The Pentagon is almost certain to kill the Non-Line of Sight Launch System, leaving little left of the once enormous Future Combat System and raising questions about how the Navy and Army will deliver highly accurate steel on distant targets.
“This thing just costs too much,” said a source familiar with the decision. “It really has come down to affordability.” The technical side of the recommendation to kill the program came from two studies that considered the Army’s precision fire needs and capabilities. “If you look at if from precision fires only we’ve got some helo rockets, Excalibur artillery, MLRS and precision mortars. But, can you get those into an environment that’s mountainous and difficult to get to and self deploy them and resupply them, then the answer is no. So if you look at it from the operational capability standpoint the waters get a little more muddied,” said the source.
In 2004, the Army signed a six-year, $1.1 billion development contract for the NLOS-LS with Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. That same year, the Navy signed a memorandum of understanding with the Army to buy the missiles for its Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). Taxpayers had spent $1.21 billion to date and we were on the hook for another $431 million for development and procurement in fiscal 2011.
The Army’s cancellation of the program could have serious implications for the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship program as the NLOS-LS was to provide a substitute for the ship’s lack of vertical launch system cells — which can handle anti-ship, anti-aircraft or land attack missiles — that larger surface ships carry. The only weapon the LCS currently carries is single 57mm rapid-fire cannon that can range out to nine miles.
A decision should be made in the next week or so by Ash Carter and the Office of Secretary of Defense about the decision to cancel. The Navy is aware of the Army’s likely decision and probably would not oppose it, the source familiar with the debate said.
Analysts have pointed to the LCS’ lack of organic fires as a serious shortcoming that might limit its operational effectiveness. One of LCS’ primary missions is to screen battle fleets and help them fight off fast attack boat “swarms.” That’s where the NLOS-LS was supposed to come in, with a Loitering Attack Missile that could range out to 124 miles.