Army Plans for Future Long-Range Precision-Fires

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Col. John Rafferty, director of Long-Range Precision-Fires Cross Functional Team, discusses they type of long-range precision-fires architecture that the US Army needs and goals for his team during an interview with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the 2018 AUSA Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. Our AUSA coverage is brought to you by Bell, a Textron Company, Elbit Systems of America, L3 Technologies, Leonardo DRS, and Safran.

Col. John Rafferty, USA

Cross Functional Team Lead, Long-Range Precision Fires

US Army Futures Command

AUSA Annual Meeting

October 2018

Vago Muradian:  Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report.  I’m Vago Muradian here at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Conference and Trade Show in Washington, DC, the number one gathering of U.S. Army leaders from around the world to talk about the service’s future, its strategy, technology, budgets, programs, and more.  Our coverage here is sponsored by Bell, a Textron company; Elbit Systems of America; L3 Technologies; Leonardo DRS; and SAFRAN.  

We’re talking to United States Army Colonel John Rafferty who is the Cross-Functional Team lead for Long-Range Precision Fires.  That’s absolutely not a mouthful, John.  It’s great seeing you.  And you have the calm of a man who no longer has to sit in 395 traffic, given that you’re now at sunny Fort Sill, home of the Artillery.

COL  John Rafferty:  You’re right, Vago.  I got out there about two months ago and we’re off to a good start as a cross-functional team, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to you today about what we’re doing. 

Mr. Muradian:  It’s absolutely extraordinary.  There are a lot of folks who for a long time have been talking about the fact that the United States Army’s arms aren’t long enough in order to be able to direct those kind of precision fires.  We saw the Russians deliver some eye-watering capability of mass with precision at range that they demonstrated in Ukraine, but they’ve also done a couple of operations elsewhere that have sort of gotten our attention.

Talk to us about the kind of long-range precision fires architecture that the United States Army needs.

COL Rafferty:  As you know, Vago, we’re the number one modernization priority for the Army.  With that, as soon as you get done celebrating that you’re number one, you realize, you’re sobered by the fact that some really tough decisions have been made to resource our cross-functional team to deliver overmatch at echelon.

What that means for us is that we’re entering first, the strategic fires realm that the Army hasn’t operated in since the Pershing missile.  So at the strategic end of our portfolio we’re working on two signature systems.  The first thing is the strategic long-range cannon.  The strategic long-range cannon is designed to deliver a mass of affordable projectiles against one component of the anti-access area denial target set that our adversaries have putting in place around the world.

Mr. Muradian:  Which the Russians would say is the king of battle, right?  Artillery.

COL Rafferty:  Absolutely.  We do have something in common with the Russians.  We believe the same thing.

So this anti-access area denial target set consists of hardened strategic infrastructure, hardened C2 nodes and also the more traditional tails and mobile, lighter-skinned targets that require more of a mass effect.

So the strategic long-range cannon is designed to go after those targets with a volume of fire.

Mr. Muradian:  At what rough range bracket would you say that would be in, for example, that you guys are aiming at?

COL Rafferty:  Our goal is to get a thousand miles, and we’re going to get there.  We’re on schedule for a technology demonstration of this in 2023 and we’ve been challenged to deliver a system very shortly afterwards.

The other side of the strategic portfolio involves the long-range hypersonic weapon that SMDC, Space and Missile Defense Command, is leading the charge on.  You know about the Memorandum of Agreement between the services on the development of the common hypersonic glide body.  So this is the Army’s effort to put that in the field as quickly as possible.  So we’re in support of Space and Missile Defense Command on that.  I presented the concept of operations to their Industry Day last week, in which they started to bring their industry partners to begin to move quickly on this and make it a reality.

Our job is to make sure simply that when this thing is put in the field in a couple of years that there are soldiers on it who are trained and ready to operate it, and that we also have integrated everything else, so we’re thinking end to end on it.  How are we going to target for it, how we’re going to execute the mission command of this system, essentially how we’re going to fight it.  So that’s our job, is to partner with SMDC on that.

If we go down a notch, from the strategic level down to the operational level, you’re familiar with the ATACMS missile, you know about the service life extension program that we’re doing, and we know that over the years that this has been in service we’ve extended the range, we’ve changed the way, we’ve changed it to a unitary round, and we’ve done a lot of things.  We’ve done as much as we can with ATACMS to make it relevant on the battlefield.

So while we’re doing SLEP we’re working on the precision strike missile.  The precision strike missile, it’s hard to really call it a replacement for ATACMS because it really is considerably more capable, and you’d expect that.  The ATACMS is a 1970s and early ’80s design.  So the precision strike missile, we’ll get two of them in a launch pod container as opposed to one ATACMS; we’ll get range out to 499 kilometers with increased lethality; and then, most importantly, there will be space in the missile, in the bus as their engineers call it, to spiral in additional technologies.  Some of those technologies include a cross-domain capability that would allow you to go after different types of target sets in different types of environments.  Alternatively, you could, the next spiral would be loitering munition or sensor fuse munition.

So those are the types of technologies that are there.  My job, because PRISM is happening.  It’s a program of record.  We’re going to get the first missiles out in urgent material release in the first quarter of FY23.  So we’re on a very accelerated path to do that.

My job is to go out and get the spiraling technologies and pull them to the left so they happen almost immediately after we get that base missile out there.  So that’s our challenge, is to make sure we’ve got our S&T funding exactly right on those things, which is one of the biggest roles of the cross-functional team, is to get that linkage from the S&T community all the way through the acquisition of the system so that we’re delivering the right things at the right time for the warfighter.  Things don’t get lost in transition.

And then quickly, at the tactical level we’re doing the extended range cannon artillery.  Probably the best way to understand that is to begin with our current self-propelled Howitzer referred to as the Paladin.  The Paladin is going through an upgrade right now called PIM, which is basically a chassis upgrade for it.  So it puts it on a common gravity chassis, changes the motor, the transmission, things like that.  Much needed for the reliability of the system.

Mr. Muradian:  But you’re staying with the 39-caliber gun.

COL Rafferty:  Yeah.  All we’re doing is the chassis.  We’re not addressing the gun tube during PIM.

ERCA is the turret upgrade for PIM.  So when we’re doing that we’re looking at a 58-caliber length tube which equates to about 28, 29 feet.  So that’s going to create some mobility challenges.

So one of the first things we’re doing is, next month we’re doing a mobility demonstration and a mobility characterization exercise with our PM team and some of our testers.  So we’ll begin to get a baseline for some of the challenges with this and where it will be able to go and won’t go, and then we’ll have to make some trades on that.

ERCA with the 58-caliber tube, a new family of projectiles and propellant will get us out to 70 kilometers of range.  But we’re not stopping there.  Our goal is to get to 120 and 130, and there’s some really interesting technologies that, Ramjet is one of them, that will get us out to 120, 130 kilometers.  We need to make sure we’re going to have the lethality when we get out there, though.  That’s why that will take a little bit longer to bring that to a reality, but across the portfolio we’re pretty excited about where we’re going and I’m really happy to have this job. I’m learning a lot.

Mr. Muradian:  It’s an extraordinary job.  It’s a very, very important capability for the Army.  Exactly, king of battle if you can reach out and touch somebody.  The farther you can reach out and the harder you can touch them, the better off you are.  I’m sure that doesn’t come out right, but we were talking about this in a force/counterforce exchange standpoint.

Talk to me a little bit — by the way, about the caliber.  The Korean, we spoke to [Hanlaw], we talked to Richard Cho over there, and he was saying that the reason they picked 52 was that it was the best break between range and mobility in terms of the tube being too long and a little bit too cumbersome out there.

How are you connecting what you’re doing with what the other services are doing?  Obviously there is the agreement on the hypersonic glide body which is very important, but how are you figuring, as you build this architecture, how does this work with what the United States, the effects the United States Air Force can deliver, the effects the United States Navy can deliver, so that it is a multi-domain battle approach to projecting long-range fires?

COL Rafferty:  One of the first things I did when I got out to Fort Sill was sit down with our Field Artillery and Fires Concepts guys who work as part of the Center of Excellence because what I wanted to understand is how the fires concept is nested into multi-domain operations.  As you know, it was just unveiled this week.

So about two months ago we got an advanced peak at MDO as it was called.  I’ll tell you, I’m very satisfied with how our systems are nested into multi-domain operations.

A perfect example is if you look at the fundamental problem of multi-domain operations, it’s about access.  As it’s listed in the concept that was delivered this week, what’s fundamental about MDO is penetration, the penetration and disruption of the enemy’s air defense and anti-access and area denial systems.  So the strategic end of our portfolio between the strategic long-range cannon and the hypersonic system are designed specifically to create that access.  Then you can look at the other systems, which help with the exploitation. 

So at the strategic end, strategic access to the operational area.  PRISM helps set the conditions for cross-domain maneuver.  And ERCA helps set conditions and enable close fires for, you know, as we close with and destroy the enemy.  

So really, at echelon I think we’re very nested into the multi-domain operations concept, which is inherently joint.  So we do have work to do with our joint partners on integrating this, but frankly AUSA was a great opportunity to introduce it to our joint partners.  I’ve met several of them today who want to come and participate as part of our team.  But we’ve also got to get out and work with our joint partners on this.

One of the aspects for how we employ these systems is targeting.  We’re going to rely more heavily on others for targeting at each echelon.  

Mr. Muradian:  Targeting in contested airspace and denied electromagnetic environments and all sorts of jamming and other challenges.

COL Rafferty:  Absolutely.

Shortly after I joined the team we received a military intelligence major and a chief warrant officer for Army targeting officer — both incredibly experienced, very, very talented people.  Really, thanks to the Human Resources Command for sending us two of the best in the business in that.  Now they’ve got their feet under them with the portfolio, they understand where we’re going with our science and technology investments.  We’re now releasing them out to go and start first with our Army and DC partners and then work our way out to the joint partners, combatant commands, then finally industry to start to — first, to socialize what we’re doing, but then to start to develop tangible, practical solutions.

I’ll tell you, in terms of the targeting, I’ve been an artilleryman for 25 years, so I’ve spent a lot of time in the fire support business doing targeting.  I have never felt more, I’ve never felt more comfortable that our intel partners are meeting us halfway than I am right now.  They all understand the threat and they understand that we’ve got to minimize intervention points at every point along the kill chain.

I’ve always said that the sensor to shooter is the second oldest problem in artillery.  The first problem is shooting farther.  The second problem is figuring out how you’re going to get the targeting information back to the guns as fast as you can, the sensor to shooter problem.

So it’s what we do.  Especially with that sense of partnership we’re getting from the intel community on this, that we’ve got to work through data formats.  But we can do this.  We can get that information from the sensor immediately to a command post that can direct a launcher in the right direction  and execute the mission.  Because everything that we’re shooting at wants to survive.  And the best way to survive is to move.  So we’ve got to react quickly and minimize all those intervention points.

Mr. Muradian:  It’s neat that you’re releasing them into the wild.  

COL Rafferty:  I just want you to understand the program really fully.  So last week when we did our big science and technology deep dive at Picatinny, I had four members of the Army Science Board that were there to help, to coach.  And honestly, I’d been dreading this a little bit, just because I thought it was going to be a very painful exercise.  It was actually the opposite.  It opened up my eyes to the whole S&T community, how I’ve got to do a better job of striking the balance between technology push and application pull.  I’ve got to signal to them much more clearly about what my immediate priorities are, and then we can negotiate what should be foundational S&T investments for each one of our labs so they can be best in class at what each one of them do.  We want to maintain that forever.  But we’ve got to solve the problems that are right in front of us and we’ve got to accomplish the mission that we’ve been given by the Chief.

Mr. Muradian:  One of the challenges you face is, one is a logistics challenge because an artillery division consumes its own weight in supplies, literally.  What is it, an aircraft carrier worth of weight of supplies a month in ammunition and fuel and all the stuff that goes with it.  And then the other one is the cost of the munition itself.  So when you’re looking at Excalibur, obviously the cost curve went down.  The whole idea was I don’t need to shoot a lot of these bullets.  But those were in a post-Cold War era where we didn’t have an anticipation that we’re going to use a lot of them, right?  It was like Copperhead was a very, very expensive round.  There were literally diamonds, I mean you needed a good reason to shoot one at somebody.  Whereas part of the name of the game if you’re going to do mass fires is for the stuff to be precise but economical enough for me to do it at volume.  It’s great to have a Ramjet that you can reach out for 150 miles.  It’s another thing if it’s too precious for you to shoot too many of them.

How are you going to work the cost curve on the one hand?  And the other thing is, to simplify the logistics train because having a big logistics train worked in Afghanistan and Iraq where it’s less contested and you can get that stuff over there.  It’s a much more difficult and complex problem of getting this to islands in the Pacific, for example, or other areas.

COL Rafferty:  I’ll tell you that the way we’re approaching that is focusing first and foremost on lethality.  Because if rounds are precise and lethal, then we have a greater assurance that they’ll be effective when delivered, and actually kill that enemy system or vehicle or formation or whatever it is, right?  So then you’re more confident in the investment.  So we are very cost conscious.

And I’ll tell you what’s driving us on that, and that’s, we understand as the number one priority for the Chief, a lot of hard decisions were made to give us the resources to deliver these systems.  But there’s the key word, we’ve got to deliver.  They’ve got to be effective.  We keep cost in mind and everything that we’re doing.  

As an example, I mentioned the strategic long-range cannon earlier.  What we’ve done is put in these knowledge points that require us to go back to the Army senior leaders at certain points in this technology demonstration program, and one of the ones that I put in very early in this projectile cost and lethality.  The reason is because, as you said up front, one of the points behind that is it’s a more affordable volume of fire system.  We’ve got to make sure it’s affordable enough.  Right?  So we’ve got to go into this with our eyes wide open.  

So let’s force our S&T community and industry partners to spend a lot more time with the technical baseline to get the estimated cost and lethality up front so then we can proceed with enough information to make the right decisions.  So that’s one.

But back to the lethality part, that drives everything.  So Ramjet projectile, that’s one of the reasons we’re not ready for it yet.  Let’s see how lethal it is and how precise it is, and if it’s a hit to kill against an adversary tank, then that’s probably a good investment.

Then lastly to your point about sustainment, we do have to be very, and that’s why it’s great that we’re at Fort Sill with the commandant and the Fires Center of Excellence there.  The reason why I say that is because we have to be very careful about not overwhelming our cannoneers with a family of projectiles that, it just makes their job a lot harder and more complicated.  Projectiles require special handling and things like that.  That’s not the optimum environment for munitions that require special care and feeding, right?  So we need to make sure that we keep the soldier in mind at all points.

A great point is we’re getting, he’s filling a position referred to as a highly qualified expert on the team, and he is.  But what’s unique about the cross-functional teams at the direction of the senior leaders has been let’s get a retired sergeant major in each one of the cross-functional teams.  So our sergeant major is actually in the process of retiring right now, and he’s coming out as a former FA brigade sergeant major, he’s been a nominative general officer level sergeant major for the last couple of years, imminently qualified to join the team, and he’s got to help us not just keep the soldier in mind, but maximize all our times for soldier touch points and feedback from the force at every step.

Mr. Muradian:  You’re about to get the hook, so the last question I’m going to ask you is, everybody has this concern with the new Futures Command architecture.  Folks think it’s a great idea, but they’re like wow, if you get a whole bunch of highly experienced soldiers out there, they’re going to want unobtanium at the end of the day, that the acquisition process can’t deliver.  How are you working with the acquisition process to ensure that it’s not like a flight of fancy for requirement crazy artillerymen who are just going to go elaborate on everybody?

COL Rafferty:  I’m very fortunate that on our cross-functional team we have a number of acquisition professionals who provide very candid feedback. 

Mr. Muradian:  You mean they tell you John, that’s crazy?

COL Rafferty:  Yes.  Yes, they do.  But they understand, they recognize that the system, that we could be doing better.  Just as much as I do.  We all want the same thing.  And even as Army Futures Command matures and formalizes itself and establishes itself at Austin, what it’s trying to realize is already happening.  I’m as much on the S&T team as they are on my team.  I’m as much on the acquisition team as they are on mine.  We all pretty much feel that way.  I think that’s the key.

You’re right.  I don’t have any acquisition experience, but what I’ve found thus far, whether it’s dealing with acquisition or S&T is that my instincts are pretty good, and I view it as I would if I were a commander right now.  So when, I told you about that application pull and technology push, right?  That doesn’t happen by itself.  That needs to be signaled to the community.  And I’ve got to develop the right long-term modernization plan.

Right now we have funding strategies and strategic roadmaps for our systems.  We’re going to put this all together into a, not too elaborate, but a modernization plan that will hep us signal to the S&T community exactly what we want, and when we want it.  So they’ll be focused in the right place so we can deliver sooner.

Mr. Muradian:  That’s awesome.  Colonel John Rafferty, United States Army.  The Cross-Functional Team lead for Long-Range Precision Fires, Red Leg, and I just have to say, my father-in-law was a 105mm artilleryman in the Korean War, and he has a lot less hearing than you do.  You still managed to keep it all, so that’s really, really great.  

John, best of luck.  Really look forward to coming down and seeing you guys down there because you’re doing some of the most important work in the Army.  Thanks for the time.

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