US Army tests new missile set to replace ATACMS, weapons Ukraine has used to punish Russia’s helicopter fleet

  • The US Army is testing a new, surface-to-surface ballistic missile to replace its arsenal of ATACMS.
  • The Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) program is expected to give a boost to field artillery units.
  • The Army says PrSM will extend the range of ATACMS, which Ukraine has used with great success.

The US Army is testing a new and powerful missile that will eventually replace the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS, a weapon that made its battlefield debut last month in an effective strike on Russia’s helicopter fleet.

The Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) program has been in the works for a few years and is meant to provide field artillery units with extended long-range support and deep-strike capabilities. During a demonstration last week at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the missile cleared a production qualification test flight. 

The Army said in a November 16 statement that it recently fired the baseline variant of the missile — called Increment 1 — from a M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) in a trial that “demonstrated successful target engagements.” The service said that preliminary results show the missile “performed nominally in terms of predicted flight trajectory, lethality, near-vertical engagement angle, and height of burst,” and a final test report is expected in December. 

The PrSM, which is developed by Lockheed Martin, is a surface-to-surface ballistic missile that’s capable of performing in all weather conditions and can be outfitted with a cluster munition payload, meaning it can disperse lots of small bomblets that scatter over an area mid-flight. In addition to the HIMARS, the PrSM can also be fired from the M270A2 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), according to the US Army’s Acquisition Support Center

The Army said after last week’s trial that the PrSM baseline variant is expected to replace its aging arsenal of ATACMS missiles, a move that will “significantly” extend the “range and lethality” of the US military’s long-range precision munitions. Future variants “will concentrate on increasing the range and engagement of time-sensitive, moving, hardened, and fleeting targets,” a Pentagon document on the PrSM program explains.

With a range of nearly 250 miles, the PrSM crushes the maximum distance than any ATACMS variant can travel (186 miles with a unitary warhead). Additionally, a HIMARS launch pod is capable of holding two PrSMs, whereas it can only hold one ATACMS munition, thus doubling the volume of fire.  

US Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) firing a missile into the East Sea during a South Korea-U.S. joint missile drill.

US Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) firing a missile into the East Sea during a South Korea-U.S. joint missile drill.

South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images



ATACMS have long been in the news as Russia wages war on Ukraine. The weapons spent months near the top of Ukraine’s wishlist for security assistance needed to fight off invading Russian forces, but the US repeatedly asserted that it couldn’t deliver the powerful weapon to Kyiv because it would put pressure on domestic stockpiles and possibly hamstring readiness levels. There were also concerns about escalation.

Ukraine eventually received a limited number of the M39 ATACMS variant, a deadly cluster missile that has a range of around 100 and is packed with 950 anti-personnel and anti-materiel, or APAM, M74 bomblets. Kyiv debuted the weapon, which it acquired from the US in secret, in spectacular fashion last month, destroying multiple Russian helicopters at two airbases.

While it’s been a few weeks since the initial attacks, the threat still remains high for Moscow and experts have said that this creates a dilemma for the Russian military, which will have to determine how to best protect its assets without overly limiting their operational value. 

But alongside the success of the M39 ATACMS variant, there are still calls for the US to send the longer-range variants to the Ukrainian military. With the integration of PrSM into the Pentagon’s inventory, some argue that this could alleviate any stockpile concerns.

Dan Rice, the President of American University Kyiv and a longtime advocate for sending cluster munitions to Ukraine, said that while it will take time for the PrSM to get up to full production, the latest round of testing “should give more confidence to Army decision makers to use ATACMS in Ukraine.”

“The excuse often cited to not sending” the 186-mile range ATACMS “is that there are not many to spare in the US inventory,” Rice told Business Insider. “Knowing the next generation HIMARS long-range missiles are coming should give confidence to the US” and its allies that they can deliver ATACMS to Ukraine knowing that they would eventually receive the PrSM. 

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