The Netfires Boondogle
The US Army has two outstanding options for future precision weaponry, the E-FOGM and the ground-based Hellfire. Both systems are proven and are ready for purchase. However, the Army has begun to "develop" an ultra-expensive micro cruise missile called Netfires. If you read that website, they are vague and uncertain how this will work. A 100-120 lbs missile will cruise overhead and supposedly find its own targets with lasers? Its warhead is likely to be less than 20 lbs. Whatever the outcome, it will prove far too expensive.
This absurd idea arose two years ago and I assumed Army officers would soon cancel it. However, it has survived logic and the Army found $1.1 billion in extra cash last March to fully develop this crap. Are Army officers so incompetent that they think a small, complex self-guided cruise missile can be fielded for less than a half million dollars each? What damage do they expect a 20lb warhead to cause, assuming it finds a target? If it finds no target before its fuel runs out, it just crashes.
It would be much cheaper to mount Navy GPS guided Tomahawk missiles on missile launchers already in Army service (MLRS, or HiMars) and use their 1000lb warhead against high value targets up to 700 miles away, compared to just 40 miles for the Army's current longest range missile. Even a Humvee could carry a Tomahawk, but since it has so much range it needn't be moved often so a simple trailer launched system is ideal. For the $1.1 billion "development" cost for Netfires, the Army could buy 2000 Navy Tactical Tomahawks off-the-shelf, which completed testing last year. Ironically, the Navy test fires its Tomahawks from simple ground launchers. (below)
Tactical Tomahawk controllers have the capability to reprogram the missile while in-flight to strike any of 15 preprogrammed alternate targets or redirect the missile to any Global Positioning System (GPS) target coordinates. It is able to loiter over a target area for some hours, and with its on-board TV camera, allows the warfighting commanders to assess battle damage of the target, and, if necessary redirect the missile to any other target. A joint system should allow Army units ashore to control Tomahawks fired from distant Navy ships. And if Navy ships are too far from the action, the Army could haul Tomahawks from Navy ships inland for use.
In summary, Netfires is THE WORST program in the US Army, although the GPS-guided 155mm Excalibur artillery round at an estimated $200,000 for each round comes close. E-FOG and Hellfire can provide much greater support at much lower unit costs. In addition, a joint Tactical Tomahawk program will cost the Army almost nothing in development or program management, and provide a weapon with many times the firepower and many times the range as the vague Netfires concept. In short, a half million missile needs at least a 1000lb warhead to justify its cost.
Carlton Meyer editorG2mil@Gmail.com