WASHINGTON — The Army is preparing for key tests of a multimode seeker for munitions that will be capable of attacking maritime targets, but current funding will prevent a faster timeline to integrate it into the Army’s future long-range missile, according to Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, who is in charge of the service’s long-range precision fires modernization efforts.
The Precision Strike Munition (PrSM) is on track for initial fielding in 2023, but the in-development multimode seeker, known as the Land-Based Anti-Ship Missile (LBASM), will be integrated into the capability at a later date.
The Army had hoped to accelerate the integration of the LBASM seeker in order to get after maritime and emitting integrated air defense system targets by hanging onto funding made available when one of the two vendors with funding to competitively develop PrSM made an early exit.
But the fiscal 2021 spending bill did not provide enough funding to move quicker, Rafferty told Defense News in a Jan. 14 interview.
While the Army won’t be moving faster to integrate the seeker, the service is heading into a February captive-carry test of the LBASM seeker at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, Rafferty said.
Following that test, the Army will put the seeker inside a surrogate system to begin to refine its performance in a high-speed missile, in order to reduce the risk for integration into PrSM.
“It won’t fly as fast or as high or as far [as PrSM] but it’s the beginning of introducing it to that violent flight environment with the thermal challenges associated with high speed,” Rafferty said. “We’re not going to have the PrSM missiles yet to put the seeker into, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to continue to develop the seeker and be ready when the resources are there.”
If the funding had lined up, the Army had hoped to deliver an urgent materiel release capability of the integrated seeker into PrSM in 2025. “So that is no longer possible,” he said. But Rafferty said he did not believe the integration would fall too far behind, adding it was still “in the realm of the possible” to get the seeker into PrSM by late 2026.
The disadvantages of going slower are “relatively minor,” Rafferty said, because the Army is racing to field a mid-range missile capable of getting after maritime targets by 2023.
in September, Defense News broke the news the Army was pursuing the mid-range capability, and the service has already awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin to take the Navy’s Raytheon-built SM-6 and Tomahawk missiles and put together a prototype that consists of launchers, missiles and a battery operations center.
Yet, the service will only buy a small number of that capability to fill the gap between the PrSM missile and hypersonic capability also under development.
“We’re going to pursue this medium-range capability, absolutely,” Rafferty said. “But maritime and medium-range capabilities, the bulk of it in the Army, will always come from the [High Mobility Artillery Rocket System] and the [Multiple Launch Rocket System] fleets. We have hundreds of those launchers, they’re survivable, they’re mobile, they’re dependable. They have high operational readiness rates and it uses our existing comms infrastructure, existing cyber support and fire direction systems.”
PrSM is designed to be launched from those systems, giving the units much longer-range capability.
While the Army figures out if it can come up with another way to integrate the seeker into PrSM faster, Rafferty said the service also saw “promising,” initial results from advanced propulsion work toward the end of 2020.
The advanced propulsion work will feed into efforts to further extend the range of the PrSM missile beyond 499 kilometers, now that it is no longer bound to that distance following the U.S. withdraw in the summer of 2019 from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. That agreement between the U.S. and Russia prohibited all nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.
The program has shared a proposed timeline for an extended-range PrSM with Army Futures Command leadership, but since it’s being reviewed, the schedule could not be detailed, Rafferty said.
The Army is also planning a 400 kilometer shot for PrSM at White Sands in April and will conduct a max range shot beyond 500 kilometers out at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, which has a test range capable of long-range missile shots, in August.
PrSM will also have a role to play in this year’s Project Convergence, which had its inaugural run at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, in September, and will be a yearly exercise to help give the service fidelity in terms of how its capabilities are meeting the needs of multidomain operations against anticipated threats.