Naval News learned the information from Lockheed Martin during the PACIFIC 2019 exposition held in October, while discussing Australian programs in which LRASM is or will be competing.
We first learned that $10 million USD have be set in FY 2019 to study the integration of LRASM aboard the venerable Boeing B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber. The AGM-158C LRASM was originally set to be deployed from the U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer and U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet exclusively.
The next generation anti-ship missile achieved early operational capability with the B-1B in December 2018, ahead of schedule. EOC with the Super Hornet was set for late September 2019, however the target was missed as reported by Inside Defense.
Contacted by Naval News, Capt. Will Hargreaves, LRASM program director at Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), said “Integration of LRASM on the B-52 will include work by both services [ed. note U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force] in a manner similar to the highly successful B-1 integration program […] This is not a new program. Integration of existing weapons on new aircraft provides flexibility to our warfighter as they continue to pace the threat.”
When asked if the LRASM integration aboard B-52 was linked to a possible retirement of the B-1, Capt. Hargreaves replied that B-52 integration is not related to B-1 program decisions.
The LRASM program director also told us that timeframe for fielding on B-52 and B-52 LRASM capacity have not yet been determined.
Naval News understands that the B-52 could potentially deploy up to 20 LRASM because that is its payload capacity for the JASSM, on which the LRASM is based (the two missiles share a lot in common, including the same body): Until 2016, the bomber could carry up to 12 JASSMs on its wing pylons. But with the introduction of the Conventional Rotary Launcher in the internal bay from 2016, 8 more missiles can now be carried, increasing the B-52’s JASSM payload by more than 60 percent. In comparison, a single B-1B Lancer can carry and deploy up to 24 LRASM.
B-52 in maritime roles
The B-52 is not new to maritime operations and has demonstrated it can be a valuable asset over the oceans to assist the U.S. Navy. The B-52 was designed and built by Boeing, which has continued to provide support and upgrades. It has been operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) since the 1950s.
The U.S. Air Force started deploying Harpoon anti-ship missiles from B-52G/H Stratofortress in 1983. When the missile was developed for Air Force B-52 units by direction of Strategic Air Command leaders, it was initially fielded with just two units whose operating locations coincided with the B-52Gs potential for an anti-ship role with the 42nd Bombardment Wing, Loring Air Force Base, Maine, and the 43rd Bombardment Wing, Andersen AFB, Guam. As the G-model was retired following Desert Storm, the Harpoon anti-ship capabilities were transferred to the B-52H of the 2nd Bomb Wing, Barksdale AFB, La., and then finally to Minot AFB, N.D.
More recently, in the Summer of 2018, U.S. Air Force B-52s trained with U.S. Navy P-8s in the East China Sea. This was a first, as both services were looking to improve combined and joint service interoperability.
Even more recently, in June this year, a B-52 Stratofortress, assigned to the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., conducted an operational demonstration of the Quickstrike-ER (QS-ER) Naval mine project in the Pacific Ocean.
LRASM for P-8A Poseidon ?
In addition to the B-52 development, Lockheed Martin representatives also told Naval News that fit checks of LRASM with the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft were conducted about one year ago.
About this, here is what Capt. Will Hargreaves told us: “Fit checks are often conducted to determine if the store is physically compatible with the aircraft in advance of any engineering work. LRASM integration on P-8A is not a program requirement”.
Naval News asked both NAVAIR and Lockheed Martin for pictures of those fit checks, but none are available for public release.
U.S. Navy’s P-8A Poseidon currently deploy AGM-84D Block 1C Harpoon anti-ship missiles for their anti-surface warfare missions. Incremental future upgrades include the AGM-84 Harpoon II+ variant which brings GPS and a data link that allows the shooter to change the missile’s target in flight. The venerable (and world famous) Harpoon will have to be replaced, eventually, at some point in the future, as is already the case on surface ships (with the Naval Strike Missile selected by the U.S. Navy for new programs such as the LCS and FFG(X)).
The P-8 is a long-range multi-mission maritime patrol aircraft capable of broad-area, maritime and littoral operations. A military derivative of the Boeing Commercial Next-Generation 737 airplane, the P-8 is militarized with maritime weapons, a modern open mission system architecture, and commercial-like support for affordability. The aircraft has been modified to include a bomb bay and pylons for weapons – two weapons stations on each wing – and can carry 129 sonobuoys. The aircraft is also fitted with an in-flight refueling system. The U.S. Navy is on contract to receive 111 with the potential for additional quantities based on the fleet’s needs.
About AGM-158C LRASM
The AGM-A58C Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) is designed to detect and destroy specific targets within groups of ships by employing advanced technologies that reduce dependence on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, network links and GPS navigation in electronic warfare environments. LRASM will play a significant role in ensuring military access to operate in open ocean/blue waters, owing to its enhanced ability to discriminate and conduct tactical engagements from extended ranges.
Armed with a 1,000 Lbs (454 kg) penetrating blast fragmentation warhead, LRASM is low observable and likely has a range comparable with JASSM ER (around 500 nautical miles).
LRASM is designed to meet the needs of U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force Warfighters in contested environments. The air-launched variant provides an early operational capability for the U.S. Navy’s offensive anti-surface warfare Increment I requirement.
According to a FedBizOps posting from September 27, 2019, it was announced that The Department of Defense is increasing the potential production quantities of LRASM from a possible maximum of 110 to a possible maximum of 400.