U.S. Army modernization officials want to field a new mid-range missile that can kill targets at triple the distance of the 500-kilometer-range Precision Strike Missile (PrSM). For context, that’s enough range to fire from Washington, D.C. and hit Florida.
The new surface-to-surface missile that the Army wants — which would be capable of operating between 500 kilometers to 1,500 kilometers, or 310 to 930 miles — could be positioned in strategic areas in the Pacific island chains to deter China, Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, director of the Army’s Long-Range Precision Fires Cross-Functional Team (LRPF CFT), said in a recent service news release.
“What a dilemma that would create for our adversary,” Rafferty said. “How we would change the calculus in a second, if we could deliver this kind of capability out there.”
Modernization officials hope to introduce the new mid-range missile sometime in 2023, according to the release. The effort is currently a research project by the officials at the LRPF CFT, Field Artillery School, Fires Capability Development Integration Directorate, and Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office.
The long-range precision fires effort is the Army’s top modernization priority and the focus of several strategic-range weapons programs.
The PrSM recently completed a successful April 30 test at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. The next phase of testing will include four shots, one to be fired out into the Pacific Ocean from the California coastline.
“We’ll go to Vandenberg Air Force Base, and we’ll test it out into the ocean and see how far it will go,” Rafferty said in the release.
If successful, the PrSM will have a maximum range of 500 kilometers, or 310 miles, compared to 300-kilometer, or 186-mile, range of the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) it will begin replacing in 2023.
The Army is also working with the Navy to develop and field a hypersonic missile battery by 2023. The joint-service effort successfully tested a common hypersonic glide vehicle across the Pacific in March. An Army unit is slated to start training on the system without the live rounds next year, according to the release.
The Pentagon is under pressure to develop hypersonic and other long-range weapons because adversaries such as Russia and China are pursuing similar weapons. In early October, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the successful test launch of the new Zircon hypersonic cruise missile.
In 2019, Putin had said the Zircon would be capable of flying at nine times the speed of sound and have a range of 1,000 kilometers, or 620 miles.
The Army is also working on a strategic long-range cannon — capable of shooting out to 1,000 kilometers, or 620 miles — to offset the cost of expensive hypersonic missiles.
But the project is not without controversy, Rafferty said in the release, adding its feasibility is being examined by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
“We’re going to get a fair evaluation,” he said. “They appreciate the operation and utility in our approach of a volume of fire with more affordable projectiles.”
Even if the system is not expected to be fielded soon, Rafferty said that science and technology projects such as strategic long-range cannon will ultimately help with deterrence.
“It’s not just moving units around and fielding systems,” he said in the release. “It’s also where our research and development is and where our science and technology investment is. So, we’re having an effect with our approach to this.”