November 30, 2023 | Breaking Defense

Deploy the Precision Strike Missile to the Middle East

The US Army is about to get its hands on a brand new long-range strike capability. In this op-ed, two FDD analysts have ideas about where it's desperately needed.
November 30, 2023 | Breaking Defense

Deploy the Precision Strike Missile to the Middle East

The US Army is about to get its hands on a brand new long-range strike capability. In this op-ed, two FDD analysts have ideas about where it's desperately needed.

A crisis in the Middle East is once again dragging the US military’s attention away from the Pacific. In this op-ed, FDD analysts Bradley Bowman and Ryan Brobst peer through the Army’s PrSM and see a way to boost capabilities in the Middle East while freeing up resources to maintain an eye on China.

Following Hamas’s deplorable October 7 terror attack on Israel, the Pentagon surged significant additional combat power to the Middle East. These deployments have fallen most heavily on US naval and air forces, namely two carrier strike groups, the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and its Marine Expeditionary Unit, an Ohio-class guided missile submarine (SSGN), and Air Force fighter aircraft.

The administration’s deployment of these forces to the Middle East was a prudent move to secure US interests. Nonetheless, the deployments underscore a central challenge for the Department of Defense in addressing growing threats in multiple regions with insufficient naval and air force capacity.

Prosecuting a war with China in the Taiwan Strait would fall mostly to the US Navy and US Air Force, which comprise the bulk of recent deployments to the Middle East (with US Army air defenses representing a major exception). At the same time, contemporary events remind Washington that it retains important interests in the Middle East. A failure to retain sufficient US combat power there in the coming years could allow events to spiral out of control, pulling the United States into a resource-intensive war that would exacerbate efforts to bolster US military posture in the Pacific and deter aggression in the Taiwan Strait.

So what’s to be done? How can the US simultaneously maintain sufficient deterrent capabilities in the Middle East while eventually freeing up some Navy and Air Force assets to send much-needed additional forces to Indo-Pacific?

In its fiscal year 2024 defense budget proposal, the Pentagon proposed procuring 110 units of the Precision Strike Missile (PrSM). As the US Army begins receiving early operational versions of the first increment of new missiles over the next few months, deploying some of them to the Middle East could begin to address this dilemma.

PrSM is the US Army’s next generation Long-Range Precision Fires (LRPF) capability. It’s an improvement on the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), a missile that was developed in the 1980s and first used in Operation Desert Storm.

Like ATACMS, PrSM can be launched from either the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) or the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) ground vehicles. MLRS and HIMARS will be capable of launching four and two Precision Strike Missiles, respectively, double the number of ATACMS each can launch.

Perhaps PrSM’s main advantage over ATACMS is the new system’s increased range. The modern versions of ATACMS have a range of approximately 300 kilometers (186 miles). According to some reports, PrSM will be able to strike targets at 550 kilometers (340 miles) and potentially much farther than that. Industry is currently exploring whether PrSM Increment 4 could hit targets at least 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) away.

To increase the missile’s utility, industry is also developing a multimode seeker capable of attacking mobile land and sea targets that may be available around 2028. An unmanned version of HIMARS, known as the Autonomous Multi-Domain Launcher, is also under development, which could allow an autonomous platform to carry PrSM.

While PrSM would certainly strengthen deterrence in the Indo-Pacific, decision makers should not miss its potential value in the Middle East, too.

If PrSM has a range of about 550 kilometers and was deployed to areas near US bases in the Arabian Peninsula, then Iranian air bases at Shiraz and Chah Bahar, the missile bases at Bakhtaran and Khorramabad, as well as the air base, ballistic missile production facility, and nuclear site at Isfahan would be held at risk. If PrSM has a range of 700 kilometers, it would also be capable of targeting the Hamadan Air Base as well as the air defenses surrounding the Fordow and Natanz nuclear sites (among many other possible targets).

Moreover, PrSM is more persistent and survivable when compared to ships operating in the Gulf and planes operating from well-known air bases. The MLRS and HIMARS launch platforms can operate in inclement weather which can ground aircraft and cost less and don’t require as much maintenance time as ships, submarines, or aircraft. They are also more difficult to detect and thereby target, as tracking numerous mobile vehicles on land is a task that challenges militaries far more capable than Iran’s.

Thankfully, PrSM has completed multiple test flights, with the latest test taking place in November 2023 and a final flight test scheduled for December. Deliveries to the US Army are expected to start soon.

The Senate Armed Services Committee supported the administration’s PrSM request for this year, endorsing efforts to increase its “range, lethality, and engagement of critical targets,” and pressing the secretary of the Army for a plan to accelerate PrSM production and reach 400 PrSM munitions per year as quickly as possible.

Those positions should be supported in the final National Defense Authorization Act and fully funded by appropriators.

That would enable the Pentagon to deploy PrSM without delay to the joint force, including those in the Middle East. That, in turn, would increase the Pentagon’s firepower in the region, strengthen deterrence of Tehran, and ease the burden on air and naval assets in the Middle East, freeing up some resources to deal with the growing threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party.

When it comes to addressing the Pentagon’s insufficient air and naval capacity, there are no silver bullets or shortcuts. But deploying the Precision Strike Missile to the Middle East could help.

Bradley Bowman is the senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, where Ryan Brobst is a senior research analyst.


Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy