Earlier this week at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, a new frontier in Navy Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) was achieved. A simulated AEGIS Baseline 9 configured ship engaged a low flying cruise missile target with an SM-6 missile, based solely on targeting data provided to the ship by the sophisticated sensors carried by a Marine Corps F-35B. This test is yet another example of how the Surface Force and its Marine Corps partners are extending operational horizons, distributing lethality, and increasing offensive fire power.
The NIFC-CA program has been making steady progress for several years, and carrier strike groups have deployed with the capability since March 2015. However in those strike groups, the elevated sensor was an E-2D linked back to the ship in a Cooperative Engagement Capability network. In essence, this lethal capability was limited to CSG operations by its reliance on the E-2D.
In this recent test, the elevated “sensor” was the F-35B, which relayed its data back to the test “ship” through the Multi-Function Advanced Data Link (MADL). This test hints at the promise of future Surface Force lethality, in that F-35B configured LHA’s or LHD’s will not only be able to employ those aircraft in traditional ground support roles, but will now be able to sense, target, and destroy low-flying cruise missiles or strike aircraft far beyond the horizon.
Consequently, AEGIS Baseline 9 ships, equipped with SM-6 missiles, like the one used in this test will be able to accept fire control data from any variant of the F-35 in the future. This will allow for long-range surface-to-air engagements when part of a traditional CSG, as part of an “up-gunned ESG” Adaptive Force Package alongside our Marine Corps partners, or even as part of a Joint integrated fire control engagement with U.S. Air Force F-35A’s providing the target location.
Neutralizing enemy cruise missiles and low flying aircraft at range is just one of the dramatic leaps forward the Surface Force is making in terms of extending offensive battlespace. Recent modifications to the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) have put the Navy on track to employing this weapon as a ship-killer out to the full extent of its range at around 1,000 miles. Additionally, the future frigate program is looking into a variety of surface-to-surface missile options for future frigates and also possible back-fit options for the entire LCS fleet. Earlier this year, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter described the Navy’s success in altering the SM-6 missile for use as a high-speed ship-killer.
The Surface Force is going on the offensive, focusing once again on Sea Control by implementing the concept of Distributed Lethality. We are looking at every ship as a potential offensive weapons platform. We are operating them in new and novel ways, and we are putting potential adversaries on the defensive while making them work harder to find and target us.
Many thanks to the entire team of folks — USMC, USN, White Sands Missile Range, and industry — who came together to demonstrate this awesome new capability.