Why the Army Is Upgrading Its Next-Generation Missiles

September 15, 2021 Topic: military Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: ArmyMissilesMQ-9 ReaperICBMTechnology

Why the Army Is Upgrading Its Next-Generation Missiles

A recent technology development deal between the U.S. Army and General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems will advance sensing and targeting technologies to a new level. 

Programmable air-burst fuses, point detonation missiles, fragmenting warheads and high-speed kinetic energy rounds can quickly exact lethal consequences on the battlefield, yet these effects of course rely upon the range, precision accuracy, guidance and long-range fidelity of sensors and targeting systems. 

Of course, newer projectiles such as hypersonic weapons and advanced air-dropped and air-to-air weapons need to function effectively in a highly contested, high-threat environment. In this volatile environment, guidance systems will be jammed, radio frequency signals might be interrupted and communications networks might be rendered ineffective by various enemy tactics. 

The Army is conducting a number of fast-tracked efforts to improve targeting and sensing so that weapons can confront new, emerging threats by denying them access or the ability to attack. One of these efforts can be found in a recent technology development deal between the U.S. Army and General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems to advance sensing and targeting technologies to a new level. 

This effort is called a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement. It was forged between industry and Army experts to explore the realm of the possible regarding advanced sensing technologies such as infrared seekers, high-resolution electro-optical infrared cameras and laser detection and ranging system to support long-range precision fires.  While many of the details or specifics of the deal are not likely to be available for security reasons, a statement from GA-EMS does say it will explore possibilities with precision munitions, hypersonics, lasers and other kinds of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technologies. 

CRADA agreements like these are often multifaceted, meaning they can explore both near-term options suitable for rapid integration as well as some kind of longer-term focused basic-research approaches. Much of the focus, given the General Atomics-Army deal’s emphasis on overcoming Anti-Access/Area Denial strategies likely to be employed by technologically sophisticated adversaries. Therefore, this would include countering countermeasures, achieving extremely detailed imaging and targeting specifics from safer standoff ranges, and maintaining functionality in a super high threat environment expected to contain electronic warfare attacks, jamming systems, GPS hacking and other kinds of attempted networking intrusions. 

“GA-EMS specializes in developing low size, weight, power and cost solutions,” according to a company statement.

Size, Weight and Power, also known as SWAP, is a technological approach that, among other things, engineers smaller form factor hardware systems equipped with high-speed computer processing and miniaturized high-resolution sensing. This changes the paradigm for attack as smaller sensors are able to maintain high levels of power efficiency, range and image resolution on smaller drones and fixed-wing aircraft to achieve zoom-in close-range image-gathering while operating at higher altitudes and therefore safer, more survivable distances. Such technological advances in the realm of sensing, many of which have now been underway for several years, enable drones like the MQ-9 Reaper to gather and process high-fidelity, accurate, close-up video images of a target while hovering at a safe distance. Drawing upon General Atomics’ expertise with SWAP, an MQ-9 Reaper could potentially fire higher-powered, more precise and longer-range lasers by virtue of being able to operate with small, yet highly powerful and efficient sources of transportable electricity.  The MQ-9 Reaper has also been upgraded with a universal weapons interface to expand its weapons envelope, something which would of course be successfully leveraged to a much fuller extent should the drones sensing and targeting acquisition technologies reach new levels of proficiency. 

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Flickr / The U.S. Army