WASHINGTON -- The Army successfully held its third precision strike missile test Thursday morning, hitting its close-range target of 85 kilometres, enabling the Army to keep its 2023 fielding deadline on track.
The latest test, at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, was “the shortest and most challenging yet,” said Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, director of the Army’s Long Range Precision Fires Cross-Functional Team.
The challenge with shorter distances is energy, Rafferty explained. Once the missile is launched, “it has to start tipping as soon as it comes out of the launcher. We started off with 240 kilometres, went to 180, and now we’re at 85.”
Previous PrSM test fires were conducted in December and March.
“It was a pretty exciting 91 seconds or so,” Rafferty said about the direct hit from more than 50 miles away – a relatively close range for a missile designed to soar more than 300 miles for a strike.
The latest success leaves the Army “three for three” on PrSM test fires, said Gen. John M. Murray, commander of the Army Futures Command, adding the latest test “performed perfectly” and at “a very nominal flight trajectory.”
The new missile is set to replace the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, a surface-to-surface missile that has been on the job for nearly four decades.
The PrSM is half the size and will outrange its predecessor. The ATACMS has a maximum firing range of only 300 km – nearly half the range of the PrSM’s 500 km. Both missiles pack the same explosive punch.
Like the ATACMS, the PrSM is designed to fit into the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System and M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launchers.
Next year, three additional long-range tests are set to push the PrSM even further. In all, the Army will fire four PrSM missiles in 2021, with one test firing two missiles in sequence. Right now, only Lockheed Martin is vying for a contract.
By 2023, the Army plans to field the PrSM. However, the initial supply is designed to hit stationary targets, like airfields, Murray said. By 2025, the Army plans to field an upgrade capable of destroying moving targets.
Looking even further ahead, a “600 to 700 km [missile] is entirely possible,” Rafferty said, “but we’ve got a long way to go with rocket technology in this form factor” as officials plan to stay with the current launchers in the HIMARS and MLRS fleets.
“We’re not investing in a new fleeting of launchers,” Murray said. “We’re getting two missiles in the same pod that our current missile go into, so we’re actually doubling the load-out of our current fleet with this missile technology.”
Because of this, not only will it save money, but Soldiers shifting from the ATACMS system will transition smoothly, Murray said, since much of the same software, computers, and platforms will be used.
From “the outside looking in,” Murray added. “It’s exactly the same.”