The US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) will soon launch deck-launched Hellfire missiles as part of the Surface Warfare Mission Package that will be integrated into the ship.
The Hellfire firing component of the Surface Warfare Mission Package, now integrated into LCS ships, is an attack system known as the Surface-to-Surface Mission Module (SSMM). For most of its existence, the SSMM was primarily viewed as a counter-drone, aircraft, and helicopter weapon capable of tracking and destroying air and surface threats in ocean warfare engagements. Unsurprisingly, given the multi-domain focus of the Pentagon’s current strategy, Navy weapons developers are now considering firing the SSMM’s Hellfires at land targets.
Capt. Gus Weeks, program manager for LCS mission modules, said that in an upcoming exercise the service will fire SSMM-launched Hellfires at land targets. Speaking to an audience at the Surface Marine Association’s 2022 Symposium, Weeks said the demonstration “is going to be an exercise in determining whether or not we can use the SSMM to engage a stationary land target… we’re trying to see if we can use it a little differently.
The vessel was designed and improved to use speed and its shallow draft to access ports, coastal areas and other high risk regions that are less accessible to deeper draft vessels. Although originally designed as a “littoral” platform, the Navy has recently added lethality to the platform with systems like the Naval Strike Missile, a horizon-launched offensive strike missile. The concept is to leverage the ship’s capability for littoral operations, such as countermine missions, surveillance or close quarters combat, while simultaneously ensuring the ship can contribute to major maritime warfare operations on the high seas. .
The land attack mission is well suited to the LCS as it can operate close to shore and potentially be able to attack high value ground targets. A Hellfire missile is known to operate with a general range of about eight miles from a helicopter, meaning an LCS could be within four miles of a ground target.
The SSMM is fundamental to Navy air and surface defense as it can destroy enemy aircraft, ships or small craft with laser tracking and helicopters. Now the Navy is building on this to ensure the weapon can also support land operations. This could have enormous consequences in the event of an amphibious attack. For example, Marines landing on a beachhead could advance with the help of Hellfire attacks from an LCS. This would be extremely important in an environment where air superiority was not established and where enemy long range guns, air defenses or troop fortifications would need to be targeted from ships like the LCS. Along with the SSMM, the LCS Surface Warfare Mission Pack also includes 30mm cannons, a 57mm cannon, .50 caliber machine guns, and a defensive interceptor missile called SeaRAM.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a highly trained expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. Osborn also worked as an on-air military anchor and specialist on national television networks. He has appeared as a guest military pundit on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also holds an MA in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.