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Army pondering alternatives for tactical missile payload.

The U.S. Army is reevaluating its tactical missile program and exploring options to employ new munitions, in an effort to make its long-range precision weapons less costly and more relevant to modern warfare.

One pressing priority is to figure out a modernization path for the Army tactical missile (ATACMS). A panel of senior Army officers--called the Acquisition Review Council--was expected to meet last month to evaluate the service's "deep fires" strategy, including ATACMS.

The service has an aging stockpile of block I missiles that it will either upgrade or demilitarize. An extended-range version of ATACMS, block IA, is in production. But the block II, which carries smart submunitions, has not performed well in recent tests and received poor marks in the operational test and evaluation annual report for fiscal year 2001.

The TACMS block IIA was supposed to be an extended range variant of the block II and was to include more advanced submunitions, but the Army cancelled the program two years ago, citing funding shortages.

The ATACMS block I, which has a range of 165 km, gained fame in the Persian Gulf War. Launched from the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System, the block I missile carries about 900 grenades. The manufacturer, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, in Dallas, delivered 1,650 missiles.

Block IA, with a range of 300 km, has a smaller payload (300 M74 submunitions) and is guided by GPS satellites. Lockheed made more than 800 block IA systems for the U.S. Army and international buyers. The production line is scheduled to shut down by January 2003. The block II missile--in development since 1995--is in low-rate production, but experiencing technical problems with the munitions.

The block II was to become the delivery system to replace the defunct Tri-Service Stand-off Attack Missile, cancelled in 1995, as the deep attack carrier for the brilliant anti-armor technology. The BAT, made by Northrop Grumman Corp., is a self-guided submunition that uses on-board sensors to seek, identify, employ a top-attack engagement profile and destroy moving tanks. It uses an acoustic sensor to seek out its armor targets and infrared sensors to engage the vehicles.

An improved version of BAT, called P31, has been in development since 1999. Like the basic BAT, the P31 also will rely on acoustic sensors to initially find moving vehicles, but it will use a millimeter wave and imaging infrared sensor to track the target to impact.

There are 13 submunitions in the ATACMS block II missile. Once dispensed, the weapons glide to their preprogrammed target area, and each selects a target within its assigned acoustic segment of the formation. Once a target has been acquired by the terminal infrared seeker, the weapon guides to terminal impact and uses a tandem shaped-charge warhead to destroy the vehicle.

The Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation, Tom Christie, said in his fiscal year 2001 annual report that performance, weather robustness and system targeting are areas of concern," in ATACMS block II. Three missions were fired, with limited success.

In the first mission, there were no hits. The aim point of the missile was adjusted to simulate the error in targeting during combat. Winds contributed to poor performance, said the report, by creating significant background noise, making difficult the detection of the target by the acoustic sensors.

In a second test, BAT hit one out of two armored personnel carriers. A third mission was fired against a dispersed array of three moving columns of vehicles. According to Christie's report, the BATs miscalculated altitudes and had other problems, likely caused by turbulent air conditions

BAT reliability, the report noted, is below the required threshold (84 percent vs. 91 percent).

During tests in fiscal year 2001, the contractor was not able to deliver TACMS block II missiles with fully functional BATs, said the report. "This year, two of the five missiles delivered to the range had one BAT test badly." Meanwhile, missile firings to date "indicate that the missile will meet its accuracy requirement." All 37 BATs fired were successfully dispensed.

Critics of the program complain that the Army, so far, has spent $2 billion on the BAT submunition and has little to show for that investment.

The Army's program manager for precision fires, Col. Craig Naudain, declined to be interviewed for this article.

In defense of the TACMS block II program, an Army source who did not want to be quoted by name noted that, during the past decade, the service has added new "desired features" to the BAT, such as the ability to chase dispersed fast-moving columns of vehicles, that were not reflected in the original design. "Other things have come along, for which the original BAT was not designed," said the source.

The setbacks experienced in the ATACMS block II testing, meanwhile, have vexed Lockheed officials, who stress that the missile is working well, but the problem is the submunition. As it turns out, Lockheed has proposed that the Army upgrade the TACMS with a so-called universal dispenser that could be used to fire BATs or possibly other submunitions, such as the Lockheed-made LOCAAS. The Low Cost Autonomous Attack System munition is capable of broad area search, identification, and destruction of mobile ground targets. It uses a LADAR (laser-radar) sensor coupled with a multimode warhead and a maneuvering airframe.

The universal dispenser is "one alternative we've brought forth to the Army," said Ben Collins, manager of business development at Lockheed Martin. "It's half the cost of the current block II dispenser system." During a recent interview, Collins explained that this dispenser would give commanders more flexibility, because it would allow them to fire the missile with fewer than 13 BATs and to substitute the BAT with other munitions, such as the SADARM, the wide-area munition, the BLU-108, the LOCAAS or even 155mm or 105mm artillery shells.

The universal dispenser was developed with Lockheed internal funding, said Collins. The company has received many inquiries about it from other countries, he added.

Firing a fully loaded ATACMS with 13 BATS is an expensive proposition, at about $1 million per shot. The ability to load the missile with fewer munitions makes financial sense, said Collins. "With a reduced payload, your cost goes down significantly." When developing a "deep fires" strategy, a mander may not want to use a 13-BAT payload if the targets are widely dispersed, for example.

Under the TACMS 2000 program, Lockheed claims to have reduced the cost of each missile by $100,000, but it's not clear whether there are any plans to reduce the cost of the BAT submunitions.

A Northrop Grumman spokesman referred all questions on BAT to the U.S. Army.

The Army source explained that the precision fires program office is committed to fielding the TACMS block II and BAT, but program officials nonetheless are seriously considering acquiring Lockheed's universal dispenser, as part of a plan to evolve TACMS. The Army, said the source, likes the idea of being able to dispense fewer that 13 BATs per shot, depending on the target set. The precision fires office has conducted computer simulations that prove that many targets only would require six or eight BATs. The Army also favors the notion of having flexibility to use other types of munitions. However, said the source, "we don't know what those will be."

In recent years, the Army also has been working on two programs to equip TACMS with a unitary and a penetrator warhead.

The unitary TACMS has a 300 km range and GPS-aided inertial guidance. The warheads tested so far include the Navy Standoff Land Attack Munition, the Harpoon, the WAU 23/B and the WDU-18/B bombs. This system would be used primarily as a precision weapon to strike buildings and bunkers. Lockheed delivered 42 unitary missiles last year. The company expects to make 24 in 2003 and is hoping that Congress will appropriate a supplemental fund to add 90 more missiles.

The TACMS penetrator completed a technology demonstration program in 1998, but is not scheduled for a flight test until September 2003. The Navy-furnished penetrator would have a range between 140-499 kin, depending on the munition, and would be used against hard and deeply buried targets.

Lockheed officials have proposed that the Army upgrade the stockpile of 1,650 block I ATACMS to unitary or penetrator variants. They argue that those aging missiles will be expensive to demilitarize and that an upgrade would be less costly than buying new ones.

"Over 10 years, you could replace the whole stockpile," said Collins.

The company, meanwhile, is sketching new concepts for the next generation of TACMS, which would be part of the Army's objective force of 2020. "It may nor look anything like the current system," said Collins. "It could be smaller and more lethal." The Army has not specified any requirements yet.

Given the success in the TACMS unitary program, Collins expects that a follow-on missile would use joint Army/Navy munitions. No matter what the "objective force" looks like, he said, "You always will need a system to go deep."
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Author:Ervin, Sandra I.
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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