[Watch] US Navy Drone Ship Launches Missile at Sea for the First Time


  • For the first time, a U.S. Navy uncrewed surface ship has launched a missile.
  • The missile, SM-6, is capable of engaging almost anything at sea.
  • Unmanned ships will increase the Navy’s firepower at sea cheaply and efficiently, while creating room for new tactics.

In new footage from the U.S. Department of Defense, Ranger, an uncrewed Navy drone ship, launched an SM-6 missile (one of the service’s most advanced guided weapons) while steaming at sea, reports Popular Mechanics.

Ranger: Important first for the service

The video, posted September 3 on Twitter, marks an important first for the service; uncrewed ships like Ranger promise to boost the number of missiles that a Navy fleet can carry at sea, all while keeping shipbuilding costs down.

Ranger is designed with a long, flat cargo area behind the bridge, allowing it to accommodate all sorts of mission payloads, from anti-submarine warfare to mine-hunting. In the video, Ranger appears to be carrying a number of shipping containers onboard with a single 30- to 40-foot white container parked prominently on the ship’s stern.

Suddenly, the roof of the white shipping container rises to a 90-degree position, showing off what appears to be four missile launchers. An SM-6 missile then rises into the air on a pillar of fire.

The SM-6, for its part, is a jack-of-all-trades missile that can engage drones, aircraft, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles. It can even attack enemy warships, striking them at Mach 3.5, and peppering their vulnerable electronics and weapon systems with a small, but powerful blast-fragmentation warhead.

Betting big on unmanned surface vehicles

The Navy is betting big on unmanned surface vehicles (USV). The service envisions several roles for them, but one of the most important is that of a floating missile magazine, augmenting a crewed warship’s firepower.

Current guided-missile cruisers and destroyers are equipped with 90, 96, or 122 missile silos, each of which can carry a single SM-6 missile, SM-2 air-defense missile, SM-3 ballistic missile interceptor, or Tomahawk anti-ship or land-attack cruise missiles.

The rise of the Chinese Navy is prompting the U.S. Navy to boost the number of warships across its fleet from 296 to 355. Warships are expensive, however, and the service’s ambitions are running into a fiscal buzzsaw.

The latest Arleigh Burke-class destroyers cost approximately $1.8 billion per hull, for instance, which caused the Navy to request just one in this year’s defense budget (although, thanks to Congress, that number looks like it will be adjusted upward to three destroyers.) Crewed ships are also expensive to operate and the Navy must pay people to crew them.

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Source: Popular Mechanics