Cheap, Fast, Deadly: NETFIRES “Missiles in a Box” (NLOS-LS)
The basic concept of NETFIRES is to develop a family of artillery-like precision attack missiles based upon a vertical launcher design. Yet the idea goes far beyond that simple description. The NETFIRES CLU box launcher is intended to be be fully autonomous, meaning it can be dropped off anywhere and operate on its own without a support vehicle. The launch unit includes power generation and control systems as well as a total of 15 missiles, each with a warhead similar in size and capability to a 155mm artillery shell.
The system is also known as XM501 Non Line-Of-Sight, Launch System, or NLOS-LS. At one time, it was one of Future Combat systems’ most promising programs, slated for early fielding to the Army and even for integration with US naval forces. It has been canceled in both areas, and its absence threatens to leave a serious hole in both the Army’s and Navy’s modernization plans.
The NETFIRES Concept
The idea behind the $1.124 billion NETFIRES system development program is to make every engagement an ambush from the enemy’s perspective, by giving even an army platoon the ability to reach out and engage enemy tanks, fortifications, and other targets with sudden, over-the-horizon precision attack. While artillery can already perform this role, NLOS-LS would be able to handle moving targets, from a launch system that is lighter, more versatile, and mountable to a variety of platforms – including the USA’s new frigate-sized Littoral Combat Ships. Its size may also make it convenient as a quick addition to platforms like amphibious support ships, or even support vessels if required.
Light enough to ride in the back of a Humvee, 15-missile Container Launch Units (CLUs) can be rapidly deployed by ground, helicopter, or airdrop throughout an area, then networked by radio to begin engaging the enemy immediately. A JTRS radio link was originally planned, but ongoing difficulties with key clusters, delays, and program restructuring may force the Army to select alternative communication systems.
NLOS-LS is currently in the system development and demonstration phase. The current billion-dollar contract covers the SDD phase of the program that began in 2004 and extends through 2008. Initial guidance electronics system production is set to begin in 2008-2009, in order to meet the Army’s stated requirement to build more than of 30,000 Precision Attack Missiles (NLOS-LS PAM).
The Precision Attack Missile (PAM) is a low-cost direct attack missile that does not loiter, simply fires and hits its target. It will be 7 inches in diameter and weigh about 117 pounds, and will provide fire support out to 40 km/ 25 miles. PAM will include a variable thrust solid rocket motor and a tri-mode seeker that includes uncooled imaging infrared, semi-active laser, and GPS/inertial guidance.
The multi-target warhead and fuse developed by General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems possesses both a shaped-charge capability, to defeat armored targets, and a blast fragmentation capability for use against buildings, bunkers, small boats, lightly armored vehicles and other soft targets.
In 2004, the Army decided to accelerate fielding of the PAM missile and Container Launch Unit (CLU) box launcher to the Army’s Evaluation Brigade Combat Team, with Spin Out 1 now scheduled for FY 2008. That would be later be pushed back further, to 2011.
The NLOS – LS Loitering Attack Missile (LAM) was an integral part of the Army’s Future Combat Systems, but has been removed from the program. It was envisioned as a hunter-killer missile with 30 minute loiter time and automatic target recognition via its LADAR seeker; one able to attack high value targets, or report their target locations for attack by other weapons systems like a mini-UAV.
The LAM and its LADAR (LAser-based raDAR) seeker were successfully demonstrated under previous DARPA NETFIRES and U.S. Air Force’s Low-Cost Autonomous Attack System (LOCAAS) programs. On the other hand, the Army considered the economics of LAM and asked itself: why not just field a real UAV for that job? At present, therefore, NLOS-LS will include only the PAM system.
Militaries who want an artillery solution that can strike moving targets in the 40-90 km belt outside PAM’s range can turn to team member Lockheed Martin. Their privately developed P44 rocket fits in the popular M270 MLRS, and the tactically portable truck-mounted M142 HIMARS rocket launchers.
NLOS-LS: Contracts and Key Events
Note that NetFires LLC is a joint venture between Raytheon Missile Systems and Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control.
That recommendation must be endorsed by the Navy before anything comes of this; if they do, the Navy would field the existing very short range Griffin by 2015, and try to develop a longer range version later. If they do, it would also mean the end of NLOS-LS.
The 33+ pound, 42 inch long Griffin B has a 13 pound blast-fragmentation warhead, and uses a combination GPS/INS and semi-active laser seeker. The gravity-eject Griffin A version is currently in use as part of the MC-130W Combat Spear’s “roll on armed Hercules” kit. Estimated Griffin B range is in the Hellfire class, or about 3.5 miles when ground launched without a booster motor. That’s less than 1/6th the Raytheon NLOS-LS PAM’s planned 25 mile range, and this severe cut, coupled with the warhead’s size, sharply limits LCS ranged engagement options. Griffins would be suitable for engaging enemy speedboats, but cannot function as naval fire support for ground forces, or engage larger vessels – many of which will pack full size anti-ship missiles that have a 50+ mile reach. DoD Buzz | Arizona Daily Star.
Jan 6/11: As part of a plan detailing $150 billion in service cuts and cost savings over the next 5 years, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announces the proposed cancellation of NLOS-LS, among many other programs. Looks like the Army got its way.
At this point, the US Navy is considering its options, and may pick up the program, since it’s the only ranged strike weapon on their Littoral Combat Ships. Full Gates speech and Gates/Mullen Q&A transcript | Pentagon release.
May 12/10: Gannett’s Navy Times reports that the House Armed Services’ Air and Land Forces subcommittee has elected to cut the $350.6 million requested for NLOS-LS procurement in the Army’s FY 2011 budget, and transfer $75 million of the $81.2 million R&D budget line to the Navy. The move reflects the Army’s proposed cancellation of NLOS-LS, in favor of existing precision artillery alternatives.
The magazine also cites a congressional source, who says that the Seapower and Expeditionary Forces subcommittee plans to issue the same markup changes.
May 6/10: Testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Seapower Subcommittee discusses the NLOS-LS. Lt.-Gen. George Flynn, Deputy Commandant, Combat Development and Integration, and Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command (Source):
“As part of the joint AOA(ASnalysis of Alternatives for Naval Fire Support), we looked at 71 alternatives, and we came down to the six most promising. One of them was the NLOS system. If it proved promising, it would have to have an extended range, but that was one of the alternatives. And that was one of the areas that we were also looking to capitalize on the Navy’s building of the LCS platform. If NLOS proves not to be effective, then the only other option that’s available right now is the development of the five-inch round, the extended range round for extended use off the DDG-81 and higher class [destroyer] hull forms. And that really needs to be upon 12-ish (ph) [sic: a POM-12 issue],57 because right now there is no [new] naval surface fire [capability], with the exception of the DDG-1000 in the program of record. The next promising or viable thing seems to be the extended five-inch range [shell]. And that would meet the requirement.”
April 25/10: Army cancellation? The US Army has made their decision. They want to cancel NLOS-LS, rather than pay for additional fixes.
The Army determined that fixes would remove the program from its Brigade Combat Team Modernization Increment 1, and delay the program more than a year. The $466,000 per missile cost was also a concern, though Raytheon believes the average cost can drop to $200,000 if the Army buys all 9,942 planned missiles.
Raytheon’s response said that “…the NLOS-LS program is 90 percent complete with system design and development [and we] stand ready to continue development… should the customer decide to resume the program.”
Because NLOS-LS is an ACAT 1 major program, Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter has to make the final decision. Unfortunately for Carter, the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, which has precious little firepower as it is, depended on NLOS-LS launcher modules. Worse, it has no installed vertical launch system that could be filled with other missiles. That may force the program to continue, even if the Army doesn’t want it. The US Navy is scheduled to begin at-sea testing of its NLOS-LS surface missile module by 2012. ABC News | Defense News | Defense Update | DoD Buzz | Gannett’s Army Times.
Feb 26/10: NLOS-LS hits testing roadblock. The Limited User Test (LUT) ran from Jan 26/10 – Feb 5/10 at White Sands Missile Range, NM has 2 direct hits, 2 misses with causes known and corrected, and 2 misses still under investigation. That reportedly makes 23 PAM missiles fired with 14 direct hits so far, though not all firings were designed to hit a target.
Sept 12/09: Future Combat Systems’ Increment 1 spinout, otherwise known as Early-Infantry Brigade Combat Team (E-IBCT) capabilities, completes a Limited User Test at Fort Bliss, TX. The Limited User Test was a 3-week independent review of the maturity, readiness, and functionality of E-IBCT capabilities that included unmanned ground and air vehicles, sensors, precision launch systems and network integration kits.
NLOS-LS was part of these tests, conducted by FCS Lead System Integrators Boeing and SAIC, and developed and overseen by the US Army’s Test and Evaluation Command. Results will be compiled in an assessment report later in 2009, as part of the process leading to limited-rate initial production. The goal is to field E-IBCT capabilities to 7 Infantry Brigade Combat Teams, beginning in 2011. Boeing release.
July 23/09: Netfires LLC announces a successful NLOS-LS PAM test launch against a moving target. The PAM used its uncooled infrared seeker to detect, track, and hit a moving T-72 tank traveling with other vehicles, at a range of 9 km/ 5.6 statute miles. During its flight, the missile also used its onboard radio to join a nearby military network, and sent a final stage target image back to the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System before it hit.
May 4/09: Raytheon announces the NLOS-LS PAM’s 2nd captive flight test, designed to begin testing the missile’s over-water capabilities for use against small boats. Navy testing of the missile, which will equip its Littoral Combat Ships, is scheduled to take place by the end of 2009.
July 1/08: In the CTV-3 flight test, a PAM missile joins the network in flight and transmits missile status, along with a preloaded simulated target image just before impact. The test confirms the missile’s radio communications capabilities and stability in all flight modes, which lets the test program move on to flights with the multi-mode seeker. Raytheon release.
May 15/08: An NLOS-LS Precision Attack Missile is successfully launched at White Sands Missile Range, NM. The test met or exceeded all test parameters, which involved a full launch and flight that verified the missile met expected performance and collected flight data. Raytheon release.
April 25/08: The US Army announces that NLOS-LS has completed the February/March 2008 Future Combat System technical field test (TFT), and March meeting all mission requirements. Army Experimental Task Force Soldiers conducted the 2-week test using NLOS-LS production representative prototypes in 2 separate operational vignettes, alongside FCS unmanned ground systems, network components, and present-day Army equipment. The system successfully received fire missions in the field, and engaged targets sent from FCS and current force platforms including the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System.
TFT success allows NLOS-LS to go on to more complicated and demanding force development and limited user tests this summer, including the upcoming Training and Doctrine Command’s force developmental test and evaluation event. US Army release.
Feb 22/08: The US Army announces that the Non Line of Sight-Launch System Logistics Directorate has conducted a successful logistics demonstration of the Container Launch Unit with Soldiers from the Army Evaluation Task Force Fires Battalion at Fort Bliss, TX, the test unit for the Future Combat System. The US Army release adds a number of details concerning key test criteria.
Oct 8/07: NetFires LLC, announces that they have delivered the first 2 NLOS-LS Container Launch Units to Army Evaluation Task Force soldiers in Fort Bliss, TX. This on-schedule delivery makes NETFIRES the first FCS spin-out system to be delivered to the US Army.
Sept 25/07: The Navy announces that it is moving forward with development of the LCS Surface Warfare (SUW) Mission Package, which it describes as “designed to combat small, fast boat terrorist threats to the fleet.” The announcement lists the components as “electro-optical/infrared sensors mounted on a vertical take off unmanned air vehicle to provide over-the-horizon detection; 30mm guns to kill close-in targets; four  non-line-of-sight launching system (NLOS-LS/ “NetFires”/ “missile in a box”) container launch units, with each system containing 15 offensive missiles; and the MH-60R armed helicopter for surveillance and attack missions. The SUW mission package has software that interfaces with the LCS command and control system to maintain and share situational awareness and tactical control in a coordinated SUW environment… The first two SUW mission packages assembled for developmental and operational testing use the Mark 46 30mm gun made by General Dynamics Amphibious Systems.”
The Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren division is the technical direction agent for the SUW mission package, with NSWC Port Hueneme division providing integrated logistics and testing support. NAVSEA release.
July 18/07: The USA’s Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology) approves sole source justification for Future Combat System technology Spin Out Low-Rate Initial Production efforts, as well as the Congressional directed Manned Ground Vehicle Initial Production Platform (Non-Line of Sight Cannon (NLOS-C). Spin Out 1 LRIP includes the NLOS-LS, and the justification is required because of Future Combat systems’ program set-up. FCS’ Lead System Integrators Boeing & SAIC have already conducted competitive reviews, made awards, and are managing the process. US Army release.
June 28/07: NetFires LLC announces a successful PAM demonstration at Redstone Arsenal Technical Test Center in Huntsville, AL against an earth and timber bunker target. The missile simulation test verified that the Precision Attack Missile warhead will detonate upon impact and perforate the bunker wall structure as required. All primary and secondary test objectives were met, which provides data to support follow-on Army and Navy warhead testing.
April 30/07: Lockheed Martin officially unveils its state-of-the-art production facility for the Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System (NLOS-LS) on its Baltimore campus. The new $3.7 million facility will produce the Container Launch Unit (CLU) subsystem of the NLOS-LS. Raytheon Missile Systems will also produce components of the CLU at their facility in Tucson, AZ.
Built in 22,000 square feet of renovated space, the new facility combines lean advanced manufacturing technologies that include paperless and wireless systems. The production facility is arranged to accommodate mechanical and electronics assembly, automatic test equipment and environmental stress screening. The facility will feature Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) from Lockheed subsidiary Savi Technology that electronically tracks parts, sub-assemblies and completed units, as well as the product’s progress and analyzes the data to identify real time bottlenecks in the manufacturing process.
The new NLOS-LS production facility incorporates the Baltimore group’s years of experience with the MK 41 Vertical Launcher missile system, which is relevant given plans to integrate the NLOS-LS on the new Littoral Combat Ships, and potentially on unmanned surface vehicles as well. Lockheed Martin release.
April 4/07: NetFires LLC has a successful flight test for its Precision Attack Missile at White Sands Missile Range, NM, taking the NLOS-LS system a significant step toward full- up missile testing planned for later in 2007. The test vehicle was equipped with telemetry system in place of a warhead, and a high-fidelity mass stimulant seeker, and was fired from an NLOS-LS Container Launch Unit. Once fired, the enhanced ballistic test vehicle missile’s wings and fins deployed, the navigational system successfully operated, and the thrust vector control system and control actuator system controlled the airframe. Additionally, the telemetry system, battery system, air data system and propulsion system all functioned properly
Scott Speet, executive vice president of the NetFires LLC and Raytheon’s Non Line-of-Sight-Launch System program director, said that “Our program approach is to test early and test often to ensure success… This test provides the Non Line-of-Sight-Launch System team an early look before full-up missile integration and builds for future test flights.” Raytheon release.
Jan 8/07: Lockheed Martin announces 2 successful demonstrations of its Multi Mode Enhanced Laser Detection and Ranging (E-LADAR) seeker at Redstone Arsenal, AL, and at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Dallas, TX. Lockheed Martin’s low-cost, dual-mode seeker design was developed and operationally demonstrated to provide high-resolution, three-dimensional LADAR/LIDAR target imaging for multiple applications. The system is designed to conduct wide-area searches and identify actual or potential threats, including targets partially obscured by camouflage or foliage. Additionally, the system can be operated in a high resolution terrain mapping mode.
The Redstone tests assessed the system’s capability to independently acquire and track targets in standalone Semi-Active Laser (SAL) and LADAR modes, as well as simultaneous SAL and LADAR target identification, acquisition and tracking in a cooperative engagement. The Dallas tests verified the system’s performance against moving and stationary targets. All tests were fully successful, showing a 174% increase in search rate capability over previous NetFires and Low-Cost Autonomous Attack System (LOCAAS, an inexpensive cruise missile program) variants, and a 50% improvement over the NLOS-LS System Design & Deveopment baseline. Lockheed Martin designed loitering munitions have achieved multiple successful flight tests with multiple airframe configurations, and the Loitering Attack Missile (LAM) LADAR seeker has been successfully demonstrated under previous DARPA NetFires and U.S. Air Force LOCAAS programs.
This LADAR sensor and planned variants have short- and long-range capabilities from less than 1 km to as far as 20 km/ 12 miles. The sensor system can be also packaged to make it suitable for integration aboard manned or unmanned aerial vehicles. See Lockheed Martin release.
Dec 15/06: The NETFIRES program successfully passed a joint critical design review (CDR) for the NLOS-LS Precision Attack Missile and its Container Launch Unit (CLU), and did so 6 months ahead of schedule. That would be an impressive achievement under any circumstances; it is especially important given that NETFIRES will equip the USA’s new Littoral Combat Ships currently under construction, as well as future Army/USMC units. See Raytheon release.
Nov 8/06: NetFires LLC, a company composed of Raytheon Company’s Missile Systems and Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, announces a successful container cover design verification test for the NLOS-LS Precision Attack Missile at the White Sands Missile Range, NM. The container cover test met all primary and secondary objectives. See Raytheon release.
FY 2006 and Earlier
Aug 25/06: Netfires LLC of Grand Prairie, TX received a cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for $54.8 million as part of an estimated $1.15 billion contract to procure the NLOS-LS Naval Littoral Combat Ship Integration, System Development and Demonstration. Work will be conducted in Tucson, AZ and Baltimore, MD, and will be complete by Aug. 31, 2010. The U.S. Army Aviation & Missile Command issued the contract (W31P4Q-04-C-0059). See also Raytheon’s Aug 29 release.
Aug 17/06: Raytheon announces that they will manufacture, assemble and test the guidance electronics system for the Non Line-of-Sight-Launch System (NLOS-LS) Precision Attack Missile at its Louisville, KY facility. Work at the site is expected to begin by October 2006 under a $2 million contract with the U.S. Army for the current phase of the program. “Louisville was selected for its lean manufacturing expertise, skilled work force and facilities necessary to meet the performance parameters for the Precision Attack Missile production,” said Scott Speet, Raytheon’s NLOS-LS director in Tucson, AZ.
October 20/05: NetFires LLC selected General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems to be the warhead provider for NLOS-LS Precision Attack Missile (PAM), following an eight-month competition among warhead manufacturers. The GD-OTS warhead will be built, assembled and tested at the General Dynamics facility at Niceville, FL, and the estimated contract value is expected to be in excess of $70 million over the life of the program. Press release.
October 19/05: The Army picks the Raytheon/Lockheed joint venture NetFires LLC the team of SPARTA Composites, Inc. and San Diego Composites (SDC) as the missile launch/shipping container provider for the NLOS-LS “NETFIRES” Precision Attack Missile (PAM).
The SPARTA/SDC container will be built, assembled and tested at the SPARTA facility in San Diego, CA, and the estimated contract value is expected to be in excess of $8 million during the system design and demonstration (SDD) phase of the program alone.
March 23/04: Netfires LLC in Dallas, TX receives an initial $40 million as part of a $1.124 billion cost-plus-incentive fee contract for NLOS-LS system development and demonstration (SDD), making it the first portion of the Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) modernization to enter full SDD. The award includes design and development of the Loitering Attack Missile (LAM, Lockheed Martin), the Precision Attack Missile (PAM, Raytheon) and a Container Launch Unit (CLU, both).
Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ (50%), Dallas, TX (40%), and Baltimore, MD (10%), and is expected to be complete by March 4/10. This was a sole source contract initiated on Aug 7/03 by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W31P4Q-04-C-0059).
Appendix A: Lockheed’s Successful Design Improvement Workshops
In 2005, Lockheed Martin completed two aggressive cost reduction workshops for the NetFires Non Line-of-Sight – Launch System (NLOS-LS), reducing manufacturing time by more than 90% and Laser Radar (LADAR) seeker cost by 22%. The LAM is among several products awarded in 2003 to NetFires LLC, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Other products under development by the LLC include a and an autonomous Container Launch Unit (CLU).
Lockheed Martin’s two aggressive cost reduction workshops for the more-complex LAM system resulted in a reduction of the missile assembly time from 21.4 hours in the current System Design and Development (SDD) baseline configuration to 1.6 hours under the new approach, a reduction of more than 90%. This reduction will lower per-missile costs, and so will workshop solutions that reduced the LAM’s Laser Radar (LADAR) seeker cost by 22%.
These workshops were held at Lockheed Martin’s Pike County operations facility near Troy, AL and its LADAR facility in Ocala, FL. They were a cooperative effort between Lockheed Martin and the US Army, with people from Lockheed Martin’s manufacturing, engineering, quality management and production operations present.
“We are redesigning the missile body so that assembly is quick and easy,” said Glenn Kuller, Netted Fires director at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. “We also leveraged advanced prototyping techniques from the Lockheed Martin ‘Skunk Works’ for the Affordability Workshops.” ‘Skunk Works’ senior manager Steve Ericson, meanwhile, noted that “The LAM’s square airframe allows for flexibility in packaging and has plenty of volume, which makes for easier assembly and integration.”
Lockheed’s release adds that future plans include establishment of a pilot production line in Troy and Ocala. The system design & development phase will include engineering integration, test and limited production. Full-rate production is forecast to continue through 2020, and involve as many as 70 jobs at the Pike County operations in Troy.
Lockheed notes that strong state and local partnerships over the years have helped its Pike County Operations amass a string of national, state and industry awards for excellence in production, quality, security, environmental protection and workplace safety. Its laurels have included Industry Week’s “America’s Best Plants” award, the Defense Investigative Service Cogswell Award, and the 2002 Alabama “Manufacturer of the Year” award. The facility has even received the very prestigious Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing, which “recognizes organizations that use world-class manufacturing strategies and practices to achieve world-class results.”
Appendix B: Additional Readings & Sources
- Designation Systems – NETFIRES NLOS-LS: LAM and PAM
- GlobalSecurity.org – Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System (NLOS-LS). See also their coverage of a notional Future Combat Systems Missiles Vehicle APC.
- Flight International (Sept 8/10) – Raytheon’s Griffin missile makes quiet gains with US military
- Lockheed Martin (Aug 11/05) – Lockheed Martin Study Develops Cost-Cutting Solutions Reducing Assembly Time 90%, Seeker Cost 22% On Implementation For LAM Production
- FA Journal (March 2002) – NetFires: precision effects for the objective force
- IndustryWeek Best Plants Profile (1997 Award Winner) – Lockheed-Martin Pike County Operations