WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army will demonstrate Long-Range Precision Fires technology from a precision-strike missile to hypersonics and ramjet capabilities within the next couple of years, according to the service’s LRPF modernization team lead.
The LRPF cross-functional team — or CFT — was recently tasked to come up with ways to bring LRPF capability online as fast as possible. LRPF has been identified as the Army’s top modernization priority among six. Each priority was assigned a CFT to tackle modernization plans going forward and will be housed within the Army’s new Futures Command expected to open its doors this summer.
“There is a real need to modernize our surface-to-surface fires at echelon to be able to guarantee a clear overmatch against any potential adversary both on the modern and future battlefield,” Brig. Gen. Stephen Maranian, the LRPF team lead, told Defense News in a March 19 interview. “To that effort, we are looking at how do we increase our range, how do we increase our lethality and how do we increase our volume of fires, not just in the missile area, but at echelon.”
The CFT has three specifically outlined efforts to address the modernization needs for LRPF:
Long-range in the close fight
The Army is looking at how it will evolve its current M109A7 self-propelled howitzer — or the Paladin Integrated Management — into extended-range cannon artillery, Maranian said.
The CFT is looking at “how do we take that chassis that is hopefully going to be at full-rate production in the next couple of months and get ourselves to a better propellant, a better projectile and a longer barrel — extending from a 39-caliber to a 58-caliber — to be able to not only get on the current battlefield to the 70 kilometer range, but also provide the basis from which either a hypervelocity or a ramjet technology round could get us to very long ranges with cannon artillery,” he said.
The plan is to spiral in capabilities: “We are not going to wait and try to create the next Crusader Howitzer,” Maranian said.
Instead, the Army will build capability for extended-range cannon artillery in a “very methodical manner that accelerates those things that are ready for acceleration,” he added.
“First out of the barrel, pun intended,” Maranian said, “is going to be the ... XM1113. 1113 is the new rocket-assisted projectile.”
That projectile could end up in soldiers’ hands in approximately two to two-and-half years, according to Maranian. It is being demonstrated right now through experiments at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, which took place last month and is continuing into March.
The Army expects the projectile to reach out to 40 kilometers when fired from the current cannon tube, delivering a 33 percent increase in range capability from previous rockets, according to Maranian.
Then the service will extend the cannon tube from a 39-caliber to a 58-caliber, which will provide a number of benefits, Maranian said, including a new breach and new mounts within the turret of the cannon, and will provide “the ability to have a much greater explosive chain to be able to achieve the velocity out of the tube that hypersonics would require.”
Lastly, the Army will work on an autoloader, which will increase the cannon’s volume of fire. “If we can get six to 10 rounds out of a tube for a minute, sustained, as opposed to four rounds in the first minute and one sustained after that with a human crew loading all the ammunition, we are going to dramatically increase our effects on target to be able to have more impact at the same time,” he said.
The program formerly known as LRPF
The Army’s CFT will also assist the program of record already underway to replace the Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, with a longer-range missile.
And to avoid confusion with the large amount of additional advanced technology efforts going on in the realm of LRPF, the Army has renamed the LRPF program to replace ATACMS to the Precision Strike Missile program, according to Maranian.
When the Army chief of staff is talking about LRPF, for instance, he’s referring to “really strategic ranges,” not the ATACMS replacement, he explained.
The ATACMS program germinated in 2007, and the Army has been doing service life extension to keep the weapon in the fight.
The service awarded contracts in the spring of 2017 to Raytheon and Lockheed Martin for a three-year period of performance to design and build missile prototypes in the technology-maturation and risk-reduction phase.
And while industry was hoping to find ways to speed up the program from a fielding timeline of 2027, a year ago, the Army had even pushed back its plans to enter the technology-maturation and risk-reduction phase of the program by a year, according to fiscal 2018 budget documents.
But the Army has found a way to dramatically accelerate the program.
“There has been, within the program manager, a plan to accelerate from 2027 to an initial capability in the force by late 2022, early 2023 time frame,” Maranian said.
The Army plans to demonstrate Raytheon’s and Lockheed’s prototypes in 2019, he said.
The CFT is looking at how the Army might spiral in future capability, currently being developed within science and technology portfolios, once the initial Precision Strike Missile is built, Maranian added.
“The types of technologies we are looking at are those that can hone in on signals to be able to attack [the enemy’s] integrated air defense assets, the ability to hit moved or moving targets across multiple domains, so both land and maritime targets that are moving, and the ability to deliver loitering [intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance] to very deep ranges on the battlefield out to 500 kilometers,” Maranian detailed.
The Army also plans to use its science and technology efforts — developed to move the Precision Strike Missile forward — for other efforts.
“I’m also interested in how are we cutting technology into our future rockets that are currently in the 85-kilometer range and getting that almost doubled,” Maranian said.
Getting to strategic ranges
The third and final line of effort for the LRPF CFT is one that will bring capability of long-range strike to hit targets at “strategic ranges,” according to Maranian.
The one-star defined that as giving either cannons or trajectory missiles that are compliant with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty the ability to have both offensive and defensive impact in any number of different areas of the world “where we could find ourselves facing an adversary who has very sophisticated integrated air defense, where we need to be able to break windows of opportunity into that IAD system by delivering long-range fires and enabling joint fires to exploit that window,” he said.
On the defensive side, that could give the Army the ability to position a capability on an island in the Pacific, for instance, creating “an anti-access, area-denial capability all of our own to make potential adversaries think twice and be deterred before making a decision of whether cost is worth the benefit of being provocative,” Maranian said.
Among the technologies being examined to achieve such capability are hypersonics.
“Hypersonic technology is absolutely something that we need to look at,” he said. But he added that there are a number things that can be done to give certain projectiles hypersonic-like capabilities.
“Hypersonics is really a speed band of how fast we are getting that projectile moving,” Maranian said.
Another way to get after fast speeds and longer ranges is through ramjet technology. When a projectile leaves the cannon and is flying through the air, the air is fed into the projectile itself and ignites an internal propellant, which causes further acceleration, according to Maranian.
The Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and Space and Missile Defense Command, outside of the Army, are looking at a number of classified programs, he said.
The SCO is particularly looking at the 58-caliber cannon tube because it is a base requirement for hypersonics.
The CFT is also taking a look at rail gun technology as well as directed energy, Maranian noted.
The Army sees the possibility of hypersonics and ramjet projectiles being demonstrated in the next couple of years “for certain,” he said, adding that demonstrations for both could potentially happen in 2019.
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 in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.