At a time when many U.S. defense programs are facing the budget ax, Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems is looking forward to an important stream of new international business from a ship-defense missile system co-developed with Germany.

On Wednesday, Raytheon commemorated the first delivery of a new version of the Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) to the U.S. Navy with a ceremony at its sprawling airport-area missile plant.

RAM — which gets its name from its spinning action in flight — is a 30-year-old, cooperative program between the U.S. and German governments with industry support from Raytheon and RAMsys of Germany.

Deployed from a deck-mounted launcher carrying 21 missiles, the supersonic RAM is designed to thwart short-range threats such as low-flying cruise missiles, helicopters and swarming boats.

The latest RAM, known as the Block 2 version, adds significant performance upgrades with enhanced maneuverability and thrust, an improved radio-frequency receiver for sensing incoming missile radars and an improved control system.

Its range is officially classified, but has been said to be 30 to 50 percent longer than the older Block 1 missile, which has a reported range of about 5½ miles.

The earlier RAM Block 1 is deployed by the U.S., Germany and six allied nations and is either aboard or planned for deployment on 138 ships, said Capt. John Keegan, RAM program manager for the Navy.

Other allies using the RAM are Egypt, Greece, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

After succeeding in 21 of 22 tests over seven years — including going eight-for-eight in the latest testing — the future is bright for the RAM, Keegan said, calling the program a model of international cooperation.

The first RAM Block 2 delivery marks the beginning of major production and procurement, Keegan said. Keegan also noted that the program is currently under contract for 750 Block 2 missiles, including 445 for Germany — the largest procurement in the program’s history.

Raytheon won a $155.6 million Block 2 production contract for the German navy last year. The initial U.S. Navy delivery stems from a $51.6 million contract awarded to Raytheon in 2012.

Keegan said the U.S. and German governments have agreed to support production of the latest RAM version through 2019 and, under a memorandum of understanding signed earlier this month, the nations have pledged to support RAM development efforts through 2021.

“This will ensure our navies have access to the open seas, reassure our allies and dissuade and deter potential adversaries,” Keegan said. “This is just the start of many years of successful Block 2 procurements.”

Keegan said the Block 2 missile was delivered on time and on budget,

He also pointed out that the Raytheon-made launchers have been delivered on time for 22 years and that the missiles have met deadlines for more than seven years after some delays in the Block 1 missile rollout.

The new missile is expected to reach “initial operating capabilty” — designating that it is ready for combat — by next March.

Raytheon RAM program manager Walt Rogers noted that the latest version of the RAM is the result of a seven-year development effort, with development of various components divided and coordinated among contractors in both countries.

The missile’s targeting seeker and warhead, adapted from the combat-proven Sidewinder missile, are made in Tucson, while the launchers are made at Raytheon Missile Systems in Louisville, Kentucky.

Rick Nelson, vice president of Raytheon’s naval and area mission defense product line, said the RAM’s success was built on years of work by Raytheon engineers,

Nelson said he began working on the program in 1983.

Though no RAM has been fired in combat, Nelson said the system gives naval users an “unfair advantage” at sea.

A German military official noted that the RAM program was started 38 years ago, but that it will continue to adapt to evolving threats.

Uwe Koch, director of air and ship-launched weapon systems for the German agency that handles military technology and a longtime RAM program official, noted that his office in Koblenz features a fading, black-and-white photo of Reagan-era U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger shaking hands with his German counterpart over the two nations’ initial RAM development agreement.

“It reminds us every day that it’s a program we need to care for and cultivate and advance to the next level as the threat evolves,” Koch said, adding that Germany expects to take its first delivery of the RAM Block 2 missiles in 2016.

And though Germany’s military is facing its own budget issues, Koch said he’s optimistic Germany will begin a program to upgrade all of its older RAM missiles with the new version by 2023.

Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at or 573-4181.