The Pentagon’s plans to develop a hypersonic tactical missile for the ground forces Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) received a serious blow. After several years of development, Raytheon withdrew from the project without making a single test launch of the prototype. Now the new munition is being developed only by Lockheed Martin. But it can also fail in this technically complex project, experts say.
Stopping a project
On March 25, the Pentagon refused to grant developers a cash tranche for further work on the missile. In fact, this means stopping the project. It is noteworthy that at the time of the failure, ground testing of individual elements of the PrSM, including the engine, was already underway, but Raytheon recognized that it would not be able to create a rocket with the required characteristics in time without major additional financial injections and decided to abandon the competition, which began in 2016. Now there is only one participant left in the race — its old competitor Lockheed Martin. The company is developing its Challenger for the role of the main American ground-based tactical missile.
This project is extremely important for the US army. The new long-range rocket on a mobile chassis should radically increase the strike capabilities of the ground forces. It was planned to replace conventional attacks ballistic missiles, which are used with m270 tracked launchers and wheeled HIMARS. The range should be doubled, from 270 to 500 km, and the weapon should become more accurate and flexible in use against stationary and moving targets.
And most importantly, the new munition should have been less vulnerable to air defense and missile DEFENSE systems. According to its purpose and characteristics, it was often called the American version of the Russian Iskander-M complex.
It was originally planned that the Precision Strike Missile’s range would be limited to 499 km. This technical task was developed when the US still adhered To the Treaty on intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles. After leaving it, the army lifted this restriction. The contenders said that they will most likely be able to bring the range of the developed missile to 550 km. But Raytheon could not keep its promises.
— The experience of the United States shows that having stopped developing technologies, it is not so easy to return them. After Pershing, the United States had no experience working on long-range surface-to-surface missiles. In Russia, work on hypersonic and ballistic ammunition did not stop even in the difficult 1990s,-military expert Vladislav Shurygin explained to Izvestia. — This is what allowed our military-industrial complex, after making a decision, to bring several developments to mass production in a short time and send them to the troops. Lockheed is now forced to take risks to meet deadlines, and it is not a fact that everything will go smoothly.
Plan B for the Pentagon
The Precision Strike Missile program is not completely closed. Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s largest weapons manufacturers, will try to meet the targets set by the military.
The problem for her was extremely tight deadlines. The Pentagon has reduced the time period initially allocated for development by several years at once. He expects the deployment of new missiles in the military as early as 2023. This speed will be possible due to the use of the same launchers for them as for the old ATACMS.
According to media representatives of the company, to meet the deadline, they had to dramatically speed up the testing process and move away from the usual testing scheme. In December last year, the first test launch was complete, at full range and with a real warhead that exploded at the test site.
Usually, the process of testing new missiles took place in several stages. First, there were throw tests, when the exit of the rocket from the launcher is tested. Then the ammunition with an inert warhead was tested in flight at different distances. And only then began shooting at targets with a real warhead.
Thanks to the extensive implementation of computer modeling and design, the company was able to perform a complex test with a prototype close to the final version for the first time. But foreign experts believe that this approach is dangerous and in the case of even one failed test can make it difficult to find the cause and hold the entire test program.
To complete the current stage of development, the company will have to perform three more tests, including multiple launches of two missiles from a single installation.
The basic model is currently being developed. But the army has already planned two significant upgrades after putting the PrSM into service. At the first stage, the tactical missile should receive an improved homing head. In the second stage, it is planned to increase its lethality. By this, our military means the development of improved combat units. For example, the possibility of creating a cluster warhead with multiple equipment options is being considered.
Army in pursuit of a range
The Precision Strike Missile program is part of an ambitious project of the US army to increase the range of its weapons at all levels, military historian Dmitry Boltenkov told Izvestia.
— The project of long-range precision fire (Long Range Precision Fire) is considered by army generals as a tool for hacking even the most powerful air and missile defense of opponents with high-tech armies. Now it is declared a priority in the development of weapons for the land component of our army — – the expert explained.
In addition to the new operational and tactical missiles, it includes increasing the range of self-propelled M109 artillery units by lengthening their barrels and equipping them with new adjustable ammunition.
To solve strategic tasks, it is planned to create a ground-based complex with long-Range Hypersonic Weapon missiles with a head part in the form of a hypersonic atmospheric glider. In terms of its functions, it should be similar to the Russian “Avangard”, since it will also be able to maneuver on the trajectory. This will make it less vulnerable to existing air defense and missile DEFENSE systems.
An exotic project of a mobile ultra-long-range gun with a range of up to 2 thousand km is under design. Its highlight should be rocket projectiles with their own rocket engines and an accurate guidance system.
All these projects should allow the US army to surpass the range of weapons of any rivals. The main motive for their creation was the rapid progress in the development of long-range weapons of the Land forces of Russia and China.
Precision Strike Missile is not the most difficult of the planned new weapons for the army. Therefore, problems in its creation may be harbingers of difficulties with other, more ambitious components of the long-Range Hypersonic Weapon project.