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Navy developing new supersonic anti-ship missile with greater range

Image: U.S. Navy

( Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has confirmed that the U.S. Navy is working on a next-generation supersonic anti-ship missile with a 200-nautical-mile range that would be deployed aboard cruisers and destroyers, USNI News reports.

The development centers around modifications to the Raytheon Standard Missile 6, or SM-6, that gives the sea service a supersonic weapon at a time when naval threats are rising from Russia and China.

“We are going to create a brand-new capability,” Carter told reporters in San Diego earlier this week. “We’re modifying the SM-6 so that in addition to missile defense, it can also target enemy ships at sea at very long ranges.”

The missile’s top speed will clock in around Mach 3.5 and it will extend the ranger of the CRUDES force far beyond the current reach of the Boeing RGM-84 Harpoon anti-surface missile, an anti-ship missile first introduced in the 1970s, USNI News reported.

The naval institution newswire service reported further:

The modified SM-6 – part of a $2.9 billion missile buy over the next five years — will be the largest new anti-ship capability in decades onboard the service’s fleet of guided missiles and cruisers and indicative of the Navy’s push to load its ships with more offensive firepower – codified in the “distributed lethality” philosophy pushed forward by service surface leaders in 2015.

“We haven’t been slightly leaning forward for a very long time. When you start to see the language start to change the [Chief of Naval Operations] has changed his tone about China – now they’re a peer adversary,” an industry official told USNI News in January.

“As the tone in the Navy changes from a force that will get fired upon before we take action, will we move forward and start taking action in different environments? And what effects can go do that?”

As the Navy shifts focus to more offensive combat directed at more sophisticated enemies like China and Russia, the service’s emphasis will be on how best to maximize use of the hard-to-reload vertical launch system cells aboard warships. reported in December that the Navy was rediscovering its core mission – ship-killing – and this new supersonic SM-6 appears to be in line with that renewed focus.

The de-emphasis on ship killing began at the end of the Cold War, when Department of Defense budget cuts began in the early 1990s as part of President Bill Clinton’s efforts to glean a “peace dividend” that would result partly in budgetary savings and partly in increased domestic spending.

The results were understandable, given the demise of the once-vaunted Soviet navy: Cutbacks in the number of U.S. Navy ships, subs and personnel and delayed replacement of the venerable Harpoon ship-killing missile, Popular Mechanics noted. At the time, the U.S. Navy was in a class all by itself in terms of naval power projection.

In addition, the Navy is adding lasers to its arsenal, as a means of downing drones and incoming missiles, as well as railgun technology.

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