Why F-35 Pilots Love the Naval Strike Missile

Kyle Mizokami

Key point: The Navy and Air Force need a way to deter and, if necessary, eliminate enemy ships. This is where F-35s armed with the Naval Strike Missile come in.

The modern age of the missile at sea was arguably kicked off in October 1967, when the Israeli destroyer Eilat, sailing fourteen miles off the coast of Port Said, was ambushed by a pair of Osa-class guided missile boats. The missile boats launched four missiles, three of which hit the ex–Royal Navy destroyer, sinking her and killing forty-seven sailors.

The sinking of the Eilat was an earthquake in the world of naval warfare, and set off an arms race in the field of antiship missiles. Within ten years all major navies had their own ship-killing missiles, a rivalry that continued until the end of the Cold War. Now, with the Chinese and Russian navies resurgent, many countries (including the United States) are looking to replace their aging antiship missile arsenals with a new, modern design.

One of the newest tactical missile designs around is built by the Norwegian firm Kongsberg. A Russian neighbor with a very long coastline, Norway required a modern missile capable of defending that coastline. The result is the Naval Strike Missile (NSM), a clean-sheet design that Kongsberg describes as “the only fifth generation long range precision strike missile in existence.”

NSM is launched from a helicopter or ship platform by a solid rocket fuel booster that quickly accelerates the missile to cruising speed. Seconds later, the turbojet engine kicks in and the missile continues on to target. NSM has a range of just over one hundred miles.

Unlike supersonic missiles such as the Russian P-800 Oniks, which is capable of Mach 2.5, NSM stays well below supersonic speeds. Kongsberg, according to an industry rep interviewed at the 2013 DSEI show in London, England, believes in “smart missiles, rather than speedy missiles.” This philosophy has created a totally different missile than existing designs. Rather than attempt to overcome enemy defenses with a fast missile, Kongsberg instead made its missile more difficult to detect—and therefore more difficult to shoot down.

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