27 April 2010

Army Cancels NLOS-LS Missile System

The NLOS-LS Missile System During Testing It Failed Earlier This Year

The NLOS-LS program

The Army has cancelled its Non-Line of Sight Launch System (NLOS-LS), a system that would have shot guided missiles from the back of a military truck. An earlier plan for a loitering attack missile was supposed to have a 124 mile range was cancelled after cost overruns and a failure to perform in tests. The precision attack missiles tested in the current round were to have a range of 24 miles, and have GPS, laser targeting and infrared sensor methods of finding their targets.

Both missiles were to weigh 117 pounds each, have a seven inch diameter and a five foot length. Each missile box was to have carried 15 missiles and its own communication system, weigh about 3,150 lb. and have 45 inches width by 45 inches length by 69 inches height. The vehicle carrying the box could by anything larger than a pickup truck and was simply a way to transport the autonomous system.

The infrared sensor capability in the $1.1 billion project, however, utterly failed to hit its targets in Department of Defense tests.

Overall missile reliability is just 61 percent, well below the 85 percent requirement. The missile’s problems appear to be with its infrared seeker; missiles using the IR seeker hit only 5 out of 11 times during tests last year and again this year.

During limited user tests in February, the first operational flight test of the NLOS-LS, only two of the Precision Attack Munition missiles fired hit their targets; two missiles impacted more than 14 kilometers from the target.

It was a spin off of the larger cancelled Future Combat System, a whole array of new cutting edge technologies that the Army had planned to buy, that has been in development in some form since 2002 by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.

It was also to be included with minor modifications in one of the key modules of the Littoral Combat Ship, intended for anti-surface ship warfare, leaving it with only "a single 57mm rapid fire cannon that can range out to nine miles." Other missions of the the Littoral Combat Ship, such as anti-submarine warfare and anti-mine warfare, are unaffected by this development. The major armament for the anti-surface warfare module of the LCS will now have to be reconsidered.

Not Unusual

Unlike major new ship designs, aircraft programs and ground vehicle programs, new missile programs rarely fall into the "too big to fail" category.

This isn't the first missile development program the U.S. military has recently put on hold due to development problems. Lockheed's Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (AGM-158 JASSM) program for a missile to be launched from fighter aircraft was placed on hold in August of 2009 to allow for more testing of the problematic missile program.

Historically, roughly half of the military's new missile programs are cancelled before entering service.

Comparisons To Existing Systems

The missiles would have been comparable in size and lethality to the Hellfire missiles used by U.S. attack helicopters and armed drones against targets such as tanks, but would not be as integrated into its launch vehicle and would have a more sophisticated guidance system (the Hellfire uses a laser guidance system, while this system would add GPS and infrared guidance systems).

These missiles are somewhat comparable in warhead size and range to the 155mm guided howitzer shells such as the M712 Copperhead and M982 Excalibur artillery rounds, which weigh less but get more propulsion of the launching unit that missiles must devote to internal fuel.

These are about a quarter the size of the air to ground Maverick missiles (AGM-65) used by the U.S. military fighter aircraft, about half the size of the MLRS rockets used by heavier Army artillery units, and somewhat smaller than the "small diameter bomb" the lastest of the "smart bombs" used by U.S. fighters.

These missiles would have been larger than anti-tank weapons such as the Javelin and TOW that are currently in service in the Army and would have had longer range as well.

Future Program

Since the problems with the NLOS-LS seemed to be limited mostly to software glitches and the technology related to its infrared guidance systems, the next program filling the niche that the NLOS-LS has vacated could be a less ambitious program, with just GPS and laser based guidance systems, or a new version of this system when the infrared guidance system is ready for prime time after development takes place that isn't on the government's nickle.

Another possibility is that progress in the development of drone helicopters carrying Hellfire or successor missiles could make the niche this weapons system was supposed to fill less critical.

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