Investment is flowing into naval surface weaponry, notably anti-ship and land-attack missiles, plus naval gunnery, the latter of which is experiencing a renaissance as a versatile means of engaging hostile vessels and land targets.
In May 2016, the US Navy completed developmental free flight testing of its next-generation Boeing AGM-84N Block-II+ Harpoon Anti-Ship Missile (AShM) onboard a Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The AGM-84N is the latest iteration of the air-, ship-, land- and submarine-launched versions of the AGM-84 family, which entered in the US Navy inventory in 1977 and has since witnessed 7500 rounds delivered.
About 20 years later, an advanced upgrade was introduced by Boeing with the AGM-84 Block-II, which incorporated a GPS (Global Positioning System) assisted Inertial Navigation System, enabling the missile to have both an anti-ship and a land attack capability. The AGM-84 Block-II missile is employed by 29 foreign militaries, acknowledges the US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR). The AGM-84 Block-II+ provides a rapid-capability enhancement that include a new guidance navigation unit with GPS; enhancements to the reliability and survivability of the weapon; a new data link that enables in-flight updates, improved target selectivity, an abort option and enhanced resistance to electronic countermeasures.
With the US Navy fleet fielding expected in the fourth quarter of 2017 onboard the F/A-18E/F, to be followed by Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft in the 2021 timeframe, the new version will join the Raytheon AGM-154C1 Joint Stand-Off Weapon as the US Navy’s only two air-to-ground network-enable weapons. During the US Navy League Sea-Air-Space symposium in April 2015, Boeing unveiled the AGM-84 Harpoon Next Generation as an upgrade kit for existing AGM-84 family weapons which includes a more fuel-efficient engine, additional fuel and a smaller 297 pound/lb (135 kilogram/kg) warhead. These enhancements, together with the AGM-84 Block-II missile’s data link and missile guidance system, doubles the missile range from 67 nautical miles/nm (124 kilometres/km) to more than 134nm (248.2km).
More recently identified as AGM-84 Harpoon Block-II Extended Range (ER), this weapon is being proposed to meet the US Navy’s urgent requirement to equip the force’s ‘Freedom’ and ‘Independence’ class Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and the force’s new Fast Frigate (FF) programme with an over-the-horizon missile.