Another Weapon Option, Longbow Hellfire

File:Lockheed Martin Longbow Hellfire.jpg

Photo credit: Wikipedia, Stahlkocher, Lockheed Martin Longbow Hellfire.

The US Navy is looking at weapons to arm the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) for operations against swarming small craft. These weapons will be relatively small and low cost, so they are potentially applicable to Coast Guard vessels as small WPBs. The first system selected was the Griffin, but while it may be improved, it currently has only a very short range.

Earlier, we talked about one of the contenders, the Brimstone, also called the Sea Spear. Another contender has surfaced, including both a missile and a firecontrol system that is already in the US inventory, the LONGBOW system employing the fire-and-forget LONGBOW HELLFIRE AGM-114L missiles. This missile is similar in size to the Brimstone, and like the Brimstone has a millimeter wave guidance, fire and forget capability.

Unlike the Brimstone, there is no claim of a man-in-the-loop capability, which would appear to be a desirable feature, particularly for the Coast Guard, where the target may be surrounded by innocent vessels that we would want to avoid targeting. On the other hand the vertical launch capability does appear to offer some packaging advantages. Lockheed claims “…Nearly 400 radars and more than 14,000 missiles have been contracted for the U.S. Army and international customers” so it is already an established product line with advantages in economy of scale. These systems are currently mounted on Attack Helicopters, so we can be assured that the weight and space requirements are not too demanding for installation on even relatively small craft.

NavyRecognition reports that the Army, Navy, and Lockheed Martin has demonstrated that these missiles can be vertically launched from a 65 foot Navy boat simulating a section of an LCS. The Navy may also want to fit this, or whatever system is ultimately chosen, to their new patrol boat.

Specifications for the AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire from Wikipedia:

  • Range: 8,000 m (8,749 yd)
  • Guidance: Fire and forget Millimeter wave radar seeker coupled with Inertial guidance, homing capability in adverse weather and the presence of battlefield obscurants
  • Warhead: 9 kg (20 lb) tandem shaped charge high explosive anti-tank (HEAT)
  • Length: 176 cm (69.2 in)
  • Weight: 49 kg (108 lb)

Here is Lockeed Martin’s description:

The LONGBOW system is built by a Joint Venture of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. U.S. Army testing shows integrated capabilities enhance the Apache lethality fourfold and survivability sevenfold. The mission equipment package is in production for the U.S. and several international customers. The Apache LONGBOW system is a proven force multiplier that has been battle-proven in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The LONGBOW Weapon System has been in full-rate production since 1996, with First Unit Equipped in 1998. Nearly 400 radars and more than 14,000 missiles have been contracted for the U.S. Army and international customers. For the Apache Block III upgrade, a new Radar Electronics Unit (REU) will replace two line-replaceable units. The REU will provide growth capabilities to the LONGBOW FCR and will reduce maintenance cost.

The LONGBOW FCR has a very low probability of intercept. It rapidly and automatically searches, detects, locates, classifies, and prioritizes multiple moving and stationary targets on land, water and in the air in all weather and battlefield conditions from standoff ranges. Target coordinates are automatically available to other sensors and weapons for target confirmation, rapid engagement, and reduced fratricide. Target data is digitally available through the data modem for real-time transfer to other platforms and command posts. The self-contained Radar Frequency Interferometer provides rapid and accurate identification and azimuth to enemy air defense units. High system reliability and two-level maintenance maximize operational availability and reduce support costs.

The LONGBOW system employs fire-and-forget LONGBOW HELLFIRE AGM-114L missiles that can be launched from defilade, increasing battlefield survivability. The LONGBOW HELLFIRE missile locks on targets before or after launch and has been used in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The M299 Smart Launcher has a fully digital interface to the Apache helicopter and fires all types of HELLFIRE missile.