Since the early nineties, the US armed forces have been operating the ATACMS tactical missile system with several modifications of MGM-140 and MGM-164 missiles. Such weapons can be used to destroy targets at ranges of up to 300 km using high-explosive fragmentation or cluster warheads. Despite the rather high characteristics, the ATACMS system is no longer fully satisfied with the operators. As a consequence, the Pentagon initiated the development of a new system of a similar class. Currently, the promising program is called LRPF.
The existing complex ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System - "Tactical army missile system") is a refinement of the M270 MLRS and HIMARS multiple launch rocket systems in service. The essence of this revision was to equip the MLRS with a new guided munition with high firing range and a relatively heavy warhead. This approach to the creation of an operational-tactical missile system made it possible to achieve certain savings due to the absence of the need to build self-propelled launchers designed specifically to work with new missiles. In addition, great flexibility was provided for the use of existing and construction equipment.
Possible appearance of the LRPF rocket. Drawing from the presentation on the development of MLRS
Some time ago, the American military leadership came to the conclusion about the need for further development of operational-tactical missile systems. The ATACMS complex in service can still be operated by troops, but its characteristics may already be insufficient to solve existing combat missions. The result of this assessment of the current situation was the start of the LRPF (Long Range Precision Fires) program. The main requirements for promising developments that were to appear in the course of this program were to increase the range and accuracy of fire in comparison with the available missiles.
Several leading defense companies in the United States proposed their vision of a promising project. The military specialists analyzed the proposed preliminary projects and made their decision. In mid-March 2016, it was announced that the Pentagon had chosen the Raytheon project. It was she who was entrusted with the development of promising weapons intended for the future replacement of existing systems. In addition, Lockheed Martin will take part in the LRPF project. She has to carry out part of the work on the creation of certain components of a promising missile system.
Apparently, one of the reasons that the project of the Raytheon company won the competition of the Ministry of Defense was the approach to the general architecture of the operational-tactical missile system and to the creation of new options for weapons. The authors of the new project rightly decided that the existing MGM-140 and MGM-164 missiles have limited modernization potential, which does not fully solve all the existing problems. In this regard, on the basis of the available ammunition, only missiles can be made, which will only be a temporary solution. For a complete solution of the assigned tasks, it is necessary to develop a completely new weapon. In addition, Raytheon's LRPF project borrows some ideas from ATACMS. So, it is proposed to abandon the creation of a new launcher and develop a rocket taking into account compatibility with the M270A1 and HIMARS machines.
Launch of an ATACM rocket with an M270 self-propelled launcher. Photo Wikimedia Commons
Using similar ideas, Raytheon proposed to develop a promising operational-tactical missile with increased characteristics, capable of replacing the products of the ATACMS complex. According to preliminary studies of the project, information about which was published last year, the proposed appearance of the missile system allows for a firing range of at least 300 km when using a warhead of the required type weighing at least 200 pounds (from 90 kg). To increase the effectiveness of the strike, it was proposed to use, first of all, a cluster warhead. At the same time, it will be possible to use weapons at any time of the day, regardless of weather conditions.
Due to the use of modern technologies, materials and assemblies, it was possible to reduce the size and weight of the rocket without deteriorating the main characteristics. In accordance with preliminary calculations, the transverse dimensions of the new LRPF rocket turned out to be such that two products could be placed in a standard container used by launchers of multiple launch rocket systems. Thanks to this, the M270A1 machine gets the ability to transport and launch four missiles of a new type, HIMARS - two. For comparison, missiles of the ATACMS family have a caliber of 610 mm, which is why only one unit of such weapons can be placed in a standard container.
The proposed appearance of the promising missile system completely satisfied the customer, which resulted in the emergence of a contract for the development of a full-fledged project. Not so long ago, at the end of August, Raytheon received another contract specifying some of the design details. In particular, it sets a deadline of 9 months during which the first results of design work must be presented. The contract value is $ 5.7 million. After the end of the deadline, the LRPF project will enter a new stage, which will bring it to the stage of flight design tests.
For objective reasons, the company-developer of the LRPF complex is in no hurry to publish detailed data on the technical appearance or exact characteristics of the promising missile system. Nevertheless, even at the stage of preliminary work, Raytheon revealed some of the features of the future project, and also announced its intentions. All this information, which appeared earlier, does not allow to fully establish the appearance of the new rocket, however, it makes it possible to imagine what it will be like upon completion of the design work. Also, a certain idea of a promising product is given by drawings depicting a possible appearance of the rocket.
LRPF project flyer. Raytheon / Raytheon.com
In the published figures, a promising operational-tactical missile is depicted as a product with a cylindrical body of large elongation, an ogival or conical head fairing and a tail unit based on trapezoidal planes. The dimensions of the hull, for obvious reasons, are still unknown, but it is safe to say that the total length of the LRPF rocket will not exceed 4 meters. Otherwise, the ammunition simply will not fit in the volume of a standard container used by American MLRS. Unguided rockets for the M270 and HIMARS systems have a caliber of 227 mm, which makes it possible to place two horizontal rows of three rocket guides in each of the container. In the same volume, only one 610-mm ATACMS operational-tactical missile fits. Thus, to install two guides in a standard container, the LRPF rocket must have a maximum diameter of no more than 340-350 mm, and also be equipped with planes that can be deployed in flight. The weight parameters of a product cannot be estimated with acceptable accuracy using only available information.
In one of the relatively old documents on the development of operational-tactical missile systems, and previously published by Raytheon, there was a general diagram of a promising Long Range Precision Fires missile, which may, to some extent, correspond to real solutions used in the development of a full-fledged project. In this case, the head compartment of a promising product can be given over to control equipment, and a large volume behind it will accommodate a warhead of a cassette or other type. A large tail section, which occupies about half of the total length of the hull, is intended for the installation of the engine. In all likelihood, a solid-propellant propulsion system capable of showing the required thrust and operating time characteristics will again be used.
According to statements by officials directly related to the new LRPF project, the promising missile will be equipped with modern guidance systems that provide an advantage over existing weapons. It was also mentioned that the rocket can receive an autonomous guidance system based on inertial navigation with the possibility of correction based on GPS signals. In theory, such control systems make it possible to provide a ballistic missile with a very high accuracy: the circular probable deviation can be within a few meters.
The launch of a promising rocket as seen by the artist. Raytheon / Raytheon.com
The main payload type for operational-tactical missiles of the ATACMS family is cluster warheads equipped with various types of submunitions. It is possible to use high-explosive fragmentation, anti-tank and other combat elements, in large quantities placed in a single corps. Some data on the LRPF project indicate that when creating a new operational-tactical missile, warheads similar to the existing ones will be used.
Early reports of the development of a new missile featured range parameters at the level of existing ATACMS products. According to these data, a promising missile will have to be able to hit targets at ranges from 75 to 300 km. By now, new information has appeared. Now it is argued that the LRPF missile will be able to hit targets at ranges of up to 500 km, which will give it a significant advantage over existing American and foreign complexes.
According to representatives of the developer company, the promising missile system will retain the main goals and objectives of its predecessors. Launchers with LRPF missiles will have to attack stationary ground targets such as airfields, military infrastructure, troops in concentration areas, etc. For obvious reasons, the use of such weapons against troops on the march or on the front line seems inappropriate. By increasing the maximum firing range in comparison with the existing ATACMS system, combat effectiveness and flexibility of use can be improved.
An important advantage of the new project should be the maximum unification with existing systems and the use of ready-made technology. It is assumed that LRPF tactical missiles will be delivered in standard transport and launch containers, similar to those used with other ammunition for American MLRS. This will allow the use of new weapons in existing equipment, namely the M270A1 and HIMARS vehicles. This approach will preserve one of the main advantages of the ATACMS complex in the form of the versatility of combat vehicles while increasing the characteristics.
It is also planned to use existing ideas and technologies borrowed from other projects. In particular, it was mentioned that in the development of the Long Range Precision Fires rocket, some developments on the SM-3 and SM-6 anti-aircraft systems, created for the naval forces, will be used. Despite the different purpose of the initial projects, some ideas and solutions from them can be useful when creating an operational-tactical complex.
The role of the LRPF complex in the structure of missile forces and artillery. Diagram from the presentation on the development of MLRS
The development company will take several years to complete all the necessary work. By the end of this decade, it is planned to complete the design work and begin testing the new complex. The adoption of the LRPF system into service is scheduled for the first half of the twenties. In the absence of any serious problems, according to early estimates of Raytheon experts, the first serial missiles of the new type can be transferred to the troops in 2022-23.
Based on the available data, it can be assumed that by the middle of the next decade, the United States ground forces will begin updating their arsenals and mastering new weapons. The result of these processes will be very original. Relatively old, albeit modernized, combat vehicles will be able to use both unguided missiles of several types, created in the eighties of the XX century, and the latest operational-tactical ones. From the point of view of tactical and technical characteristics, this will allow one and the same equipment, depending on the assigned combat missions, to attack targets within a radius of several hundred kilometers using suitable ammunition. Such versatility of the use of combat vehicles, combined with the increased characteristics of LRPF missiles, should give the troops certain advantages.
At the moment, the Long Range Precision Fires project is in the early stages of design. Specialists from Raytheon and the US military are working on the general features of a promising missile system and the formation of its exact appearance. Some of the most general information has already been announced, allowing one to make certain assumptions. The development company will need several years to complete the current work, after which flight tests of the missiles will begin, according to the results of which the Pentagon will make its decision. At the same time, according to some reports, the possibility is not excluded that some new developers will be involved in the LRPF program, who will have to create their own versions of the new rocket. Thus, the real results of the current work will become known only in a few years, when the project comes to testing. However, new messages about the progress of the project may appear at any time.