Army Pursues New 1,000km Precision Strike Missile
Video: Army Research Lab Scientist Describes Human Brain as Sensor Connecting With AI
by Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven
(Washington D.C.) While the Army is making rapid progress shooting off its emerging Precision Strike Missile hundreds of miles to destroy enemy targets with growing success and accuracy, the service is concurrently working to build upon the promising technology and engineer a weapon able to fire twice as far to destroy targets as far as 1,000km.
“We are seeing some promising results on using extended range, using some air breathing technologies, that could take the prison out to 1,000 kilometers,” Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, Director, Long Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team, told Warrior in an interview.
The new weapon, while still in the early developmental stages, relies upon the emergence of a new “multi-mode seeker” which, Rafferty explained, is being designed to massively extend range while preserving accuracy and destructive effect. The Army has already conducted two captive carry tests with the weapon by integrating it into a seeker pod underneath the wing of a jet. The next step, which is fast approaching, is to put the seeker into a surrogate missile.
“We are ready to move it into a surrogate missile,” Rafferty said.
What would it mean to tactics and maneuver formations if a land-fired, precision-guided missile system could travel as far as 1,000 miles? This seems quite significant, as it roughly parallels the range of an ocean-fired Tomahawk cruise missile, while also matching its accuracy and precision. As a land-fired weapon, a precision missile of this range could potentially reach inland areas less accessible to something like a Tomahawk or destroy enemy air defenses from safe stand-off distances to prevent pilots and air assets from being at risk. Much like the 500km Precision Strike Missile, a 1,000km range weapon could offer itself as a “post-INF” treaty option, given that the U.S. military is now once again developing and planning to deploy the kinds of mid-range weapons previously banned by the Treaty, prior to it being violated by Russia.
The weapon could also complement yet another Army scientific exploration such as its effort to engineer a 1,000-mile artillery cannon; having precision artillery and a precision-strike cruise missile would bring an entirely new dimension to stand-off land attack, something of great significance in an increasingly dispersed, networked and multi-domain warfare environment. A Precision Strike Missile, coupled with a smaller or more tailored precision strike ability from artillery, could adjust attacks as needed against an advancing enemy force at almost unimaginable, if not entirely unprecedented ranges for Army ground attack.
As a weapon which could potentially be more mobile, precise and streamlined than many Medium Range Ballistic Missiles, a 1,000-km Precision Strike Missile introduces substantial new attack possibilities, such as multidomain, maritime strikes. For example, certain island chains or land areas in the Pacific are separated by hundreds of miles of ocean, creating a tactical threat circumstance in which a long-range strike missile such as a 1,000km PrSM could effectively reach otherwise inaccessible areas.
The Army also envisions its emerging and now-in-development 500km-ranged Precision Strike Missile as a unique and potentially breakthrough multi-domain weapon system able to destroy enemy air defenses and even surface ships at great distances.
Service weapons developers, many of whom see the PrSM as a critical and fast-evolving innovation, are already expanding their vision for the weapon and looking beyond its near-term mission scope.
“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 Warrior in an interview.
As part of this equation, the Army is now configuring 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. The service plans several upcoming tests at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California where there might be more range options.
“We are continuing to increase the complexity of the challenges of each test event as we go along,” Rafferty said.
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 AI-enabled computing to instantly analyze information, share target data and pair sensors with shooters. The concept, which was demonstrated last Fall at the Army’s Project Convergence 2020,
In a discussion with Warrior, 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 20 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 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 Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.