Strength at sea
Raytheon's Rolling Airframe Missile protects ships from high-speed threats
It happened in March: Aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Porter, an imposing technological structure, like something out of Star Wars, swiveled across the horizon.
In precise movements, it fixed on a point in the distance. With a pop, a small cap was ejected from one of an array of tubes. Less than a second later, a jet of flame shot from the structure as a missile took flight.
It was the ship’s first live-fire test of a Raytheon-made Rolling Airframe Missile from a SeaRAM Missile Defense System. SeaRAM combines the sensor systems of a close-in weapon system with a multi-round RAM launcher. RAM missiles use active infrared seekers to find and defeat a wide array of airborne threats launched from miles away and traveling at tremendous speeds.
The test was the final step in delivering a best-in-class self-defense capability for the USS Porter.
"The addition of this advanced weapon system to Porter's arsenal is extremely welcome," said Cmdr. Andria Slough, the USS Porter's commanding officer, in a U.S. Navy release. "It is a culmination of the cooperation of several program offices and agencies, both at sea and ashore, ensuring that out here on the front lines, we receive the capabilities we need, when we need them."
USS Porter conducts SeaRAM test fire. (Video: U.S. Navy)
Only two months before the test aboard the USS Porter, Raytheon announced the first-time intercept test of its latest version of RAM, the Block 2 variant, during a U.S. Navy live-fire exercise at China Lake in California. That RAM missile was also successfully launched from a SeaRAM.
RAM is deployed globally on navy ships of all sizes, ranging from 95,000-ton aircraft carriers to corvettes, the world’s smallest warships. RAM defends those vessels from anti-ship missiles, helicopters, aircraft and other surface craft. Even smaller ships, like offshore patrol vessels and fast missile craft, could carry the weight and power of the SeaRAM system.
“The RAM Block 2 continues to demonstrate its ability to counter supersonic and subsonic maneuvering targets,” said Rick Nelson, vice president of Raytheon’s Naval and Area Mission Defense product line.
SeaRAM is based on the proven design of the highly effective Phalanx ship defense system. It uses the same frame, takes up the same space and draws the same power as the Phalanx, but instead of 20 mm bullets, it employs RAMs.
Although the SeaRAM system is not required to employ RAM missiles, it’s an affordable capability upgrade, said Alan Davis, RAM program director.
The capability is of particular interest in the Persian Gulf region, where states are purchasing smaller-class ships to protect their coasts and contribute to regional stability. Guarding that investment from a variety of high-speed, highly maneuverable threats is crucial.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in a February speech at Naval Base San Diego in California that a ship "will be equipped with the weapons and advanced capabilities that it will need to deter any aggressor and to make any aggressor who isn’t deterred very much regret their decision to take us on.”