PrSM instead of CD-ATACMS. New plans for US missile rearmament

ATACMS rocket launch

Over the past several years, work has been carried out in the United States to modernize the existing ATACMS operational-tactical missile in order to create a new multi-purpose missile system. The project regularly faced various problems, which determined its fate. FY2021 Defense Budget does not provide funding for this project – and work on it is terminated in favor of other projects.

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The ATACMS OTRK modernization project in order to create a multipurpose CD-ATACMS (Cross-Domain Army Tactical Missile System) was launched in 2016. With its help, it was planned to fill an empty niche in a promising missile weapons system, as well as to save on development and production.

At the beginning of September this year in the specialized foreign media there were reports of difficulties in the development of CD-ATACMS. The project faced unnamed issues, which led to the decision to suspend the work. The nature of the problems and the possible timing of the resumption of development were not specified for reasons of secrecy.

As is now clear, the project will not be resumed or relaunched. A few days ago, the details of the US defense budget for the next FY2021 became known. This document does not envisage spending on further work on CD-ATACMS. Earlier, the Pentagon demanded $ 62.5 million in a budget request for this project – but Congress refused. At the same time, the budget provides for additional spending on other missile systems projects.

Initial plans

The basic ground-based missile system ATACMS uses ballistic missiles MGM-140, MGM-164 and MGM-168. Its task is to defeat point and area targets with known coordinates at ranges of up to 300 km using monoblock and cluster warheads. The missiles are used with standard MLRS M270 and M142 launchers.

PrSM instead of CD-ATACMS.  New plans for US missile rearmament
Tests of a promising PrSM rocket, December 2019

In the mid-tenths, American lawmakers demanded the creation of a new coastal missile system capable of protecting the US coast from enemy ships. The Pentagon did not agree with such a proposal for some time, but in 2016 it ceded and launched a new project called CD-ATACMS.

To speed up and simplify the development of this project, it was proposed to carry out only using serial components. It was envisaged to rebuild the existing ATACMS OTRK with the modernization of ground facilities and the processing of the rocket for new requirements and tasks.

It was proposed to update the MGM-164/168 rocket by installing a seeker and a new autopilot. Several variants of the GOS were considered, capable of providing search and tracking of mobile ground or surface objects. In addition, an appropriate update of the equipment on board the launcher was required, as well as communication and control facilities – for receiving and processing target designation.

The proposed appearance of the CD-ATACMS missile made it possible to fulfill the requirements of the Congress to create a new anti-ship coastal complex. In addition, it could be used in the ground forces to replace the serial ATACMS. Thus, in the course of the “normal” modernization of the serial sample, it would be possible to create a multipurpose system with broad capabilities to combat the enemy’s army and navy.

The successful completion of the CD-ATACMS project could have interesting organizational implications. To operate the new missile system, the army would have to create new coastal defense units. Similar units existed in the past, but were disbanded in the middle of the last century.

Best replacement

Work on the CD-ATACMS topic started back in 2016, but has not yet yielded the desired results. The development of a new rocket faced certain difficulties, because of which it had to be suspended indefinitely. As it now turns out, the work will not be resumed due to the lack of funding in the new defense budget.

The launch of the anti-ship PrSM will look similar.

However, the US ground forces do not risk being left without a new multipurpose missile system. Back in the summer, Pentagon representatives talked about the need to develop a new medium-range anti-ship missile system capable of hitting targets in the range from 500 to 2000 km. It must be created as soon as possible – along with other promising models, it should enter service in 2023.

In the draft military budget, the Pentagon provided for substantial spending on the development of the direction of medium-range missiles. In the approved version of the budget, Congress provided an additional $ 88 million for similar projects. It is expected that this will allow faster development of a new multipurpose complex and fully compensate for the closure of the CD-ATACMS project.

It is reported that a new missile for attacking moving targets will be created on the basis of the Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) project. Its original version has been developed since 2016 as a replacement for the outdated ATACMS OTRK. Due to new materials and technologies, it is planned to obtain a firing range of at least 500 km. In addition, it will be possible to reduce the dimensions of the rocket in comparison with the MGM-140/164/168 and increase the ammunition load of the standard launcher. The PrSM project has already been brought to flight tests and shows good results.

The initial version of the PrSM product should be equipped with guidance based on satellite or inertial navigation. There is also a fundamental possibility of creating a modification of such a missile with a seeker of one type or another. In accordance with the latest decisions, this potential of the project will be used in the development of a multipurpose missile. The possibility of creating a multispectral seeker with wide capabilities is being considered.

Multipurpose future

A number of promising missile weapons projects are being created as part of the large Long Range Precision Fires (LRPF) program. It is planned to be completed in 2023 by adopting a number of complexes with different capabilities. However, as it is now becoming clear, such plans will not be fully implemented.

PrSM in flight

Together with other samples, in 2023, the OTRK CD-ATACMS was supposed to get into the army. However, the project ran into difficulties that could lead to a failure to meet the deadline. Now its development is canceled, and in 2023 the army will receive one less sample. A modification of the PrSM medium-range missile for firing at moving targets will be ready for adoption only in 2025.

The modernization of the complex is planned for the second half of the decade. The base and anti-ship versions of the PrSM will receive a new engine, which will increase the firing range. It is claimed that the design of the missile has the potential to achieve a range of up to 600-800 km.

An ambiguous present

Thus, the development of promising missile weapons for the American army faced unnamed problems and found itself in a specific position. One of the promising projects on which great hopes were pinned was not completed – the work will not be completed on time and will not receive the desired savings.

Instead of the unsuccessful CD-ATACMS, it is proposed to develop a completely new project. However, this will take time, and in 2023 the army will not receive all the desired missile systems. Provided there are no new delays, the new version of the PrSM will enter the army only two years after that.

The Pentagon has to adjust its plans for the development of missile weapons for the ground forces. Most likely, the LRPF program as a whole will be implemented, albeit with noticeable changes. However, the issues of timing and cost of new projects remain relevant. Time will tell whether it will be possible to meet the schedule and meet the estimated estimate.

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