Aiming The Army’s Thousand-Mile Missiles

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October 8, 2018 | Originally published by Date Line: October 8 on

The Army wants new long-range missiles that can shoot a thousand miles. But first it has to figure out how to use them. That requires training a new cadre of Army targeteers to work more closely with the other services than ever before. Why? Because even if the Army can build the new superweapons, it’ll be firing blind unless it is hooked up with the other services’ satellites, planes, and drones to spot targets. The smartest smart weapon is pretty dumb if you don’t know what to shoot at.

What’s more, long-range firepower requires not only long-range sensors to spot targets, but an in-depth planning process that starts long before the first shot is fired. That’s something the other services have done for years for airstrikes, but the Army hasn’t had to. So the service has created an Army Multi-Domain Targeting Center to train a new cadre of joint-certified targeteers.

It’s complex. As the military’s joint Combatant Commands put together their contingency plans, they need to analyze the threat; figure out what parts of the potential enemy force would be priority targets; allocate scarce assets to look for them; and determine the best weapons to neutralize specific targets in specific scenarios. That might mean the new Army missiles, or it could be Air Force smart bombs, Navy Tomahawks launched from ships and submarines, cyber attacks, electronic jamming, or any number of options. That way, when and if a war starts – the hope, of course, is to deter one from ever starting – there’s a playbook of targets and how to hit them already at hand.

Historically, however, the Army simply hasn’t had to do this, because it hasn’t had long-range weapons it had to find targets for. Except for the Pershing II nuclear missile in the 1980s – decommissioned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF) – its longest-range weapon has been the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), with a reach of about 188 miles.

For a detailed primer on the joint targeting process, see the Joint Targeting School Student Guide, 1 March 2017.

The student guide serves as a bridge between current operational-level doctrine and tactical-level employment at the joint force level.  It is intended to inform doctrine writers, educators, and trainers about the joint targeting process and serve as a supplement to existing joint or Service doctrine.

Other sources of joint targeting doctrine information include:

Joint Publication 3-60, Joint Targeting, 31 January 2013

Joint Publication 3-09, Joint Fire Support, 12 December 2014

NATO Standard AJP-3.9, Allied Joint Doctrine for Joint Targeting, Edition A, Version 1, April 2016