WASHINGTON — The Army is pushing the development plan for its Long-Range Precision Fires program — a top priority for the service — out by a year, according to budget documents.

The Army had planned to enter the technology and risk reduction phase of the program in the second quarter of 2016. But in the fiscal 2018 budget request the milestone was pushed back a year. Subsequently, the Army won't reach the engineering and manufacturing development phase, originally expected in the second quarter of 2020, until the second quarter of 2021 when an award will be made to a single contractor to move forward. 

LRPF is being developed to replace the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) capability with a maximum range greater than 400 kilometers. The Army also wants a launch pod missile container that holds a minimum of one missile and is compatible with existing launchers platforms such as the Multiple Launch Rocket System and the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.

The technology and development milestone -- or Milestone A -- "was delayed for a year as the Army finalized the requirements and assessed the current state of technology to ensure schedule estimates reflected an executable program," Dan O'Boyle, an Army spokesman, said in a statement to Defense News. He also pointed to new requirements specified in the 2016 and 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which bumped the technology development milestone.

The NDAA language in question required the Army to obtain certain program certification and "include identification and sensitivity analysis of key cost drivers that may affect life-cycle costs of the program" as well as "analysis to support decision making that identifies and evaluates alternative courses of action that may reduce cost and risk, and result in more affordable programs and less costly system," O'Boyle explained.

The technology and development Acquisition Decision Memorandum was signed on March 31, 2017, he said.

The FY18 budget reflects an increase of $22.2 million from the projected amount in FY17 to fund the LRPF program's independent cost estimate directed by the Defense Acquisition Review Board. Another $15 million in additional funding covers materials needed to prepare for a prototype flight test.

"Foreseeing the Milestone A delay, the Army developed a strategy and awarded efforts to Raytheon and Lockheed Martin to conduct trade studies and develop initial tactical designs as part of the Material Solution Analysis phase.  Both contractors recently completed final technical reviews providing results of their trades including performance estimates of their initial designs against the LRPF requirements.  The program office is currently assessing the results of this activity and the impact on the overall LRPF schedule," O'Boyle said.

The Army awarded two contracts through the Defense Ordnance Technology Consortium to both companies in August 2016 to initiate trade studies.

While the Army has adjusted its preliminary plans for LRPF technology development to the right, it is moving into a critical phase with the two competing vendors developing LRPF solutions.

The service  awarded a $116.4 million contract in May to Raytheon for a three-year period of performance to design and build missile prototypes in the technology maturation and risk reduction phase. The designs will focus on the missile, the launch-pod missile container and the phase will culminate in a flight test to validate the prototype's performance. The final award to Lockheed is pending, however, the period of performance will be the same.

Raytheon's JR Smith, director of Advanced Land Warfare Systems, told Defense News it was continuing "productive and robust" dialogue with the Army on possible ways to shorten the schedule to get to the EMD phase faster. But he added, it's ultimately up to the Army to decide its development, production and fielding schedule for LRPF.

As the service emphasizes a new multi-domain battle concept, which assumes all domains are contested in a way the service hasn't seen in a long time, the Army is prioritizing the development and fielding of capabilities that allow it to operate in the predicted environment. The service's FY18 budget lists LRPF as its second modernization priority. air-and-missile defense is first.

The Army has consolidated its research and development LRPF account with plans to spend a total of $604 million from FY17 through FY22. The FY17 budget contained less across the five-year plan with just $305.7 million from FY17 through FY21. Part of the LRPF funding shifted from the MLRS product improvement program, according to budget documents. LRPF was a new start program in FY17.

The Army cut back on its efforts to develop longer-range fires during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and during the peace dividend after the Cold War because it assumed it could rely on other services to fill the gap. Now the service has to be able to defeat enemy forces on land and project power outward from land into aerospace, maritime or cyber space and across the electromagnetic spectrum. This means the Army needs cross-domain fires and artillery batteries to deliver surface-to-surface, surface-to-air and shore-to-ship capabilities.

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.

More In Land