The U.S. Navy has officially announced that its growing fleet of littoral combat ships (LCSs) will be armed with Norway’s Naval Strike Missile, an over-the-horizon anti-ship platform already in service in Norway’s Navy. Last month, SOFREP reported that the same missile platform is also being converted to sit within the F-35’s internal weapons bays, allowing the carrier launched 5th generation fighter to serve in an anti-ship role as well.
Norway’s Naval Strike Missile (NSM) was developed jointly by Kongsberg and Raytheon, and offers several benefits over the Navy’s long-standing Harpoon anti-ship missiles. The NSM is a sub-sonic platform, meaning it travels at speeds lower than the speed of sound, but what it lacks in velocity it more than makes up for in maneuverability and smarts. The on-board guidance system, which relies on infrared when closing with a target rather than radar that may alert a ship’s missile defense systems, can identify different types of vessels mid-flight, then redirect to impact with the target where it will cause the most damage. The warhead, which is cased in titanium, can even burrow through a ship’s hull on a delayed detonation timer, allowing it to detonate once its deep enough to cause more damage to integral ship systems.
Perhaps most importantly, the NSM missile platforms are able to use that maneuverability to adjust flight paths in such a way as to allow multiple launches to impact a vessel simultaneously, dramatically reducing the chances that a ship’s anti-missile defense systems will be able to intercept them all.
The NSM is a very different approach to anti-ship missiles than those we’ve seen regularly discussed in the media as of late, as both China and Russia have begun fielding hypersonic anti-ship missile platforms that many worry may make conducting carrier operations too dangerous to maintain in a conflict with either state. These hypersonic missiles boast ranges in excess of a thousand miles and travel at velocities that exceed Mach 5 — providing enough kinetic energy to sink even a massive Nimitz of Ford class aircraft carrier on impact, even without their explosive payloads. Missiles of this sort, such as the Chinese DF-21D, remain a significant threat to America’s Navy, but the size of the missile makes it difficult to fire from anything other than ground based launchers. There are rumors of the massive platform being mounted on the under belly of China’s heavy payload bombers, but thus far, those rumors don’t appear to have come to fruition.
The NSM, then, is not intended to counter the massive range and speed demonstrated by China’s coastal defense anti-ship missiles, but rather would serve as the go-to platform for Naval engagements in the open ocean. Although the NSM is currently slated for the LCS, which by its very nature would mean use in shallow water operations near America’s coast, it’s expected that the platform will be used on cruisers soon thereafter as it works its way into the rest of the fleet’s inventory. Guided missile cruisers armed with NSMs and bolstered by sorties of carrier-launched F-35Cs armed with the same would pose a significant threat to any Naval vessel coming within range (which will vary based on launch platform).
The NSM is already in use within the Norwegian Navy, meaning there is no development cost associated with adopting the new platform other than converting it to fire from American assets, making it a rather cost effective addition to the Navy’s arsenal, however, with a current contract worth $14.86 million and the expectation that the contract will grow to upwards of $848 million in coming years, production of the American variant of the NSM is expected to take place within Raytheon production facilities here in the United States.
Featured image: A Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) is launched from the U.S. Navy littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS-4) during missile testing operations off the coast of Southern California (USA). The missile scored a direct hit on a mobile ship target. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zachary D. Bell [Public domain]