WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army’s new pursuit for a mid-range missile will be finalized by the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office by the end of the year, the office’s director told Defense News in an interview ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.

The service has set a goal to field the chosen missile in less than three years — by the fourth quarter of fiscal 2023 — which means it can’t start from scratch, said Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood.

“You might be able to take something that’s in the [science & technology] world already and do something with it,” he said. " You might be able to take an existing joint service program and do something with it. There are lots of opportunities. I don’t think that ’23 is an unrealistic outcome."

The RCCTO received the mission in July following a strategic fires study conducted by the Army’s force development arm earlier this year. The development team had found a gap in the service’s ability to reach enemy targets in the 500-2,000-kilometer range.

Defense News first reported the Army’s plan to pursue the mid-range missile in September.

“We’ve had it for, you know a hundred days or so. But we’re very narrowed in on a couple of very specific solution sets right now,” Thurgood said, “and trying to figure out: OK, what is it? If we do this, what are the rest of the things that we have to do? So I think we’re relatively close on that outcome.”

Thurgood said once the Army chooses a material solution, it will remain in the classified realm “for some time.” The service plans to take this approach "until we’re comfortable that we’re on the right path and the technologies we need are protected. We’ll be pretty careful.”

The mid-range missile will fit in the Army’s fires portfolio between its Precision Strike Munition, designed to hit targets out to 499 kilometers, and ground-launched hypersonic missiles.

“We need to pursue this with great speed and really make ’23 a year that changes everything in both [the European and Pacific] theaters,” Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, who is in charge of the Army’s long-range precision fires modernization effort, told Defense News in an interview last month.

“You can see in the Pacific where that would be so valuable, having the mid-range capability that can attack maritime targets,” he added. And in Europe, “you hold the adversary’s assets at risk in depth.”

Having a deep portfolio of range capabilities in the Pacific provides a large mix of options because there are so many different locations from which to fire missiles. Mixing and matching ranges from a wide variety of locations “creates an incredible dilemma for the enemy,” Rafferty said.

The RCCTO also leads the development and fielding of a ground-launched hypersonic capability for the Army. The Army and Navy performed a successful flight test of its co-developed hypersonic glide body in March.

The next flight test will take place in the third quarter of FY21, followed by a second flight test in the first quarter of FY22 and a third flight test in the third quarter of FY22, Thurgood said.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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