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The FERRET is a 145 pound, 75 inch-long, all-weather missile with a range of 370 nautical miles and a loiter time of almost 2 hours. It can reach speeds in excess of 300 knots and has a minimum search speed of 80 knots. With its 20-pound warhead, FERRET is primarily intended for smaller targets like command centers and SAM launchers. What makes the FERRET Cruise Missile different from other missiles is that it provides a multi-sensor platform that can download real-time battlefield imaging and non-imaging data to the sailor at sea or the marine or soldier in the field. Possible future launch and control platforms include guided-missile cruisers and frigates in addition to attack submarines. From a submarine, the SEA FERRET will be launched using either encapsulated HARPOON propulsion and guidance sections or in a buoyant capsule released from the countermeasure set-acoustic (CSA) launcher.

SEA FERRET potential applications include countering regional airborne and surface ASW threats and providing real-time battlefield information, situation awareness and targeting at long, over-the-horizon stand-off ranges for the submarine and special operation forces in the field. It could be used in a search and destroy role as part of a post-strike battle damage assessment looking for targets that survived the initial attack. And it enables precision directed or autonomous attacks on shore, sea and air targets.

A prototype of the SEA FERRET, a small sea launched cruise missile, was successfully controlled by the USS ASHEVILLE (SSN 758), a Marine Reconnaissance (Recon) team ashore, and an Army Aviation team during an operational demonstration of the system in December of 1996.

Commander Submarine Forces Pacific (COMSUBPAC) sponsored the exercise which was conducted in the Southern California operational areas and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. After a simulated underwater launch, the SEA FERRET flew over the area of operations attached to a Cessna 206 test aircraft. The aircraft responded to and flew flight patterns as flight commands were transmitted to the SEA FERRET. The primary goal of the exercise was to prove the missile could be controlled using carry on equipment patched to existing submarine communication systems, and that control could be seamlessly transferred from a submarine to Marine Corps and Army Aviation units while all three users received a continuous flow of sensor data. Although the SEA FERRET carried only a daylight camera as payload for this demonstration, the missile can be outfitted with up to four sensor packages.

During the first mission, SEA FERRET provided real time video and sensor data to the submarine operating at periscope depth. The submarine crew acquired control of the missile, and transmitted updated mission plans as required to conduct reconnaissance of the battle space. The missile located an early warning radar site, a power station, and a surface to air missile site. Later, control of the mission was transferred to a Marine Recon ground team to assist in locating and simulated destruction of a SCUD missile. In addition to providing sensor data, the missile served as a communications node. For example, each user exchanged electronic mail (e-mail) with the other units via a laptop computer controlled system. Each operator controlled and altered the mission without using any other external communications link.

On the second mission, the submarine conducted Battle Damage Assessment, scouted the shore area for a Marine Recon team ingress, and found a second SCUD and conducted a simulated attack. Using the mission planning data provided by the SEA FERRET, the submarine conducted a night time insertion of a Marine Recon team. On the final mission, conducted the next morning, the submarine transferred control of the missile to the previously inserted Marine Recon team, which surveyed a C3I site. Finally, the Marines transferred control to a simulated Comanche helicopter attack force which found the early warning radar and two SAM sites, one of which it attacked.

SEA FERRET has been under development by Northrop Grumman Corporation since 1991. Although not a program of record, as a result of the potential applications and capabilities demonstrated onboard USS ASHEVILLE, interest continues to grow for further evaluations of the system.

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Created by John Pike
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Updated Friday, May 01, 1998 3:52:32 PM