Procurement: Missiles For The Masses


March 3, 2010: The U.S. Army is becoming a major buyer, and user, of guided missiles. In the next year, the army will spend nearly $2 billion on development and procurement of missile systems. Most of this is for missile systems that are not needed right now, but would be if the right foe were encountered. For example, $480 million is being spent on Patriot Pac 3 anti-missile missiles. The $3.3 million PAC 3 missile is smaller than the cheaper anti-aircraft version (PAC 2), thus a Patriot launcher can hold sixteen PAC 3 missiles, versus four PAC 2s. A PAC 2 missile weighs about a ton, a PAC 3 weighs about a third of that. The PAC 3 has a shorter range (about 20 kilometers) versus 70 kilometers for the anti-aircraft version. The heavy investment in PAC 3 is justified because these are combat proven, and would be useful against the many SCUD type ballistic missiles owned by Iran, North Korea and China.

The army is spending $117 million on SLAMRAAM, a mobile anti-aircraft missile system using AMRAAM air-to-air missiles (another combat proven system). Seems simple enough, but SLAMRAAM has been in development for nine years. The army has been criticized for taking so long, especially since the Norwegians put together such a system in the late 1990s. This is what inspired the U.S. Army and Marines to do the same. But it was not a high priority project. The main technical problem with these systems is integrating the missiles' control system into an air defense radar network. The Norwegians simply used the older HAWK missile system (which Patriot replaced). The U.S. Department of Defense was supposed to just adapt the Norwegian system for American use. The Norwegian version of SLAMRAAM has been adopted by several other countries (including Spain and Kuwait).

Three years ago, The U.S. Marine Corps cancelled their version of SLAMRAAM. The U.S. Army system mounted four AMRAAM radar guided air-to-air missile on a hummer. A firing battery consists of one fire-control center, a radar (with a 75 kilometer range) and four to eight hummers carrying missiles. The missiles have an effective range of 25 kilometers, and can knock down cruise missiles, as well as helicopters. It was the need to knock down cruise missiles that has kept the army going. The 350 pound AMRAAM SAM costs more (about $600,000 each) compared to the air-to-air version (about $380,000), but is basically the same missile. The army says it will have SLAMRAAM ready next year, when six launchers will be obtained. Don’t hold your breath.

Meanwhile, the army is spending $164 million on Javelin launchers (or CLU, for Command Launch Unit) and missiles. This weapon was first used during 2003 invasion of Iraq. It is a "fire and forget" missile with a 2,500 meter range and the ability to knock out most armored vehicles (except for the most modern ones, and then only having problems when hitting their frontal armor.)

Several hundred Javelins were fired in 2003, and over a thousand to date. One advantage of the Javelin is its weight. The sight and firing unit (CLU) weighs 6.8 kg (15 pounds), while the missile, which comes in a sealed, 6.1 kg (13.5 pound) firing tube, weighs 9.8 kg (21.5 pounds). What the infantry really like is the simplicity (you get the target in the cross hairs, pull the trigger, and that's that) and reliability of the system.

The only down side is that each missile costs over $80,000. Simplicity and reliability come at a price. But throw a CLU and a few missile tubes (each is 42 inches long) into the back of a hummer, and you're ready to take out armored vehicles, a bunker or a building the bad guys won't come out of. The CLU also makes an excellent night vision device, and troops often use it that way with great success.

The army is spending $291 million for the 680 pound GMLRS (guided multiple launch rocket system) missile. This is a very popular GPS guided 227mm rocket that entered service six years ago. It was designed to have a range of 70 kilometers and the ability to land within meters of its intended target, at any range. This is possible because it uses GPS (plus a back up inertial guidance system) to find its target. Two years ago, the army tested GMLRS at max range (about 85 kilometers) and found that it worked fine. GMLRS cost less than $100,000 each.

Javelin is very popular because it’s a very accurate and easy-to-use missile that the troops can always have with them. GMLRS is always on call, when you need precision, and a bigger bang.


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