Tucson tech: Raytheon, British firm working on small-ship missile launcher

2013-08-06T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T11:59:25Z Tucson tech: Raytheon, British firm working on small-ship missile launcherDavid Wichner Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Looking to international markets, Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems is teaming up with a British company to develop a naval missile system for smaller ships.

Raytheon has signed an agreement to adapt some of its smaller missiles to a multipurpose naval launcher developed by Chemring Group. The companies are spending their own money on development and plan a proof-of-concept, live-fire demonstration in October.

Chemring, a longtime supplier of systems that deploy defensive countermeasures like metallic chaff and flares, has designed its Centurion launcher to fire munitions as well.

Its relatively compact size would allow the Centurion to be mounted aboard military vessels as small as patrol boats - opening up a big market among foreign navies that lack big platforms like cruisers and aircraft carriers.

"We were looking for opportunities to grow in the small-ship market, and Chemring had the Centurion launcher, which would be a perfect fit for some of those," said Ed Thomas, senior manager of business development for Raytheon's Naval and Area Mission Defense product line.

Raytheon already makes weapons such as the Standard Missile-6, the Evolved SeaSparrow and the Rolling Airframe Missile for defense of larger ships.

Thomas said Raytheon officials met up with Chemring at a trade show about two years ago.

Initially the companies are focusing on adapting Raytheon's Griffin small guided missile and its wireless TOW (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wireless-guided) guided missile to the Centurion, he said.

The missiles could be mounted together in the 12-tube, carousel-like Centurion, or they could be mixed with other "effectors," including countermeasures such as radar-garbling metallic chaff or flare-like projectiles that fool heat-seeking missiles.

Developed by Raytheon as a speculative program and initially used as a special-operations weapon, the 43-inch-long Griffin is in production and deployed on the Marine Corps' C-130 Harvest Hawk gunship.

About 5.5 inches in diameter, the laser- and GPS-guided Griffin has a reported surface-launched range of 3 1/2 miles. The TOW is about six inches in diameter, with a range of about 2 1/2 miles.

"The brilliant part of this is the diameter of the cells or tubes for this launcher match almost identically to the diameter of our current effectors, within reason," said Thomas, who has been with Raytheon and predecessor Hughes Aircraft for 29 years.

Raytheon should have no trouble adapting the launcher to existing ship fire-control systems, Thomas said, noting that the company's engineers are very familiar with systems used by allied nations.

Any sales of the systems would have to be approved by the State Department, which regulates foreign weapons sales.

Cost figures were not available, but Thomas noted that the size of the vessels for which the Centurion is designed limits what navies are willing to spend to outfit them.

Steve Kerchey, senior business manager for naval products at Chemring Countermeasures, said the Centurion saves both space and money by combining countermeasures with defensive weapons on a common launcher.

"Instead of needing a launcher for each one of those solutions, you have a single launcher, so you're cutting your costs right there," Kerchey said in an interview from England.

The Centurion system is intended to for use against enemies attacking at relatively close quarters, such as swarming boats, Thomas said.

The Navy sees swarms of small boats as a major threat to multibillion-dollar aircraft carriers and other major warships. In 2000, a suicide bomber in a small boat punched a hole in the destroyer USS Cole while it was docked at Aden, Yemen, killing 17 sailors.

There haven't been any coordinated swarming-boat attacks against U.S. ships, but the tactic is still being used by pirates off Somalia, Thomas said.

Nations in the Middle East and Asia are expected to be interested in the defensive system, he added.

"We have many interested navies, but we don't have a contract as such," Kerchey said, declining to name specific nations.

The test in October will take place on the Salisbury Plain, near Chemring's headquarters in southeast England.

Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at dwichner@astarnet.com or 573-4181.

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