Shoot-off for airborne long-range munition coming this fall

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NASVHILLE, Tenn. — The Army is taking three vendors into a shoot-off this fall to choose a Long-Range Precision Munition for AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and, once fielded, the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft.

The Army’s Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space said it selected three qualified systems from responses to a 2021 request for information, but did not say which vendors were chosen.

The results will inform a final LRPM requirements document and validate the maturity of potential solutions.

The options will be demonstrated through various scenarios from September through November of this year at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, according to PEO Missiles and Space.

While the Army has chosen an interim system — the Rafael-manufactured Spike Non-Line-of-Sight munition — it wants to extend the range of the munition and operate it in degraded environments.

The Army conducted 10 successful test shots from various Apaches in Israel and in the U.S. before deciding to move forward with the system to fill an immediate capability gap.

Buying Spike NLOS “is a great idea of doing things faster to make sure we get, in this case, an initial capability that is much better than what we have today,” Doug Bush, the Army’s acquisition chief, said at the Army Aviation Association of America’s conference.

Bush said the Army’s authorization of the shoot-off will bring industry to the field to give the service a clear view of the technology.

“We’ll learn from that and [I] anticipate it will be successful moving into, in my suspicion, … rapid prototyping, but that would have to be determined in order to get that program moving quickly so we can get that capability on a much shorter timeline, for example, than [the Joint Air to Ground Munition] — a successful program, it just took a long time,” Bush said. “We want to go much faster.”

The LRPM space has seen “tremendous” innovation, Bush added. “I saw some of it just walking around [at AAAA], so we have to get on that.” Many of these munitions have characteristics more akin to unmanned aircraft systems.

Lockheed Martin, the integrator of the Spike NLOS system, received the contract in November 2021.

The first Apache equipped with the Spike NLOS for testing will begin flying in November and then will fire its first missile in January, Thomas Bargnesi, Lockheed’s program manager for precision strike, told Defense News in interview at AAAA.

The company will outfit two test birds, he said, then the Army will install Spike on the remaining Apaches — the latest V6 variant — for the first unit equipped by the end of calendar 2023.

“Lockheed Martin and the Army have done a tremendous amount of refinement to the system,” Bargnesi said, from cabling to finding optimal positions for mounting the weapon.

Lockheed is also integrating Spike NLOS onto Joint Light Tactical Vehicles for the U.S. Marine Corps and for U.S. Special Operations Command vehicles, he noted.

The company confirmed it has been selected to participate in the shoot-off in the fall. “As the interim provider, we have good insight into the capabilities, the needs of the Army and the warfighter for the objective long-range precision munition program,” Bargnesi said.

The main difference, he said, is the objective missiles will be produced in the United States. The company is in the process of setting up production facilities in Troy, Alabama, to accommodate those possible orders.

At the same time, Lockheed is making technological changes to the system and working to Americanize it. “We expect to fly these enhancements here, first internally within the company, in June of this year,” Bargnesi said.

He said the enhancements to Spike NLOS will include range improvements, compatibility with the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft’s ecosystem — expected to be fielded in the 2030 timeframe — and compatibility and interoperability under the Army’s Modular Open System Architectures.

On the science and technology level, the Army is looking to provide a future LRPM with increased range and the ability to fly in GPS-denied environments and in a wider range of weather conditions, according to Jeffrey Langhout, director of the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Aviation and Missile Center.

“Spike is generally a fair weather kind of system, and obviously we need something that has a little bit more range,” Langhout told Defense News in an interview at AAAA.

“I wish JAGM would go the range we need,” he said, “but doggone physics keeps getting in the way.”

To address those problems, Langhout said, his outfit is working on propulsion technology. “We’ve already made some great strides” in improving the chemical makeup of the solid rocket motor fuel to burn more efficiently, which “means you need less space to be able to get just as much thrust and range and so it’s all about how much can you stuff in this little tube.”

The Army is working within top-level constraints, he said, like ensuring the systems can be launched off the service’s modular effects launcher, which will be incorporated onto the FARA platform, and be effective in regions like Europe and the Indo-Pacific.

The munitions will have to function in contested environments at longer ranges, which poses challenges Langhout’s department is considering, such as getting datalinks “in good shape” to operate in those challenging environments.

“We’ve got to assume that GPS is not going to work,” Langhout said, so the S&T community is partnering with the precision navigation and timing CFT.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.



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Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.