The Army is working to engineer a sleek, high-speed, first-of-its-kind long-range ground-launched attack missile able to pinpoint and destroy enemy bunkers, helicopter staging areas, troop concentrations and other fixed-location targets from as much as three time the range of existing weapons, service officials said.
The emerging Long Range Precision Fires, slated to be operational by 2027, is being designed to destroy targets at distances up to 500 kilometers.
"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," Dan O'boyle, spokesman for Program Executive Office, Missiles & Space, told Scout Warrior.
The new weapon is designed to replace the Army's current aging 1980's era MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System, a ground-launched missile able to fire at least 160 kilometers.
Raytheon's new Long-Range Precision Fires missile is deployed from a mobile launcher in this artist's rendering. | Raytheon photo
"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.
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, Raytheon and Army officials explained.
LRPF missile will have a newer explosive warhead and guidance technology aimed at providing an all-weather, 24/7, precision surface-to-surface deep-strike capability, 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, O'Boyle added.
The new weapons system will fire two missiles from a single weapons pod and uses a more high-tech guidance system than its predecessors.
Although additional competitions among vendors are expected in future years, however the Army did award a $5.7 million risk-mitigation contract to Raytheon for the LRPF program.
"We're looking to replace a design originally from the 1980s," said Greg Haynes, a Raytheon manager leading the company's campaign for a new long-range weapon. "Missile technology has come a long way."
The US Army was among the first-ever to deploy land-fired precision weaponry such as the GPS-guided Excalibur precision 155m artillery round and the longer-range Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, or GMLRS. These weapons, which were first used in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2006 through 2009 timeframe, ushered in the advent of a new kind of weapon engineered to give Commanders more attack options and pinpoint enemy targets with great precision from long distances. In fact, among other things, GMLRS successfully destroyed Taliban targets in Afghanistan.
While precision fires of this kind would, quite naturally, be useful in full-scale mechanized force-on-force combat – they proved particularly useful 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 US combat success.
Since the initial combat debut of these weapons, however, the fast pace of global technological change and weapons proliferation has fostered a circumstance wherein the US is no longer among the few combat forces to have these kinds of weapons. As a result, the US Army sees a clear need to substantially advance offensive ground-attack technology.
"Adversaries are already equipped with long-range weapons that could inflict substantial damage at distances beyond the Army's striking power," said former Army colonel John Weinzettle, now a program manager in Raytheon's Advanced Missile Systems business.