US Army takes US Navy Tomahawk cruise missile and SM-6 missile to hit ‘Russia and China’ at medium range

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The United States Navy (USN) last week “rehearsed” the use of its Standard 6 (SM-6) ship-launched missile from road-mobile launchers under United States European Command.

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A collaborative, joint effort with the U.S. military—part of this latest medium-capability (MRC) “Typhoon” system—showed containers on articulated trucks supposed to carry the SM-6.

The US Naval Forces Europe-Africa/US Sixth Fleet handle tweeted a photo of the truck-mounted launchers that “enable rapid defense of the maritime domain”.

The U.S. Army’s MRC/’Typhoon’ missile, currently under development, will fill the mid-range capability gap between the 2,776 kilometer Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) range and the 482 kilometer range of the precision missile (PrSM) – both of which are also under development. In other words, it needs missiles capable of hitting targets between 500 and 1,800 kilometers away.

US Army partners with US Navy

Until both are ready, the Army will operate the Navy-launched Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missile (LACM) and the surface-to-air SM-6. While the Tomahawk has some anti-ship utility, the Block-1A variant of the SM-6 has limited land and sea attack potential.

Besides its primary role of shooting down aircraft, cruise missiles and hitting incoming ballistic missiles in their “terminal stages”. Some reports, however, suggest that the SM-6 and Tomahawk will continue to operate alongside the Typhoon.

The commonality the Army is trying to build with the Navy extends not to the Tomahawk and SMs, but also to the Mk.41 Vertical Launch System (VLS), which will fire the Typhoon MRC missile.

File Image: Tomahawk missile via USNI

A derivative of the Mk.41 VLS was also tested on a US Navy Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV), as part of its “Ghost Fleet Overlord Program” in September last year.

An SM-6 was launched from the USV Ranger, which signified “groundbreaking cross-domain and cross-service concepts that the Office of Strategic Capabilities and @USNavy are rapidly developing,” the Department of Defense tweeted.

Each MRC Typhon launcher has four cells and is installed on the trailer in a hinged rack that allows it to be transported in a horizontally stowed configuration during transport, according to an illustrative graphic from the U.S. Army.

An illustration of an MRC Typhoon missile system and battery released by the United States Army

Destined for China and Russia

Marcia Holmes, deputy director of the US Army‘s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), told a September 2021 conference: “By maintaining commonality with the Navy, we can capitalize on modernization efforts , on investment strategies, through mid-range service capability program to include joint test events… the Navy and Marine Corps.

A report by Breaking Defense, however, said that “MRC’s progress is another leap forward for the Army’s long-range strike plans, which are critical to the service’s role in the fight against China in all domains – land, sea, air, space and cyberspace. ”

China’s long-range cruise missiles like the YJ-18, the unorthodox DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) and the PL-15 air-to-air missile with a range of 300 kilometers beyond visual range (BVR) would certainly keep the US Navy and US Air Force from approaching Chinese shores and attacking successfully from afar in the Western Pacific.

This anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capability, coupled with its home advantage against the United States‘ “away disadvantage” – recognized by its military leaders and experts – triggered a technological and massive doctrinal effort to catch up.

According to Miguel Miranda, founder of the Manila-based company 21st Century Asian Arms Race website, China has “the largest selection of short- and medium-range anti-aircraft weapon systems in the world.”

Anti-aircraft, anti-missile and anti-drone systems are coming out of Asia and Europe – but mainly from Asia. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are all doing their own thing. An outlier like Israel, with the full support of the United States, continues to work on its air defense systems.

So it’s a crowded slot, and it’s no surprise that the US military is now trying to stay one step ahead,” he said. Miranda was answering a question about the geopolitical and techno-industrial-military context surrounding the development of Typhoon.

With the system initially deployed in Europe, the United States hopes to use this capability against Russia. A June 2022 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report noted, “Reported improvements in Russian and Chinese artillery systems present a challenge for the U.S. military.

Improved and longer-range artillery systems from Russia and China, new employment techniques leveraging unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for target acquisition, and the proliferation of special munitions – such as as precision, thermobaric, stray, and top-attack ammunition – have reignited concerns about the potential impact of Russian and Chinese artillery on US combat operations and ground-based combat systems.

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