By Scott Gourley
With its receipt of the first modernized Tactical Missile System (TACMS) missile on Sept. 28, the U.S. Army has reached another milestone in its evolving precision fires capabilities.
TACMS, formerly called ATACMS [Army Tactical Missile System], is a highly accurate, all-weather, low collateral damage precision munition designed for long range strike on targets.
TACMS is the largest member of the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) family, and is fired from either the M270A1 tracked MLRS launcher or the wheeled M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. The M270A1 carries two missile pods, with each pod holding either six MLRS rockets or one TACMS missile. The M142 carries a single pod.
While target types and warhead sizes are different, the two munition types are tactically complimentary, with latest generation of Guided MLRS rockets having ranges from 15 kilometers to “70 plus” kilometers and TACMS offering ranges beginning at 70 kilometers and extending out to 300 kilometers.
Early model ATACMS missiles featured “submunition” warheads, which scattered large numbers of small exploding devices across the target. However, the so-called “dud rate” on this type of design brought it into conflict with an international cluster munitions treaty that takes effect in 2018.
As a result, the TACMS system is currently undergoing a service life extension inventory refurbishment effort that provides previous generation ATACMS missiles already in inventory with updated guidance electronics as well as a completely new “unitary” warhead design that is in treaty compliance: one big explosion instead of many, many smaller ones.
Discussing the new refurbishment program during late September’s “Modern Day Marine” gathering in Quantico, Virginia, Karl Stoetzer, a business development manager for tactical missiles at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, emphasized a program emphasis on affordability, modernization and reliability.
“The reason why we want to focus on that is to keep the warfighter relevant on the battlefield,” he began, pointing to evolutionary modernization efforts currently underway on a variety of different missile systems.
“This program – the TACMS Modernization Program – brings affordability and cost savings to the forefront,” he said. “The customer [Army] has a lot [of the early missiles] in inventory, nearing the end of their useful life. This program aids in ‘resetting’ the service life of those products for another 20 plus years, while bringing them into treaty compliance.
“This is accomplished through what we call our download / de-mate process,” he added. “That process basically disassembles the missile and reworks, replaces and demilitarizes. What I mean by that is it takes out the old [submunition] warhead and replaces it with a new [500 pound] unitary warhead. Then it ultimately reassembles that rocket, making it compliant with international treaties that eliminate unexploded ordnance.
“It does not build or add more missiles to the inventory. It just makes them treaty compliant,” he stated, noting that “well over 500” earlier models of ATACMS have already been fired in combat.
In terms of expanding international opportunities, one Lockheed Martin spokesperson described the MLRS family as “platform independent,” explaining, “If another country wanted to use an indigenous launch vehicle, we are certainly capable of integrating the fire control system and launcher / loader module onto any platform that meets the requirements of that nation.”
Moreover, they added that the early success of the TACMS modernization effort points to the “flexibility to quickly integrate novel payloads and new capabilities as required by the warfighter.”
In the meantime, the first modernized TACMS missile is heading for flight testing at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, later this year.