Back on 12 August, Defence Minister Peter Dutton announced that Australia had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the US Department of Defense to partner in the US Army’s Precision Guided Strike Missile (PrSM) program.
While the announcement was dressed up as ‘news’, the MoU had actually been signed by Head of Land Capability, Major General Simon Stuart and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of the US Army Defense Exports and Co-operation Deputy Assistant Secretary (DASA DE&C) Elizabeth Wilson more than four months earlier, on 6 April.
Under the agreement, Australia will contribute $70 million to the $907 million US Army PrSM program, to continue development of a surface-to-surface precision strike weapon with a range of between 70 and ‘over 400’ km. According to the Minister’s release, the work will seek to increase lethality, range and target engagement of the baseline missile development.
In response to ADM’s questions, Defence says the baseline weapon, known as PrSM Increment 1, is being developed to engage a variety of targets at ranges “beyond 400 km” and focusses on imprecisely located area and point targets.
Under Increment 2 of the program already underway, the MoU covers the incorporation of technology which is understood to include an enhanced seeker to allow surface ships and air-defence systems to be engaged. This phase will also seek to increase the weapon’s lethality and deliver extended range capability.
The US Army’s PrSM program was originally conceived to develop a missile with a maximum range of 499 km, within the limits of the US-Russian Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which banned the development of strike weapons with ranges between 500 and 5,000 km. However, the Trump administration withdrew from the INF treaty in 2019 and US media reports in June suggest the US Army now wants to extend the weapon’s maximum range to beyond 1,000 km before the end of 2023.
PrSM development is managed through the US Program Office Strategic and Operational Rockets and Missiles, which has the (arguably) predictable acronym, PO STORM, within the DASA DE&C organisation.
Both Lockheed Martin and Raytheon were competing for the PrSM contract, but the latter withdrew from the program in March 2020. In May this year Lockheed Martin announced the PrSM system had achieved a range of 400 km during a test launch at the US Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
The test was the fourth in a series of launches, which validated the missile’s technology maturation and risk reduction at various ranges between 85 km and 240 km. The US Army is seeking to field the PrSM capability by the end of 2023.
The ADF is looking to acquire a new, long-range, rocket artillery system by the mid-2020s, as initially proposed in the 2016 White Paper and confirmed by the 2020 Defence Strategic Update (DSU 2020) and Force Structure Plan (FSP 2020). The first phase of the $0.6 to 0.9 billion Long-Range Fires program is being undertaken under Land 8113 Phase 1, now in the ADF’s Risk and Requirements Setting phase, and is considering a range of options to potentially meet capability needs, including PrSM.
“Entering the PrSM co-development MoU does not oblige Australia to purchase the capability, or constitute a decision to acquire the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS),” a Defence spokesperson told ADM.
HIMARS is manufactured by Lockheed Martin and a successful firing was demonstrated during the recent bilateral Talisman Sabre 2021 exercise in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) in August.
“Participation in the US Precision Strike Missile Program will inform development of Defence’s Long-Range Fires (Land 8113) project, provide Defence with privileged access to leading-edge missile capability and technology, and the ability to influence the development of future increments,” the spokesperson added.
“It also provides the basis for potential future Australian industry participation in wider guided weapons initiatives.”