Soldiers came to White Sands Missile Range December 14, 2021 to conduct live fire testing of old missiles to confirm the older weapons are still reliable and ready for use.
The Soldiers, from the 3rd Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment of the 18th Field Artillery Brigade out of Fort Bragg NC, visited the New Mexico range to conduct reliability tests of early versions of the Army Tactical Missile System.
The ATACMS was developed in 1991 to provide the Army with a long-range tactical artillery missile. Utilizing the same launch vehicle as other Army rockets and missiles, the ATACMS holds long history of use and saw extensive testing over the years on WSMR.
This test was what is called a stockpile reliability test. For tests of this type, older missiles are pulled out of inventory and fired. The shots are then evaluated, and if the missiles prove they can still perform to Army specifications, then that can inform the Army about the longevity of other missiles in the same stock from the same production run.
“Tests like this make sure that the missile and the launcher communicate, and the software is working properly,” said Mia Fitch, test officer with the Materiel Test Directorate at WSMR.
The result is that the Army can identify weapons that are still good and able to be deployed, saving the Army money on disposal and replacement of the older missiles, while improving readiness by certifying that the weapons could still be used in a future operation.
“(These missiles) are already past their prime, so we need to make sure they are still reliable, they still work, and they have the impact pattern and can reach the distances we need so we can still use them,” Fitch said.
The ATACMS missiles used in this test were manufactured over 27 years ago, making them older than the Soldiers operating the launcher vehicle. Lockheed Martin engineers who were sent to support test said these missiles represented some of the oldest ATACMS missiles still in the Army’s inventory.
To conduct the test, the two missiles were launched at two different target areas on WSMR allowing the test to include different distances and flight types. The missiles were also temperature conditioned, heated and cooled, prior to the shot.
“We had a cold one and a hot one, and that was to represent different conditions around the world,” Fitch said.
To some cheering an applause, the missiles successfully hit the target and deployed their payloads of small bombs as expected resulting in a satisfactory mission outcome and certifying the missiles are still suitable for use by Soldiers.
“Both of them did great,” Fitch said. “They have bomblets inside, so they were able to accomplish a pattern and distance required.”
While not all tests require active duty Soldiers to conduct them, there’s always a benefit to getting the end-user involved.
“I’ve never been able to fire a live ATACMS before, so just the experience alone has value,” said Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Wells, a launcher chief with the 3-321 FAR.
ATACMS is a long-range weapon system and a larger missile than the smaller, more common Low Cost Reduced Range Practice Rocket the Soldiers can more easily train with.
“The bang and the package on these missiles are way bigger than we’re used to,” said Spc. Michael Diaz, an artillery crewman with the 3-321 FAR.
WSMR, with its large range area and controlled airspace, allowed the test to double as a chance to not only conduct a test with an end-user at the controls, but also to get the Soldiers some valuable live-fire experience.
“We can go short, medium or extended range, and we have the ability to test different patterns and lengths (of flight),” Fitch said. “So White Sands is prime because we can go with the longest range for missiles.”
WSMR regularly conducts reliability tests of this type, testing various weapons from different stockpiles. In addition to the testing of existing stockpiles, similar testing is conducted with newly built missiles to test the manufacturing process, should the need ever arise for more weapons than the U.S. already has in inventory.