U.S. Army Pursues New Mid-Range Missile to Fill Gap in Precision Fires

The U.S. Army is seeking a new mid-range missile system that can hit targets between 500 to 1,500 kilometers, or 310 to 930 miles, to help fill a gap in its fires portfolio by 2023.

Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, director of the Long-Range Precision Fires Cross-Functional Team (LRPF CFT), said the surface-to-surface launch capability could prove beneficial if positioned in strategic areas such as the Pacific island chains.

“What a dilemma that would create for our adversary,” he said Sept. 29, referring to China, which the National Defense Strategy states as a near-peer threat along with Russia. “How we would change the calculus in a second, if we could deliver this kind of capability out there.”

The endeavor is currently being researched by his team in a partnership with the Field Artillery School, Fires Capability Development Integration Directorate, and Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO).

Precision fires is currently the Army’s No. 1 modernization priority, since they can allow formations to penetrate through enemy anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities, Rafferty said.

“It enables access at the strategic level and it enables combined arms maneuver at the tactical level,” he said during the 2020 Army Fires Conference.

Army’s current precision fires portfolio includes:

Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA)

The Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) is a self-propelled system built onto a Paladin Integrated Management (PIM) self-propelled howitzer (SPH) chassis.

The ERCA has more firepower with its 58-caliber, 30-foot cannon tube compared to the Paladin’s 39-caliber, 20-foot tube. The longer tube and a different chamber, along with improved projectiles and propellant, allow it to shoot artillery shells out to 70 kilometers, or over 40 miles.

After several successful tests, the Army recently sought Soldier feedback of the system during 1st Infantry Division’s rotation at the National Training Center in California. The Army expects to deliver a set of prototypes to a division artillery battalion in 2023, which will then evaluate the operational concept of the system.

Precision Strike Missile (PrSM)

The Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) is a new surface-to-surface missile (SSM) being developed by Lockheed Martin to increase the range of the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), which has been around for nearly four decades.

The PrSM is half the size of its predecessor that has a maximum firing range of only 300 km, or 180 miles — nearly half of the PrSM’s 500 km range. Both missiles pack the same explosive punch.

The missile now has three successful flight tests under its belt. The next phase of testing will include four shots, one of them to be fired out into the Pacific Ocean from Vandenberg Air Force Base in the Californian coastline.

Strategic fires

At the farthest end of the Army’s fires portfolio are two complementary systems: a long-range cannon system – called Strategic Long-Range Cannon (SLRC) – and a hypersonic weapon, the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW).

The Army and Navy successfully tested a common hypersonic glide vehicle – Common Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) – across the Pacific in March. An Army unit is slated to start training on the system without the live rounds next year. And after additional tests, the weapon will be fielded to a missile battery by 2023.

To help offset the cost of hypersonic weapons, the Army is also looking at a strategic long-range cannon capable of firing a higher volume of rounds that are less expensive. The cannon, which is expected to fire rounds out to 1,000 km, or 620 miles, is currently a science and technology investment led by the Armaments Center at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey.

The feasibility of the system is now being examined by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM).

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