By Jim Wolf
Lockheed Martin Corp is to develop within 2 1/2 years a new long-range anti-ship missile, the Defense Department said on Wednesday.
The work falls under a $157.7 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which has been responsible for some of the Pentagon's biggest technology breakthroughs, including the Internet's precursor.
The goal is to develop rapidly and demonstrate a ship-launched weapon that can knock out other ships "at significant stand-off ranges," an item in the Pentagon's daily contract digest said, without elaborating.
The work is expected to be completed by April 2013 in a joint effort between DARPA and the Office of Naval Research, the announcement said.
Development of a new weapons system sometimes takes a decade or more. Lockheed Martin, the Pentagon's No. 1 supplier by sales, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The project comes amid Pentagon concerns over China's development of antiship ballistic missiles capable of holding U.S. aircraft carriers and other warships at risk.
China also has been expanding its military edge over Taiwan and boosting the lethality of its short-range ballistic missiles while raising the risk of "misunderstanding and miscalculation," the Pentagon said in its latest annual report to Congress on China's growing military power.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in a May 3 speech to the Navy League of the United States, said a virtual U.S. monopoly on precision-guided weapons was eroding, "especially with long-range, accurate anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles that can potentially strike from over the horizon."
"This is a particular concern with aircraft carriers and other large, multibillion-dollar blue-water surface combatants," he said.