WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army plans to conduct a few fly-offs to test possible long-range precision munitions for its fleet of future helicopters, according to the chief of operations in charge of the service’s Future Vertical Lift modernization efforts.
While the Army has picked Israeli company Rafael’s Spike Non-Line-of-Sight missile as an interim solution to deliver long-range lethality from its current and future helicopter fleets, it is also in the market for other options.
“The Army has not committed yet to a form factor of long-range precision munitions. If it’s Spike, or something else, we have time to work with that. We have time to do one fly-off or more” over the next few years to inform requirements, Col. Matthew Isaacson told reporters during a July 24 briefing.
The service is molding a future fleet for the early 2030s, acquiring two manned helicopters, a tactical unmanned aircraft system, air-launched effects, and long-range precision munitions that will be networked together on the battlefield using a common digital, modular, open-system architecture.
The Army extensively demonstrated Spike on both foreign and American AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, which led to the decision to buy some to tie the service over until it can assess other capabilities and better refine requirements before developing a permanent solution.
The service fired the Spike NLOS missile from AH-64s in Israel and at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, last year. Defense News was present for one of six multidomain operations-relevant shots fired from an “E” model Apache at Yuma in August 2019.
Isaacson says there are a number of vendors with capabilities that could meet the future need.
The Army will need to finalize a preliminary design review across the board for assets within its future fleet in the 2023 time frame, so Isaacson said the Army has roughly three years to work with industry to settle on a capability and ensure it is interoperable with platforms “that are still somewhat on the drawing table,” something he said will be challenging.
“We are looking at getting outside of the range of our pacing threats,” he said. The Army is “pleased” with Spike’s beyond 30-kilometer range, he added, “so any competitor in any future fly-off will have to demonstrate that they can do very similar and get at a long range in a timely manner after our pacing threats.”
Isaacson indicated the Army will likely work through cooperative research and development agreements among other means to demonstrate long-range precision munition capabilities at small venues. Then the munitions would be put to the test with soldiers at the brigade level, followed by higher-level demonstrations at venues like the Joint Warfighting Assessment, to inform requirements, he added.
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.