WASHINGTON — The Army is pushing its document related to long-range precision munitions requirements for the future vertical lift modernization effort through the approval pipeline. And you can expect it to be finalized by the end of the year, according to Brig. Gen. Wally Rugen, who is in charge of Army aviation modernization.
Long-range munitions for the service’s future aircraft will be critical to engage the enemy’s defensive positions from a comfortable standoff, out of range of enemy detection.
The service recently evaluated the Rafael-manufactured Spike non-line-of-sight missile, firing it from an AH-64E Apache attack helicopter most recently at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona. The missile also had test shots in Israel. So far the missile has hit 100 percent of its targets, Rugen told Defense News in an interview shortly before the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.
The last missile firing resulting in the weapon hitting a moving target in the dark, Rugen said.
The evaluation helped the Army define requirements for long-range precision munitions, but now the service will have to decide what it buys and how many.
“When we look at what our critical path is, right now we’ve focused our critical path on the penetration phase of multidomain operations,” Rugen said, referring to the Army’s war-fighting concept designed to go up against adversaries with strong defenses.
“We think that the quantities of these capabilities to conduct a penetration are going to be lower than, let’s say, our munitions requirement for Hellfire or Joint Air-to-Ground Munitions,” Rugen said. That latter weapon, JAGM, is the replacement for the Hellfire missile currently fired from manned and unmanned platforms in the Army’s fleet.
“At the end of the day, once we penetrate and start dis-integrating, we can bring forth those current capabilities to conduct more dis-integration and exploitation,” he said. “There is a layered aspect to this, and when we look at our munitions strategy, where we do need some great sophistication, greater capability, we don’t think we need the quantities” like Hellfire, JAGM or rockets.
The Army isn’t just focused on longer-range munitions for its future aircraft; it is also evaluating lighter-weight munitions for unmanned aircraft systems.
The service evaluated lightweight precision munitions recently but did not find anything that satisfied requirements. But the Army did successfully fire a Dynetics-made precision glide munition from an extended-range Gray Eagle drone during a demonstration at Naval Station China Lake, California.
Even more broadly, the Army is focused on an entire air-launched effects, or ALE, portfolio that is to include munitions and a variety of unmanned aircraft that can perform surveillance and reconnaissance, or serve as a weapon itself.
Rugen said ALE will go through an Army Requirements Oversight Council review in the coming weeks.
An ALE capability will see increasingly complex demonstrations in the coming year at Defender 2020 in Europe, at the RIMPAC exercise in the Pacific and at a western test range. An ALE concept was recently demonstrated at Yakima Air Base during the Joint Warfighting Assessment in May where an unmanned aircraft was launched from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to perform surveillance and reconnaissance for a ground robotics combat breech exercise happening on the ground below.
In the demonstrations coming up, “scenarios will be a bit more complex with more integration of more sensors and more shooters,” Rugen said.
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.