US Navy chose Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) for US Navy's LCS program. Kongsberg touts this missile in no uncertain terms as:
NSM is the only fifth generation long range precision strike missile in existence as per today. Already chosen by the Royal Norwegian Navy for its new frigates and new coastal corvettes, the NSM will be fully operational on these ships when they enter service in the near future. The NSM is also selected by the Polish Navy for use on its new coastal artillery installations.
The immediate question one has to ask is this--what is "fifth" generation anti-shipping missile? What ARE real requirements for a missile to become "fifth generation"? Stealthiness? Well, F-35 is "stealth" and is "fifth generation", it flies, however, in such a way that makes all those 1960s and 1970s old timers sitting under the Arizona's burning sun in retirement laugh sarcastically. Maybe the fact that claimed "long range" of 100 nautical miles for such a missile is considered something special? I don't know. This is not impressive, even considering "stealth" and possibly improved signal processing and EW resistance for this missile's homing device.
But the main issue is, of course, speed. It is again subsonic, granted presented as "high subsonic", and that means, even considering NSMs sea-skimming profile--the issue of modern and competent air defense comes up immediately. No doubt, such a missile will be very effective against commercial traffic and against naval targets with weak, or altogether absent, dedicated air defense but if this is a "distributed lethality", it is, certainly, not a very impressive one. I have, in this case, go with what is stated in Ronald O'Rurke's Report for Congress in which he states some rather startling facts about new FFG(X) ship (allegedly Frigate) which is supposed to be main carrier for this missile:
The ship is to be a multimission small surface combatantcapable of conducting AAW, ASuW, ASW , and EMW operations.
Compared to the FF concept that emerged under the February 2014 restructuring of the LCS program, the FFG(X) is to have increased AAW and EMW capability, and enhanced survivability.
The ship’s area defense AAW system is to be capable of local area AAW, meaning a form of area-defense AAW that extends to a lesser range than the area-defense AAW that can be provided by the Navy’s cruisers and destroyers.
The ship is to be capable of operating in both blue water (i.e., mid-ocean) and littoral (i.e., near-shore) areas.
The ship is to be capable of operating either independently (when that is appropriate for its assigned mission) or as part of larger Navy formations.
The new FFX(G) is supposed to have scaled Aegis and even Standard and Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles. This is all fine and dandy once one considers the next entry which, and I quote:
Follow-On ShipsThe Navy wants the follow-on ships in the FFG(X) program (i.e., ships 2 through 20) to have an average unit procurement cost of $800 million to $950 million each in constant 2018 dollars. By way of comparison, the two LCSs that the Navy requested for FY2018 had an estimated average unit procurement cost of about $568 million each, and the two DDG-51 class destroyers that the Navy has requested for FY2019 have an estimated average unit procurement cost of about $1,764 million each.
Get it? Almost a billion a pop. Now get this simplest scenario: Littoral, say of some Zamunda, which has procured P-800 Onyx both on land (shore) and on some small 5-6 missile boats unit of its minute navy. And there is no any US Navy's CBG in sight--after all FFX(G) is supposed to be a bigger, better, badder LCS--that is LITTORAL Combat Ship. So, what are the chances of these FFG(X) getting into battle with such hypothetical "flotilla" which can launch a salvo of Mach=3 capable sea-skimming missiles from 600 kilometers and surviving? What if this salvo consists of 8 P-800s. You know the probability of sinking such an FFG(X) in such a salvo? I don't, but my gut tells me that in case of even two FFG(X) group we may have a very high probability of a leaker, may be two. Remarkably, the only anti-surface weapon these FFG(X)s will have against Zamundian flotilla will be allegedly "long range" (that is less than 185 kilometers, compare to 600) and very slow for modern AD systems Naval Strike Missiles. We, obviously, can play here with salvo model and Fractional Exchange Rates (FERs) but this is beyond the scope of this piece. My point is very simple--unless one talks about sinking some third world weak navies, subsonic anti-shipping missiles become increasingly a niche weapon (for sinking smaller ships) and it is really strange how, yet again, US Navy immensely expensive combatant doesn't stack that well against what is en vogue today and will remain in a foreseeable future--these are high supersonic and hyper-sonic, long-range anti-shipping weapons. For such weapons sinking a billion or two of technology armed with a morally obsolete "fifth generation" missile will be not a big deal and this paradigm is not coming, it is here.
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