The US Navy is beginning to acknowledge a growing problem that threatens its freedom of the seas: its strike reach is shrinking and aging, while potential opponents’ attack reach is expanding and modernizing. As new designs replace older planes, US carrier aircraft range is shrinking to 1950s levels. Meanwhile, its anti-ship and land attack missiles are generally older, medium-range subsonic designs like the Harpoon Block I, which are vulnerable to air defenses. In contrast, China is deploying supersonic SS-N-22 “Sunburn” missiles bought from Russia, and working on a DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile. The Sunburn is just one of Russia’s supersonic anti-ship missile options for sale, and a joint venture with India has added the supersonic PJ-10 BrahMos.
The math is stark: enemies with longer reach, and better weapons, may be able to create large “no go” zones for the Navy in key conflict areas. In response, think-tanks like CSBA are proposing ideas like AirSea Battle, which emphasizes a combination of advance hardening, more stealth and long-range strike options, and a progressive campaign of blinding strikes and grinding interdiction campaigns. Success will require some changes to American weapons, beginning with the missiles that arm its ships and aircraft. Hence LRASM: the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, with a secondary land-strike role.