This latest 85-kilometer test was the shortest and most challenging yet, according to Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, the Army’s Long Range Precision Fires cross-functional team director.
“The missile almost has to start tipping over as soon as it comes out of the launcher. It has to burn off a lot of energy in order to turn over," said Rafferty. “But we started off with 240 kilometers, went to 180 and now we’re at 85.”
Future testing will look at longer ranges, and Army Futures Command is examining what officials actually want the PrSM missile to do, including engaging moving armored vehicles at extended ranges. A maximum range shot will occur in roughly one year.
The missile performed as expected and as required in every way, as it had in two previous tests, said Gaylia Campbell, Lockheed’s vice president of precision fires and combat maneuver systems.
“The team has really performed flawlessly,” Campbell said. “And being able to take a clean sheet design of a new missile and be able to perform three for three — [that’s] really 100 percent mission success. And it’s the Army’s No. 1 modernization priority.”
At this point, Lockheed is the only competitor vying to replace the Army Tactical Missile System after Raytheon exited the competition in March. Being down to one competitor might not be permanent, though, according to Gen. John Murray, who helms Army Futures Command.
“No concern whatsoever about being down to one competitor,” Murray said. "Based upon a lot of factors, there will be chances to introduce competition in this program as we get into further increments.”
Future increments, called spirals, would add a more capable seeker, make the missile more lethal and extend its range. For the missile’s seeker technology, Rafferty said his team is moving into the hands-on testing, outside of the lab, in the next few months.
Campbell said Lockheed plans to participate in any future competitions, "looking at what what are possible solutions for those next spirals.”
The request for proposals the Army put out asked for a range of 499 kilometers, but the service anticipates the final range will exceed 500 kilometers in light of the United States’ withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
And because the PrSM missile will be shot out of the same HIMARS launchers used by the ATACMS system it’s intended to replace, the Army expects to save money.
“We’re not investing in a new fleet of launchers and we’re getting two missiles in the same pod that our current missile goes into, so we’re actually doubling the load-out of our current fleet with this missile technology,” Murray said.
The new missile system will have applications in multiple theaters, as well, noted Rafferty.
“The early capability is against long-range artillery and integrated air defense systems,” he said. “As you integrate the seeker technology, it gives you the ability to go after the mini-targets. Those mini-targets can be maritime in the Pacific; those mini-targets can be fire control radars [and airfields] in the European scenario.”
Operating with the PrSM missile should be a smooth transition for soldiers already used to working on the ATACMS system, Rafferty and Murray said. Though there will be some changes to techniques, tactics and procedures, Army rocket crews will be using much of the same software, computers and platforms.
“Outside looking in, it looks exactly the same for our soldiers,” said Murray.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.
Joe Gould is the Congress and industry reporter at Defense News, covering defense budget and policy matters on Capitol Hill as well as industry news.