WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army has approved the Precision Strike Missile program to move into the engineering and manufacturing development phase, just ahead of a major test at Vandenberg Air Base, California, where the weapon will be shot to observe its range, said the official in charge of the service’s long-range precision fires modernization.

The Army originally planned for the test shot at Vandenberg in August, but due to range scheduling, the event was pushed back to October, Brig. Gen. John Rafferty told Defense News in an interview before the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.

The service awarded Lockheed Martin a $62 million contract on Sept. 30 for the missile’s engineering and manufacturing development phase, a key milestone as the Army drives toward an initial fielding of the system in fiscal 2023.

The contract includes early operational capability missiles, Rafferty said in the Sept. 23 interview.

PrSM is a priority program for the Army and is intended to replace the Army Tactical Missile System. It will play an important role in the service’s future deep-strike capability necessary to counter Russian and Chinese capabilities.

The original intent was to reach a maximum of 499 kilometers, but America’s 2019 withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia has allowed the U.S. Army to develop the missile to reach ranges much farther. The INF Treaty prevented the development of missiles with ranges between 499 and 5,000 kilometers.

The missile is expected to exceed a distance of 499 kilometers in the October test.

The PrSM will also be shot during the Army’s Project Convergence campaign of learning at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, this year. The missile will have a side-by-side shot during which one missile is launched from one side of the pod and another from the other side of the pod. Lockheed would not disclose the rate of fire for that test involving more than one interceptor.

The missile broke a range record in May, reaching “more than” 400 kilometers — roughly 250 miles — in a test shot at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, according to Lockheed Martin.

PrSM also went through three flight tests last year during a technology maturation and risk reduction phase, ranging from 240 kilometers, 180 kilometers and 85 kilometers. Shorter ranges can be more difficult to execute, as the missile must go up and come down quicker, according to experts.

While the PrSM development program started out as a competitive effort between Lockheed and Raytheon Technologies, the latter ducked out of the competition in early 2020.

While the Army is shooting to initially field the capability in 2023, it will spiral in more technology, including an enhanced seeker, and more capabilities, such as increased lethality and extended range. The priority for PrSM in the near term is to pursue a maritime, ship-killing capability as well as enhanced lethality.

Army Futures Command is yet to determine the timeline to extend PrSM’s range, but Rafferty said the Army has been investing in extended-range propulsion development “for a while with good results.”

The Army expects to decide in fiscal 2022 on the propulsion approach, he added. “It’s going to be a hard choice of which is best, so we’ve got to refine what’s the objective range.”

Once the propulsion method and objective range are decided, the Army can better refine a timeline to pursue the effort, he said.

The Army has asked for funding in FY22 to extend the range of PrSM out to 1,000 kilometers or more in its budget request. The funding would help investigate and develop critical technologies to extend the range while increasing survivability.

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.

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