The Army's New 500-km Precision Strike Missile Will Attack Enemy Ships

Kris Osborn

Video: Networked Army Radar Destroys 2 Maneuvering Cruise Missiles

by Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

(Washington, D.C.) The U.S. Army will be able to target and destroy moving enemy ships at ranges out to 500 km by 2025 with its emerging, land-launched Precision Strike Missile (PrSM), a developing weapon intended to bring a new level of mid-range attack possibilities, precision and advanced targeting technology to the force.

While the weapon clearly has surface-to-surface applications for enemy targets such as air defenses, troop fortifications and armored vehicle columns, the PrSM is being configured with an advanced targeting multi-mode seeker engineered to bring new dimensions of targeting flexibility, to include maritime attack.

The new targeting seeker recently completed a “captive carry” test wherein it flew on board an aircraft against “representative targets” in preparation for further testing and ultimate deployment.

“The first test was successful. Essentially, it gives us a bunch more sensors so we are connected to the air defense network which has a variety of very powerful, long-range sensors. We can acquire and attack more targets at longer range,” Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, Director, Long-Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team, told Warrior in an interview.

While many of the technical details of the new seeker are not available for security reasons, Rafferty explained, its added capacities do align with the Army’s modern concepts of Combined Arms Maneuver and the service’s heavily emphasized Multi-Domain Operations concept.

Rafferty said the development of the weapon is progressing very well, in part due to successes accomplished by its maker Lockheed Martin which helped the Army identify the base missile design one year earlier than expected.

“We have been asking for help from Congress to complete that acceleration and complete by 2025,” Raffery said.

The emergence of the weapon, and its next-generation targeting technology, brings new tactical possibilities for an Army increasingly looking to out-range and enemy and destroy targets from safer stand-off ranges. The PrSM could, for instance, be successful against enemy radar, air defenses or even aircraft carriers hundreds of miles off shore.

It may not quite have the 900-nautical mile range of a U.S. Navy Tomahawk, however it may draw upon targeting technologies with an impact not unlike new Tomahawk variants. The Navy’s Maritime Tomahawk, for instance, can now change course in flight to attack moving targets at sea, a new possibility typically not considered for a weapon used to destroy “fixed” enemy targets. Interestingly, the Army is now developing a land-fired variant of the Tomahawk.

The particular new targeting seeker will, depending of course on its particular technical composition, might give commanders an ability to hit moving armored columns and troop concentrations on the move.

While no information regarding the exact technologies of the seeker are available, multi-mode seekers on other weapons often blend various targeting technologies into a single application, often merging things like RF guidance, laser spotting or infrared sensing.

The thrust of the new seeker, it seems apparent, is in part grounded in a concept of networking, as Rafferty seemed to indicate it might enable more multi-domain targeting. Receiving targeting input from drones, aircraft, forward positioned controllers or even ocean assets adds an entirely new attack scope to the weapon.

As part of this concept, Rafferty mentioned the Army’s high-priority Integrated Battle Command Systems (IBCS) program, a meshed network of radars and sensors able to share targeting information in real-time across otherwise disparate or disconnected combat nodes.

Also, the Precision Strike Missile may be getting even more precise and reliable due to targeting upgrades now being explored by Army weapons developers, a tactical strategy intended to out-range potential adversaries and destroy a wider range of targets from distances as far as 500km.

“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 while speaking at a think tank called The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

The weapon, called the PsM, now draws upon GPS and inertial measurement unit technology. However, 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.

While Martin did not elaborate on any specifics or particular plans related to a new seeker, 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 Warrior in an interview earlier this year.

The PsM, according to 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 of counterattack, is the strategic intent for the missile.

Brig Gen. John Raffery, Director of the Army's Long Range Precision Fires Cross-Functional Team, says longer-range offensive weapons 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 Warrior in an interview earlier this year.

"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 Warrior in an interview earlier this year.

Additional seeker sophistication could also better enable the missile to maneuver in flight to potentially change targets or, when needed, destroy moving targets. Many medium-to-long range missiles, such as the Army’s Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, fire from fixed-point to fixed-point.

However, emerging technologies are now changing this equation and bringing new dimensions of maneuverability to these kinds of weapons. Such adaptations are already being made with cruise-missiles such as the ship-and-submarine-fired Tomahawk missile.

The Tomahawk not only has a massive reach of 900 nautical miles, but a new Maritime variant uses improved radio throughput, software upgrades and advanced seeker technologies to both change trajectory in flight and destroy moving targets such as enemy ships or land convoys.

Interestingly, Martin said that the Army was now developing a land-fired Tomahawk variant, a weapon which would also fall into the post-INF category. Existing Block IV Tomahawks already use a two-way data link to identify targets and operate with a “loiter” ability to hit targets as they become available. New guidance systems enabling moving-target strikes could bring additional attack options to ground commanders operating in an increasingly multi-domain environment. Land weapons are increasingly being thought of as being able to attack ocean targets and vice-versa as Pentagon war-planners seek to refine joint-attack possibilities and anticipate the complex combat environment expected to characterize modern warfare.

While the PsM would, quite naturally, be useful in full-scale mechanized force-on-force combat, they also proved worthwhile in counterinsurgency attacks as Taliban and Iraqi insurgents deliberately blended in with innocent civilians among local populations. As a result, precision attacks became necessary, even vital, to U.S. combat success. Such a phenomenon is equally applicable to major warfare scenarios, given the increase in global urbanization and the need for armored forces to advance through and occupy cities. Therefore, something that is both longer range, and precision-guided, brings commanders newer, more advanced attack options.

-- Kris Osborn is the Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest --

Kris Osborn is 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 Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

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