The third test of Lockheed Martin’s Precision Strike Missile has been carried out by the US Army, which fired the missile from a HIMARS launcher at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
The test was of shorter-range capability at only 85 kilometres and was the most challenging, according to Brigadier General John Rafferty, the Army’s Long Range Precision Fires cross-functional team director reporting to Defense News.
“The missile almost has to start tipping over as soon as it comes out of the launcher. It has to burn off a lot of energy in order to turn over," said BG Rafferty. “But we started off with 240 kilometres, went to 180 and now we’re at 85.”
Longer Range testing is planned for the future as the Army Futures Command is still examining the needs of the missile system, such as striking moving armed vehicles.
There will be a maximum range test in less than a year.
The missile reportedly performed as expected and as required in every way, as it had in two previous tests, said Gaylia Campbell, Lockheed’s vice president of precision fires and combat maneuver systems.
“The team has really performed flawlessly,” Campbell said. “And being able to take a clean sheet design of a new missile and be able to perform three for three — [that’s] really 100 per cent mission success. And it’s the Army’s No. 1 modernisation priority.”
Lockheed is the only competitor vying to replace the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) after Raytheon exited the competition in March. Being down to one competitor might not be permanent, though, according to General John Murray, who helms Army Futures Command.
“No concern whatsoever about being down to one competitor,” GEN Murray said. "Based upon a lot of factors, there will be chances to introduce competition in this program as we get into further increments.”
Future increments, called spirals, would add a more capable seeker, make the missile more lethal and extend its range. For the missile’s seeker technology, BG Rafferty said his team is moving into the hands-on testing, outside of the lab, in the next few months.
Campbell said Lockheed plans to participate in any future competitions, "looking at what are possible solutions for those next spirals”.
The service anticipates the final range will exceed 500 kilometres in light of the United States’ withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
The PSM will be shot out of the same HIMARS launchers used by the ATACMS it’s intended to replace, cutting costs for the Army.
“We’re not investing in a new fleet of launchers and we’re getting two missiles in the same pod that our current missile goes into, so we’re actually doubling the load-out of our current fleet with this missile technology,” GEN Murray said.
The new missile system will have applications in multiple theatres, as well, noted Rafferty.
“The early capability is against long-range artillery and integrated air defence systems,” he said. “As you integrate the seeker technology, it gives you the ability to go after the mini-targets. Those mini-targets can be maritime in the Pacific; those mini-targets can be fire control radars [and airfields] in the European scenario.”