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The U.S. Army Studies NLOS-LS Failures

The Army is analyzing recent firing failures for its XM501 Non Line of Sight Launch System (NLOS-LS) in an effort to determine a path forward. Significantly, some potential paths could remove the system from the Brigade Combat Team Modernization “Increment 1” package that will be fielded to the first Enhanced (Early) Infantry Brigade Combat Team (E-IBCT) in FY’11 and deployed in FY’12.

As described by program representatives, NLOS-LS, which provides a rapidly deployable and network-linked precision-guided munitions launch capability that is currently not available within the Army, consists of a platform-independent container launch unit (CLU) with self-contained tactical fire-control electronics and software for remote and unmanned operations. Each CLU consists of a computer and communications system and 15 precision attack missiles (PAM).

Although the early program design had included a mix of both PAM and Loitering Attack Munitions (LAM), subsequent program decisions served to reconfigure the system as a “pure PAM” package.

Although selected for the initial “Increment 1” package, technology timelines had caused the NLOS-LS to lag slightly behind in some areas.

For example, during the September 2009 Limited User Test (LUT), soldiers had not yet “live fired” the system due to lack of safety certification for use by soldiers. Although NLOS-LS participated in the LUT, all “live fire” events were still being performed by contractor and test personnel.

The live fire efforts were still in contractor/tester hands in late December when, following completion of a Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) review that was conducted on Dec. 22, 2009, the U.S. Army received acquisition decision approval to move into low rate initial production for one Brigade Combat Team set of the “Increment 1” EIBCT modernization program.

Soldier safety certification was finalized in early 2010, with firing tests in the February timeframe paving the way for the first firing tests in which soldiers were able to operate the complete system. Unfortunately, that initial firing test resulted in four missed targets out of six shots. Army sources have indicated that they know the reason for two of the misses and are working with the contractor to determine the specific reasons behind the other two. In addition, program representatives are reportedly working with the Army to determine the appropriate “path ahead” for NLOS-LS.

Part of that broader service direction will result from an ongoing “Precision Fires Mix Analysis” now being conducted within the Army. That analysis is addressing the broad range of service precision fire capabilities from several perspectives, including operational and affordability issues.

Some initial results from that analysis are expected to be released in conjunction with an imminent Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) review that had been directed by the December 2009 ADM.

Although the DAB was postponed from its originally scheduled April 2, 2010, it will likely take place in the very near future, with guidance from the DAB expected to outline future direction for NLOS-LS.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...