The US wants to install short-range missiles on a series of warships to fight UAVs

The US Navy wants to install the RIM-116 missile platform and remove the Phalanx cannon on the Arleigh Burke-class warship to increase the ability to intercept UAVs and cruise missiles.

Colonel Tim Moore, director of the US Navy’s Destroyer Modernization Program 2.0, on April 8 revealed plans to upgrade the defense grid for the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer series to improve countermeasures capabilities with threats such as suicide drones (UAVs) and high-speed cruise missiles.

One of the proposed options is to remove the Phalanx close-in defense system (CIWS) on warships and replace them with RIM-116 sight-seeing missile launchers.

“Mark 49 launchers will be installed on Arleigh Burke-class warships equipped with the latest Aegis combat system, and SeaRAM complexes will appear on ships that are not compatible with Mark 49. They will replace the CIWS Phalanx system availability of warships,” the 2025 fiscal year budget proposal document published by the US Navy late last month reads.

Mark 49 is a launcher that can carry 21 RIM-116 missiles. It is integrated into the combat system and uses target data from sensors on warships. Meanwhile, SeaRAM is an independent combat system that includes a launcher carrying 11 RIM-116 missiles, surveillance and target acquisition radar, and infrared and optical-electronic cameras.

The Mark 49 and SeaRAM launchers possess many advantages over the Phalanx. Each RIM-116 shell has a range of 9 km and uses many guidance mechanisms, while 20 mm artillery shells only have an effective range of 1.5 km and cannot track targets like missiles. The superior firing range and guidance system also allow the Mark 49 and SeaRAM to intercept more consecutive targets than the Phalanx.

SeaRAM complex on the destroyer USS Carney in 2016. Photo: US Navy

SeaRAM complex on the destroyer USS Carney in 2016. Photo: US Navy

The US Navy currently operates 73 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, divided into three versions with different combat configurations. Ships of Flight I and Flight II versions, along with 7 Flight IIA ships, are equipped with two Phalanx CIWS clusters located in front of the conning tower and aft. The remaining ships only carry a Phalanx system aft of the superstructure.

The proposal was made nearly two months after a missile from Houthi forces passed through two layers of outer defenses and approached the destroyer USS Gravely within more than 1.5 km, causing it to activate the system. Phalanx to block targets.

This is the first time a US warship in the Red Sea has had to activate the Phalanx, the final shield in a multi-layered defense network, to deal with Houthi attacks.

Tom Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said that the approaching of Houthi missiles by US warships is a worrying sign. Even cruise missiles and slow-flying UAVs can fly more than a kilometer in just a few seconds, so US warship commanders will not have much time to react if faced with an attack at such close range.

In addition to dealing with UAVs and missiles from militia groups, equipping the RIM-116 missile launcher is also Washington’s effort to prepare for large-scale conflict scenarios with major powers, especially in the region. Pacific Ocean, in which each US warship may face a series of cruise and ballistic missiles from the enemy.