WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army will adjust its maximum range requirement following critical test shots of the two precision strike missiles competitively under development by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin later this year, according to Brig Gen. John Rafferty, who is in charge of the service’s long-range precision fires modernization effort.
The LRPF effort is the top modernization priority for the Army, and the PrSM weapon, meant to replace the Army Tactical Missile System, is a centerpiece effort within that portfolio.
The service has accelerated PrSM’s fielding timeline by several years and will stick to the baseline requirements for the missile to get there.
The missile’s current maximum range requirement is 499 kilometers, which is the range that was compliant under the now-collapsed Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the United States and Russia. The United States withdrew from the treaty in August, and so the Army no longer has to adhere to the range limit for its missiles.
Rafferty said he thinks the baseline missile could actually reach a range of 550 kilometers based on data from both companies competing to build the PrSM. But the Army won’t consider adjusting its requirements until each company has had a chance to see how their respective missile behaves in real flight tests on White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, in November and December.
While each initial shot won’t reach the current maximum required range, the tests will tell the service what the PrSM missile offerings might be capable of when it comes to range, and more accurately than a simulation could predict, Rafferty said.
Lockheed and Raytheon will fire off two more shots each before reaching the end of the technology maturation and risk reduction phase.
Rafferty said the Army will adjust its requirement as soon as possible before entering a second “enhanced” TMRR phase, which comes before the service chooses a winner. The Army wants to give the competitors “a chance to adjust their models based on a real flight,” he added.
“We want to make sure the performance matches their models or gives them an opportunity to update their models, and then give them a chance to come back with an updated estimate of what they think they can really do.” the general said.
Raytheon’s director of advanced land warfare systems, J. R. Smith, wouldn’t go into details about the company’s PrSM range capabilities due to competition sensitivity, but he did say the company may be able to reveal more “sometime in the early part of next year.”
“Rocket motor cases have become much lighter, composite cases,” he noted, adding that Raytheon worked with the Army on some development efforts related to lightening the load on the missile.
“The lighter the load, the farther it goes,” Smith said. “Every available opportunity to increase the amount of propellant is a good thing.”
“We feel pretty confident that we can begin to work with our current missile design with some modest improvements and some other things,” he added. “As we learn more about how we can control the flight path of the missile, there are things that we can do to definitely exceed 500 kilometers. How much farther? We’ve discussed that with the Army; I think they’re satisfied that we’ve got a good initial growth path.”
Future spiral development could also benefit efforts toward longer ranges, Smith explained, including a new rocket motor, a different propellant or other new technology.
Lockheed’s business development manager for LRPF, Misty Holmes, said while the company has focused on designing the missile for the Army’s 499-kilometer requirement, it is ensuring open architecture so capability can be spiraled in to achieve longer ranges.
In September, the LRPF Cross-Functional Team, which is part of Army Futures Command, spent time reviewing its science and technology investments for the next five-year defense plan, and Rafferty said the service is investing heavily during that time period in extended-range propulsion for PrSM.
“It looks like 700-750 kilometers out for this missile is entirely possible, potentially even longer,” Rafferty said.
“But it depends what we pursue,” he added, because “we are committed to the form factor of our launch pod container because we’re recapping our suite of launchers. The Army is going to be using the [High Mobility Artillery Rocket System] and the [Multiple Launch Rocket System] for a long time.”
The service won’t do much more than recapitalize those systems with software updates and a face-lift, Rafferty said.
The new missiles “have got to fit inside our launch pod containers,” which will be designed to accommodate two missiles in a container as opposed to just one, he said, so that could be a limiting factor when it comes to pushing range.
“We’re not willing to sacrifice to get this extended range,” Rafferty said.
“The other thing to consider is that once we field this 500-plus-kilometer capability, our adversaries are going to make some adjustments," he added, "so let’s wait for a reaction before we do a counteraction.”
As the Army contemplates longer ranges for the PrSM, Raytheon and Lockheed have been preparing for their first test shots. Raytheon’s will take place in November, followed by Lockheed in December.
The schedule was delayed by 90 days due to a mishap at a subcontractor facility that both vendors are using, Rafferty told Defense News earlier this summer, but the service is now on track.
“We’re really kind of right on our schedule for getting the fourth quarter,” Lockheed’s Holmes said. “Some of the items that are left on the list is to get to range safety. We’re working closely with the customer to ensure that we can achieve all the requirements there, but we’re doing a lot of internal verification and validation of our software, our simulations, doing multiple flight worthiness test dry runs to make sure we understand all the environmental factors.”
Raytheon is running environmental tests of inert missiles to take into account factors like electromagnetic interference — “all those issues that you want to lay flat and fully understand before you actually fire a missile and send it downrange,” Smith explained.
The company is also working to qualify its Huntsville, Alabama-based Dynetics-built flight termination system. “That needs to be an extraordinarily reliable system. There is no room for failure if you decide that you need to terminate your task,” Smith said.
“The good news is that we are making really good progress, and that should get wrapped up in the weeks ahead,” he added. “We do not foresee that we will run into any issues that will preclude us from our flight test plan in November.”
The service is planning to field the base missile it chooses in 2023 through an urgent materiel release, and will then spiral technology into that missile so it can go after multidomain targets like moving ships, air defense systems and electronic warfare systems by 2025, followed by other spirals to include enhanced lethality, range, and a missile-delivered intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability among other novel payloads.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.