Foreign Cooperation Is Essential for Force Protection

By Captain George K. Hamilton, U.S. Naval Reserve

Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile

A significant recent accomplishment was the signing by all 13 nations of the NATO Sea Sparrow consortium of the ESSM production memorandum of understanding, which became effective 29 December 1997. The missile is being developed to work with a variety of current and future fire-control systems and a wide range of launching systems, including the Mk 41 vertical-launching system, the Mk 48 vertical-launching system, and the developmental modular launching system. A prototype of the modular launching system has been tested, leading Spain to join five other ESSM participating governments (Australia, Germany, Turkey, the Netherlands, and the United States) in the development and production of Mk 41 VLS Quad Pack canisters. It is projected that the cost to the United States to develop and deliver the ESSM is only 45% of the total development cost—proof that many nations can cooperate to develop and produce an advanced ship-defense missile in a fiscal environment where no one nation could shoulder the costs alone.

Rolling Airframe Missile

The Rolling Airframe guided-missile weapon system is a cooperative development project, started under a 1979 memorandum of understanding with Germany. The program is developing a lightweight, quick-reaction, high-firepower, ship self-defense weapon system to engage and destroy high-speed antiship missiles. Today, it is governed by the 1987

Block 0 production and the 1996 Block I development memoranda of understanding, the latter amended in October 1998 to include cooperative development of the helicopter/air/ surface-mode capability. The Block I development effort for an infrared-all-the-way guidance upgrade is nearing completion, and a memorandum of understanding for cooperative Block I production is under negotiation. The Rolling Airframe missile is being deployed on U.S. Ticonderoga (CG-47)-class guided missile cruisers, Tarawa (LHA-1) and Wasp (LHD-1)-class amphibious assault ships, amphibious dock landing and transport ships, carriers, and Spruance (DD-963)-class destroyers and on German Klasse 143A guided missile patrol craft, Klasse 122A, 123, and 124 guided-missile frigates, Klasse 130 corvettes, and Klasse 103B guided-missile destroyers.


NULKA is a U.S.-Australian program to develop an expendable off board active electronic decoy for antiship missile defense. It consists of an Australian hovering rocket vehicle and a U.S.-developed payload; each navy has its own unique launching system.

Low-rate initial production for the Mk 53 decoy launching system was approved in March 1998, and a U.S. production contract for seven units was signed in June 1998. Delivery will begin in 1999. Milestone 3 approval was obtained in January 1999, and production contracts were awarded the next month. The Navy plans to purchase 65 ship sets and 274 decoys through fiscal year 2005 for most major surface combatants and selected amphibious ships.

Future Initiatives

Leveraging 30 years of unprecedented success, the NATO Sea Sparrow consortium began discussions on cooperative development of sensors and weapon systems that will be required for future ship self-defense. Possibilities have included:

  • Development of a common infrared search and track (IRST), consolidating current Canadian and Dutch development efforts and the U.S. IRST project.
  • Completion of development of the common modular launching system, which provides an alternative for ships not configured with VLS and a replacement for the consortium's aging trainable Mk 29 launcher.
  • Further improvements to the seeker and guidance of the ESSM being developed by the consortium.
  • Cooperative development of the multifunction radar (MFR) that capitalizes on the development efforts of Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States.

Captain Hamilton is Director of Program Assessments and chief of staff for the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theater Combat Systems.



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