Video Above: Long Range Precision Fires
The Army has again shot off a new generation of land-fired missiles intended to massively extend attack range and precision targeting for ground forces on the move.
The service’s Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) reportedly broke new records after being fired off during a test at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, a development representing substantial steps forward for weapon intended to change the paradigm for ground warfare by bringing new ranges and precision against enemy ground installations, equipment, air defenses, command and control structures and even moving targets.
Precision Strike Missile (PrSM)
PrSM maker Lockheed Martin issued a statement to Warrior that the test firing successfully exceeded previously achieved ranges and traveled farther than 400 kilometers. The weapon is now going through what’s called the Engineering, Manufacturing and Development phase, a key testing and development step intended to prepare the weapon for deployment in 2023.
The weapons previously achieved ranges of 400-kilometers in a test flight earlier this year at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. Exact details of the range achieved in this most recent test are not available according to Lockheed statements, however it was reported that the test accomplished a breakthrough. The final or next flight test for the weapon, Lockheed information said, will take place at Project Convergence later this year as preparation for an Increment-2 PrSM capability award. Increment 2 is intended to break new ground yet again by demonstrating that the weapon can hit moving targets.
Given the technological dimensions and capabilities of the weapons, described by Army leaders as Post INF Treaty weapon, the Army will likely adjust tactics, strategies and key elements of Combined Arms Maneuver approaches to modern warfare.
Following Russian violation of the INF Treaty, which had previously put limitations on mid-range missiles of this kind, the U.S. Army has been testing and developing a number of ground-fired weapons capable of attacking at these ranges.
The PsM, according to Army Futures Command Commander Gen. John Murray, represents a specific effort to move beyond previous range restrictions, given that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) was canceled due to Russian violations. A weapon of roughly 500km does bring a mid-range attack possibility of particular relevance in places like the European continent which is home to many U.S.-allied countries. The Army’s new land missile able to travel those distances is, quite simply, intended to “out range” the enemy, as Army weapons developers explain it. An ability to hold an approaching force at risk, while being at lower risk of an enemy strike or counterattack, is the strategic intent for the missile.
In a previous discussion about PrSM earlier this year, Brig Gen. John Raffery, Director of the Army's Long Range Precision Fires Cross-Functional Team, explained to The National Interest that longer-range offensive weapons do, in fact, help the service refine its approach to modern Combined Arms Maneuver.
"Long range fires can suppress and neutralize enemy integrated air defenses and enable combined arms maneuver. Combined Arms allows us to close with and destroy an enemy. It requires armor, infantry and combat aviation to work together in a synchronized fashion. If we lose this synchronization we are far less lethal. If an enemy has range, he can separate the combined arms team. Our adversaries have watched us and learned how we fight. They have invested in areas to offset our advantage,” Rafferty told The National Interest in an interview earlier this year.
The fast-emerging Precision Strike Missile is on track to break new ground in a number of key respects likely to impact the services’ strategic thinking. The PrSM recently traveled more than 400km in a key test shot, a development of great significance for the Army which is now pursuing a host of new technological enhancements to the weapon.
The Precision Strike Missile is not only being developed to hit unprecedented ranges for weapons of its kind, and being adjusted to hit moving targets, but it is also getting even more precise and reliable due to targeting upgrades now being explored by Army weapons developers. The basic premise of the weapon is to pursue a tactical strategy intended to “out range” the enemy and hit previously unreachable targets at distances greater than 400 to 500 km.
The innovations and improvements to the weapon do not stop there, as they are also related to improving targeting accuracy and discrimination.
“Seeker integration is something we need and we are endeavoring to do as we move forward,” General Joseph Martin, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, told an audience earlier this year while speaking at a think tank called The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
PrSM now draws upon GPS and inertial measurement unit technology, yet there are certainly a wide range of innovations related to targeting accuracy, guidance, datalink communication and “hardening.” Therefore, it would certainly not be surprising if the Army were looking at both hardening its guidance networks and also exploring non-GPS, less-jammable targeting technologies.
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Martin did not elaborate on any specifics or particular plans related to a new seeker, yet he did talk about the fast-growing importance of the weapon. He explained how it will bring much longer range and increased precision compared with the missile it is replacing, the Army Tactical Missile System.
“The current missiles can go about 350km and this will go beyond 500km eventually. We are almost doubling the range with existing launchers so we are not having to invest in new launchers. We can now put two missiles in the launcher as opposed to what we can do now which is one,” General John Murray, Commander, Army Futures Command, told The National Interest in an interview earlier this year.
Once this weapon fully comes to fruition, as expected in the next few years, the Army will be positioned with a new ability to target enemy forces from improved standoff-ranges while “moving to contact” in a major warfare circumstance. Also, quite significantly, should there be a combat situation where the U.S. does not have air superiority, the PrSM would attack key targets such as air defenses, command and control infrastructure or other crucial points typically attacked from the air.
Land and Sea Attack
The Precision Strike Missile is initially being developed as a major, long-range and highly precise land-attack weapon, yet the service is also clearly evolving the weapon for multi-domain warfare capable of attacking enemy ships, air defenses and other maritime targets.
The multi-domain concept is indeed consistent with the Army’s cross-domain, highly networked combat approach now being fast-tracked at events such as the services’ Project Convergence exercise.
Earlier this year, key PrSM developers told The National Interest that the Army is already thinking beyond mere land-attack for the weapon.
“We are thinking past 2023 and thinking about how we’re going to use the Precision Strike Missile to hit ships and air defenses,” Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, Director, Long Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team, Army Futures Command, told The National Interest in an interview. The service has conducted recent tests at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. “We are continuing to increase the complexity of the challenges of each test event as we go along,” Rafferty said earlier this year.
In fact the most recent test at Vandenberg, according to Lockheed Martin information, hit ranges farther than 400 kilometers. As evidenced in these recent tests, the Army has configured the weapon such that two missiles can go into the same launch-pod container, a circumstance which could increase tactical mobility as well as the rate of fire in terms of optimizing effects on target.
Later this year, the Army plans to fire PrSMs during its Project Convergence 2021, an exercise intended to experiment with cutting edge kinds of innovations aimed at using artificial intelligence-enabled computing to instantly analyze information, share target data and pair sensors with shooters.
This concept was demonstrated last Fall at the Army’s Project Convergence 2020. In a discussion with The National Interest, Army Futures Command Commander Gen. John Murray explained that the PrSM will figure prominently in networking, sensing and AI-targeting scenarios envisioned for Project Convergence 2021, particularly when it comes to multi-node, multi-sensor targeting and attack. The intent is to link PrSM targeting sensors with air assets, maritime nodes and dispersed or otherwise disconnected ground units. Project Convergence, Murray emphasized, is intended to be an “experiment” or “learning exercise” to push the envelope of technological possibility and, ultimately, change the paradigm for modern warfare and Combined Arms Maneuver.
The objective, which was accomplished in many respects during Project Convergence 2020, was to reduce the sensor-to-shooter targeting decision cycle from twenty minutes down to seconds. Despite the apparent success of Project Convergence, which some observers referred to as a breakthrough, Murray made a point to say the effort is very much an “ongoing experiment” and “learning process.”
“In the future, we want to bring in more shooters and kind of expand. And it’s about scaling, right? So, you know, how, how far can we expand the network? How far can we expand their scale in the number of shooters we bring? And how far can we scale the number of sensors? Because you’re gonna reach an upper boundary at some point. And so what is that upper boundary? And you know, how does that work in a contested environment?” Murray said. When coupled with the kind of multi-node sensor-to-shooter pairing described by Murray, the PrSM brings first-of-its-kind multi-domain attack possibilities to dispersed areas such as the Pacific, Rafferty said.“The long term missile solution for the Army is to attack all domains including maritime and land is PrSM,” Rafferty said.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on FoxKr