The U.S. should deploy a new anti-ship missile made by Lockheed Martin Corp. as quickly as possible to counter improved Chinese and Russian naval capabilities in Asian waters, the top U.S. Pacific commander said.
Lockheed’s air-launched Long Range Anti-Ship Missile is a “great capability we need to bring on line fast,” Admiral Harry Harris told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday. He spoke hours before Secretary of State John Kerry was to meet at the State Department with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, as each country has accused the other of escalating military tensions in the western Pacific.
The anti-ship missile, known by its acronym LRASM, is included the proposed Pentagon budget for fiscal 2017 as part of $8.1 billion to improve U.S. naval and underwater combat technologies. Defense Secretary Ash Carter highlighted the spending request last month as key to countering improved Russian and Chinese weapons and vessels.
The Navy plans to buy the first 24 of the Lockheed anti-ship missiles next year and 464 through 2021. They are scheduled to be put on B-1B bombers starting in September 2018 and on Navy F/A-18E/F fighters a year later, according to Pentagon budget documents.
China is working to deploy anti-ship missiles that can be fired increasingly far from U.S. vessels, making them harder to detect and defeat, Harris said, and both China and Russia have fielded anti-ship missiles speedier than those now in the U.S. inventory.
“I need weapons systems of increased lethality that go faster, go further, and are more survivable,” Harris said. He said the U.S.’s “subsonic ship-to-ship munition, the Harpoon, is essentially the same missile we had in 1978, when I was a newly commissioned ensign.”
China also is improving the lethality and survivability of its attack submarines and building quieter, high-end diesel- and nuclear-powered submarines, he said.
China has four operational JIN-class ballistic-missile submarines and at least one more may enter service by 2019, the admiral said. “When armed, a JIN-class SSBN will give China an important strategic capability that must be countered,” Harris said.
Russia is also a Pacific threat, modernizing its fleet of Oscar-class multipurpose attack nuclear submarines and producing the new Yasen-class, he said.
Russia late last year has also home-ported its newest Dolgorukiy-class missile sub in the Pacific, “significantly enhancing their strategic deterrence posture,” he said.
Given these developments the U.S. “must maintain its asymmetric advantage in undersea warfare capability including our attack submarines, their munitions, and other anti-submarine warfare systems” such as Boeing Co. P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft and ship-borne systems, he said.