TechEuropean nations to develop joint long-range missile system

European nations to develop joint long-range missile system

Countries in Europe want to focus on long-range missiles
Countries in Europe want to focus on long-range missiles
Images source: © Licensor

29 June 2024 08:09

Recently, the governments of France, Germany, and Poland announced a plan to develop long-range, precision-guided missiles jointly. These shortages became particularly evident during discussions about transferring weapons to Ukraine. The planned land-based rocket, with a range of over 965 kilometres, is set to be the first weapon in the European arsenal.

After the Russian attack on Ukraine, France, in cooperation with the United Kingdom, provided Storm Shadow missiles. Still, Germany did not decide to transfer Taurus missiles (reportedly due to their poor technical condition). Poland did not consider the transfer of such weapons at all, as it only had a few dozen air-launched JASSM missiles.

Meanwhile, German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius stated that the lack of such weapons represents a significant gap in European capabilities. Eventually, the number of countries involved in the missile acquisition programme is expected to increase, and the signing of a letter of intent on this matter is anticipated during the next NATO summit in Washington, D.C. (9-11 July). The programme aims to result in the long-term development of the ELSA (European Long Strike Approach) system.

Technical capabilities

Of course, such missiles first need to be developed and then produced. The consortium leader would likely be the European firm MBDA, which presented a new product at the Eurosatory exhibition in Paris: the LCM (Land Cruise Missile) ground-to-ground cruise missile. This would be another missile from the family developed by MBDA France, which already includes the naval cruise missile NCM (MdCN) and the air-launched Storm Shadow (SCALP-EG), which was successfully used in Ukraine.

The LCM is expected to engage targets with metre-level precision, which means pinpoint accuracy with a warhead weighing 250-300 kilograms (or even heavier). The range is expected to be substantial, enabling operations at the operational-strategic level – unofficially, it is said to have a range of over 965 kilometres. A reduced radar signature and the option for low-altitude profile flight would ensure the missile's survivability. Like the NCM, the LCM is intended to allow for synchronised attacks on a single target using multiple missiles (STOT, synchronised time-on-target). Ultimately, MBDA plans to offer the interested countries' land forces a complete system consisting of a mission planning package, mobile launchers, and missiles.

Furthermore, one can look at a similar initiative being carried out by MBDA, Safran, Thales, and ArianeGroup within the LRU (Lance-roquettes unitaires, unified rocket launchers) programme. The result of this work is expected to include the development of ballistic or aero-ballistic missiles with a range of 480 kilometres or more. Such a missile would, in the future, be one of the tools for the French successor to the M270A1 launcher and the MLRS/ATACMS system in the ranks of the French land forces.

Meanwhile, a consortium of Kongsberg, Diehl Defence, and MBDA Germany is set to develop the hypersonic 3SM Tyrfing cruise missile for Germany and Norway. Also being considered is the delivery of a land-based variant of the NSM anti-ship missile, which would be launched from the Elbit PULS system launchers.

What can Poland contribute?

In both cases, Polish research and development centres and industry could provide some technical contribution. A consortium consisting of Wojskowe Zakłady Lotnicze nr 1 S.A., the Military Institute of Armament Technology, and Zakład Produkcji Specjalnej "Gamrat" Sp. z o.o. has successfully developed and tested a 61-centimetre diameter rocket motor using solid propellant.

  • Poland, France, and Germany will develop a land-based cruise missile with a range exceeding 1000 km. This will be the first such missile in the European arsenal.
  • Over time, various types of missiles may emerge, including specialised heavy cruise missiles, as well as other cruise or ballistic missiles.
  • The most probable base for the international missile will be the French LCM, derived from the naval NCM.
[1/3] Poland, France, and Germany will develop a land-based cruise missile with a range exceeding 1000 km. This will be the first such missile in the European arsenal.Images source: © Licensor | Bartłomiej Kucharski

In June, the second test of the motor, which could power domestically-developed aero-ballistic missiles for the Homar-K (a localised K239 Chunmoo) and Homar-A (a localised M142 GMLRS/ATACMS launcher), was conducted, provided the launcher manufacturers express their approval. Smaller motors with a 30-centimetre diameter are also being prepared. Polish institutions also have some experience in aerodynamic research and micro turbojet engines. Although they are less advanced than more experienced competitors, Warsaw does not have to be solely an importer of foreign solutions and can contribute to international programmes.

Combining these potentials could result in the relatively quick development of one or perhaps more long-range missiles. One obstacle might be the anticipated larger number of partners. At least seven countries are expected to join the ELSA programme. On the one hand, this will facilitate financing, but on the other, disputes over requirements and industrial contributions have led to the failure of numerous European initiatives. However, if the programme succeeds, Europe will gain an independent, valuable system equivalent to the American MRC system (a land-based Tomahawk missile launcher) or the Russian Iskander-K system (with the 9M728/729 cruise missiles).

Long-range missile capabilities

So far, Poland has expressed no interest in land-based long-range cruise missiles. While efforts have been made over the past 20 years to acquire missiles with a range greater than a few dozen miles, their effectiveness has been moderate until recently. Since the "Polish Fangs" programme during the tenure of Tomasz Siemoniak in the Ministry of National Defence, not much has changed, and interest has been mainly limited to: aero-ballistic missiles with a range of up to 305 kilometres (land), cruise missiles from the JASSM family (air), and other types of cruise missiles (armament of submarines planned for purchase under the Orka programme).

The first and second programmes are particularly promising, as in both cases, the Polish army is interested in acquiring a substantial number of missiles, and if Warsaw does not possess nuclear weapons, effective deterrence must be ensured by the mass use of long-range weapons. Both aero-ballistic missiles and JASSM have their drawbacks. The former, which Poland purchased, have a range not exceeding 305 kilometres. The latter, in the ER version, have a range of almost 965 kilometres but are limited by their carriers. The Air Force is and will remain, unfortunately, limited in number and may not be able to dedicate a significant number of aircraft for attacks on the enemy's rear.

Therefore, land-based cruise and ballistic missiles seem to be a reasonable solution, requiring sensible planning and appropriate financing. If successful, Polish generals could gain the most valuable tool among all those available in our arsenal. However, they are likely to be relatively few in number and would be reserved for striking particularly valuable targets: command centres, air defence and anti-missile systems, warehouses, and critical infrastructure.

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