiles for as little as $20,000. If so, 200 weapon sets would cost only $4M and they would presumably be paid for by the Navy over several years.
Of course, if we are going to use their semi-active laser homing capability at night, we will need to get past current restrictions on the use of lasers.
More info here (pdf).
U.S. Navy photo. Spike Missile Visual Demonstration by Lead Technician Jonathon Pooley