The U.S. Army Still Loves Its Long-Range Rockets
LRPF will strike where aircraft cannot go
The U.S. Army plans to shoot off prototypes of a new long-range land rocket designed to destroy targets as far away as 500 kilometers, nearly three times the range of existing weapons.
The anticipated “shoot-off,” to include weapon prototypes from both Raytheon and Lockheed, is slated to take place in roughly the 2020 timeframe, Army developers said.
The emerging Long Range Precision Fires, slated to be operational by 2027, is part of an effort to engineer a long-range, ground-launched missile to pinpoint and destroy enemy bunkers, helicopter staging areas, troop concentrations and other fixed-location targets beyond the range of existing, comparable weapons, service officials said.
“Ultimately, it is about out-ranging the enemy. We are not necessarily guaranteed aerial superiority, and this extends our attack range much further out to be able to strike enemy logistics targets, supply nodes, force concentrations or command and control centers,” U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Robert Rasch told Scout Warrior in an interview.
While Rasch did not specify any particular Russian weapons or threats per se, he did say that Russia’s use of combined arms tactics in Ukraine was by not lost on U.S. Army weapons developers.
Specifically, he mentioned that Russia’s use of combined electronic warfare, cyber attacks, drones and long-range artillery introduce a particularly challenging new kind of threat.
“It is utilizing these things in a combined arms aspect that is most worrisome. Anyone of those capabilities by themselves would be fairly easy when you start combining those effects — cyber, followed by drones followed by EW and long-range fires — it changes the scope of the battlefield,” Rasch said. “This forces us to look outside of the ground arena we are in and work on multi-domain war with the other services.”
Long-range surface-to-surface artillery, many contend, could likely be of great significance against an adversary such as Russia — which possesses some of the most advanced air defenses in the world. Such a scenario might make it difficult for the United States to establish air superiority.
In addition, there may also be some instances where a long-range cruise missile — such as a submarine or ship-fired Tomahawk — may not be available. In this instance, LRPF could fill a potential gap in attack plans.
Raytheon and Lockheed recently won a potential $116 million deal to develop the weapon through a technological maturation and risk reduction phase, company officials said. Moving forward, Rasch said the Army plans to select one vendor as it moves into the next developmental phase of the weapon.
Raytheon refers to its new weapon as the DeepStrike missile.
“The Long Range Precision Fires Missile will attack, neutralize, suppress and destroy targets using missile-delivered indirect precision fires. LRPF provides field artillery units with 24/7/365 long-range and deep-strike capability while supporting brigade, division, corps, Army, theater, Joint and Coalition forces as well as Marine Corps air-to-ground task forces in full, limited or expeditionary operations,” Army spokesman Dan O’Boyle told Scout Warrior.
A key aspect of the strategic impetus for the long-range LRPF weapon is to allow ground units to attack from safer distances without themselves being vulnerable to enemy fire, Army officials explained.
The new weapon is designed to replace the Army’s current aging ’80s-era MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System, a ground-launched missile with a range of 160 kilometers. The LRPF missile will have a newer explosive warhead and guidance technology aimed at providing an all-weather, day-and-night, precision surface-to-surface deep-strike capability, O’Boyle added.
“The LRPF will replace the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) capability, which is impacted by the age of the ATACMS inventory and the cluster munition policy that removes all M39 and M39A1 ATACMS from the inventory after 2018,” O’Boyle added.
In addition, the LRPF will fire from two existing Army launchers, the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System and the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System.
Lockheed statements say their emerging prototype missile system includes a pod container and a fully integrated surface-to-surface guided missile that will be compatible with the MLRS M270A1 and HIMARS launchers.
Rausch explained that, given the smaller size and improved technology envisioned for the LRPF, firepower and rate of fire can be substantially increased because two LRPF missiles can fit into a single pod.
“HIMARS shoots one ATACMS and in here we will have two missiles in a missile pod,” Rausch said. “We are going to double the capacity and get two rounds for each — twice the loadout in the same amount of space. This will bring longer legs for our maneuver forces and bring a better capacity with less of a logistics footprint. This will be a tremendous relief on the artillery forces.”
Rasch said the weapon is designed to be modular, meaning it is engineered such that it can quickly accommodate new technologies — software, seekers, guidance improvements — as they emerge.
Longer term, the Army is beginning to explore the use of a “dual-pulse” motor for the LRPF. One motor brings the weapon along a certain trajectory to then be replaced by another motor which propels the missile through higher altitudes with lighter air.
As part of a concurrent effort, the Army is also now upgrading ATACMS with new guidance technology and a proximity fuse to fill the near-term weapons gap until LRFP arrives.
This article originally appeared at Scout Warrior.