WASHINGTON Lockheed Martin Corp said it expected a Defense Department contract for further development of an air-launched long-range anti-ship missile, alongside one just received for a ship-based version.
The weapons are designed to knock out enemy ships using onboard sensing and computing capabilities. They would reduce U.S. dependence on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems as well as data links and the space-based Global Positioning System.
Such onboard capabilities could be critical in war if U.S. eyes in the sky were blinded by anti-satellite weapons, for instance, of a type that China demonstrated in January 2007, when it pulverized one of its own orbiting weather satellites.
Lockheed has already won a $157.7 million follow-on contract to develop the ship-launched, high-speed, liquid-fueled version. The Pentagon said Wednesday that work on this was expected to be completed by April 2013.
"We and our customers believe this technology fills a critical capabilities gap in anti-surface warfare," the company said in a statement on Thursday.
It anticipated a "Phase 2" contract in the near future for the air-launched version, derived from Lockheed's Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER) system, the statement said.
"We have great confidence in our ability to develop and ultimately produce an effective, affordable, highly-accurate precision air- and ship-launched weapon system for the naval warfighter," added the company, the Pentagon's No. 1 supplier by sales.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an incubator for leap-ahead technologies for the military, awarded Lockheed the first contract under the long-range anti-ship missile program in June 2009.
The joint DARPA-U.S. Navy program aims to demonstrate a mature enough weapon "to support rapid transition to operational use," DARPA said at the time.
The project is moving ahead amid Pentagon concerns over China's development of anti-ship ballistic missiles capable of putting U.S. aircraft carriers and other warships at risk.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in a May 3 speech to the Navy League of the United States, said a virtual U.S. monopoly on precision-guided weapons was eroding, "especially with long-range, accurate anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles that can potentially strike from over the horizon."
"This is a particular concern with aircraft carriers and other large, multibillion-dollar blue-water surface combatants," he said.
The new U.S. anti-ship missile would have sufficient range to engage targets from "well beyond direct counter-fire ranges of projected threats," DARPA said last year.
(Reporting by Jim Wolf; editing by Tim Dobbyn)