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US Army's New Precision Strike Missile on Track for 2023 Debut

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AUSTIN, Texas — The Army’s replacement for the Tactical Missile System — the Precision Strike Missile — is on target for fielding next year, a service official said Sept. 19.

Hunter Blackwell, deputy capability area lead for fires at the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command's Aviation and Missile Center, said increment one of the Precision Strike Missile, or PrSM, has transitioned out of science-and-technology phase and into the acquisition community for fielding.

“It's capable of attacking a coordinate or a location at targets out to the old [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty] ranges of 500 kilometers,” he said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Future Force 2022 conference in Austin, Texas. In addition, the PrSM will fire two missiles per launch pod versus one in the predecessor.

The Army is fielding the PrSM in increments and adding capabilities in stages, which allows for more rapid fielding of the first increment, or base capability. It is one of the 24 modernization programs senior service leaders have vowed intends to have in the hands of soldiers to use by the end of 2023.

Increment two will add seeker technology to engage moving targets in the land and maritime domains, Blackwell said. It is in the final year of its science-and-technology phase and will transition to the acquisition community by the end of fiscal year 2023, he said.

“This is really going to be a paradigm change for the artillery community,” he said. “We're changing from attacking a place — a coordinate — to attacking things: attacking specific targets that may be moving on the battlefield.”

The third increment is called the “enhanced lethality variant” of PrSM, he said. It’s a science-and-technology program that will add modular, maneuvering payloads to address the challenge of firing on mobile targets from long distances.
“Let's say it takes 10 minutes to fly to a 500-kilometer-deep target,” he said. “That target has 10 minutes to move, which allows uncertainty to go into our targeting process. Having these maneuvering submunitions is a way that we can overcome that uncertainty that's introduced by this long-range fight.”

Increment three is currently in execution, he said. “We've been working with industry partners to develop concepts for this and are continuing to work with those out into the future.”

The fourth increment involves extending the range of the missile to 1,000 kilometers or more without changing the footprint of the launcher.

“That is primarily a propulsion problem,” he said. The PrSM increments, along with most missiles, use rocket propulsion. In rocket systems, much of the weight is the oxygen needed for the fuel to burn.

“So, if you can pull the oxygen out of the atmosphere for that propulsion system, you really get a lot better gas mileage on your flight,” he said. “We need to pull a lot of new technologies in to integrate to make sure we're still effective throughout the flight, throughout the missile mission.”

While there are multiple technologies that could provide the air-breathing performance, the most likely candidate is a supersonic ramjet, he said.

“The reason we're looking at that is if you go to something higher speed like a scramjet, two problems happen,” he said. “One it's a little more expensive. That makes it difficult for the Army to do things like mass fires at depth. … And two, that higher speed can push us toward more exotic materials across the rest of the missile.

“So supersonic ramjets for us look like the right technology to have the right balance between speed for responsiveness and survivability, but not so fast that we have to get really exotic and expensive on how we build this,” he said.

Although the increments are numerical, they are not likely to be fielded in order, he said. Army Futures Command has put a priority on increment four ahead of three in the development cycle, he explained.

“We've actually had flexibility all along to arrange these in the way that lines up with the Army priorities and with the maturation of the technologies,” he said.

In parallel with the fielding of PrSM is an effort to develop an autonomous, multidomain launcher — essentially taking the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, and converting it into an unmanned platform, he said.

Removing the cab and crew life-support elements would allow for more missiles, he added. “This allows us to have a two-pod loadout, potentially, without sacrificing any of the mobility or transportability of HIMARS.”

 

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