Weapon Systems

Surface ships accompanying Ford Strike Group capable of launching 300 missiles


Capable of firing nine types of missiles, the four surface ships of the Ford CSG can destroy targets well beyond the range of fighter jets.

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An Arleigh Burke-class destroyer launches a Tomahawk cruise missile. [US Navy]
An Arleigh Burke-class destroyer launches a Tomahawk cruise missile. [US Navy]

The four combat surface ships accompanying the Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group (CSG) are capable of launching more than 300 vertically launched missiles at any moment, posing a serious threat to any adversary, even those beyond fighter jet range.

The Ford CSG is comprised of its flagship and namesake, the Ford-class aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8, Destroyer Squadron 2 (DESRON 2) and assigned destroyers, and USS Normandy (CG-60).

USS Normandy is a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser, while DESRON 2 comprises Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Ramage (DDG 61), USS McFaul (DDG 74) and USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116).

Each of the four surface ships utilizes the Mark 41 Vertical Launching System (MK 41 VLS) and combined are equipped with more than 300 missiles.

The USS Hudner along with two other destroyers in 2020. [US Navy]
The USS Hudner along with two other destroyers in 2020. [US Navy]

The USS Hudner alone is equipped with 96 MK 41 VLS missiles.

"MK 41 VLS is the only launching system that can simultaneously communicate with weapon control systems and missiles of every warfighting mission area: anti-aircraft, anti-surface, anti-submarine, ballistic missile defense and land attack," says its maker, Lockheed Martin.

The system can launch nine types of missiles, including the RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 (SM-3), the RIM-174 Standard Extended Range Active Missile (ERAM) or Standard Missile 6 (SM-6), and the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM).

The SM-3 is a defensive weapon that the US Navy uses to destroy short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles, according to RTX, formerly known as Raytheon.

The SM-3 Block II-A variant has two distinct new features: larger rocket motors that will allow it to defend broader areas from ballistic missile threats and a larger kinetic warhead.

The Block II-A has a maximum range of 1,200 nautical miles (2,200km) and flies at Mach 13.2, say sources.

Extended offensive range

For its part, the SM-6 is designed to engage manned and unmanned aircraft attacks and cruise missiles, protect ships against ballistic missiles in their final phase of flight and strike surface targets at a maximum range of about 370km, according to RTX.

The Tomahawk is a long-range, all-weather cruise missile that can hit land and sea targets as far as 1,600km away.

The new version of the missile includes upgraded communications and navigation systems that increase its viability by making it tougher to counter and detect electronically.

It is capable of carrying a range of warheads, and can be programmed to attack a range of targets, including enemy air defense systems, command and control centers, communication facilities and other high-value targets.

The missile enables the Ford CSG to strike at distances that the carrier group's F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter jets cannot reach.

Compared to the Tomahawk's 1,600km range, the combat radius of a Super Hornet is roughly 822km for interdiction missions.

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