WASHINGTON — An effort to pursue a mid-range missile capable of going after maritime targets using the Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, has been terminated, according to the fiscal 2021 defense spending bill released Dec. 21.
The bill, which emerged from conference committee, has zeroed out the Cross-Domain ATACMS program due to the program’s termination. The Pentagon had requested $62.5 million in its FY21 budget request.
Defense News first reported in September that the cross-domain upgrade to ATACMS — which was an anti-ship missile effort initiated by the Strategic Capabilities Office in 2016 — was delayed due to technical problems.
The Army would not disclose those problems, citing operational security, but the service did say a new timeline for delivery was under review.
But while the CD-ATACMS program struggled, the Army conducted a strategic fires study and concluded it needed a mid-range missile to fill a gap in the 500-2,000 kilometers range and that it needed it fast — by 2023.
“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 long-range precision fires modernization, told Defense News in an interview at the time.
The mid-range capability would fit between the Precision Strike Missile, or PrSM — which is capable of hitting targets out to 499 kilometers — and ground-launched hypersonic missiles in the LRPF portfolio.
The Lockheed Martin-developed PrSM will serve as the ATACMS replacement.
Congressional appropriators funded the mid-range missile program at $88.1 million in the FY21 bill, which is not something included in the Army’s initial FY21 request since the decision to move forward with the program came after the service’s submission.
Lockheed Martin was already awarded a contract worth nearly $340 million to take elements from naval missiles to forge the new mid-range missile. Lockheed will take the Navy’s Raytheon-built SM-6 and Tomahawk missile to put together a prototype that consists of launchers, missiles and a battery operations center.
The CD-ATACMS is “an interesting approach to attacking maritime targets,” Rafferty said, “but the PrSM program for attacking maritime targets and omitting [integrated air defense systems] is off to a very good start with the testing of the [Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command] Aviation and Missile Center seeker that continues this fall.
The upgrade to the ATACMS “was a different approach from a seeker standpoint to PrSM,” Rafferty said, “so that’s why we’re interested in it because it was a different approach; a good point of comparison, and we always value the SCO’s efforts.”
The Army as well as industry partners and congressional committees are talking about accelerating the land-based, anti-ship missile seeker into the PrSM missile by 2025. The seeker development program began in 2015.
Meanwhile, congressional appropriators cut a significant amount of funding in the FY21 bill from the Marine Corps’ Ground-Based Anti-Ship Missile and other LRPF development efforts.
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.