U.S. Air Force Gen. Timothy Ray, the commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command which oversees the service’s bomber fleet, called the Army’s long-range precision fires (LRPF) program overly expensive, redundant and “stupid.”
In a March 31 appearance on the Mitchell Institute’s Aerospace Advantage podcast, Ray said, “I’ve had a few congressmen ask me [about the Army’s LRPF program]. And you know what? Honestly, I think it’s stupid.”
“I just think it’s a stupid idea to go and invest that kind of money to recreate something that this service has mastered and we’re doing already right now,” Ray added. “Why in the world would you try that? I try to make sure that my language isn’t a little more colorful than it is, but give me a break.”
Ray’s comments came after retired Air Force Lt Gen. David Deptula criticized the Army’s LRPF program as a “roles and missions thrash, where many of the services are trying to prove their relevance.”
Deptula said that with a shift in the military’s focus to compete with neer-peer nations “like China” the budget for new programs is also going to tighten. “With budgets set to get tighter, some of the services — particularly the Army — are trying to grab mission that they think will help them become more relevant in our new national security strategy and long-range strike is at the top of that list. And because the other services lack bombers, they’re looking to develop long-range missiles.”
Deptula said the problem with the Army trying to expand its mission, to include long-range weapons, “The leadership in the Department of Defense is not doing a cost per effect evaluation on a comparison between one-shot missiles and long-range reusable bombers.”
Deptula said some of the proposed missiles would cost the equivalent of an F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter. “There’s no way that that is affordable, given the volume of targets at play.”
Deptula said that in addition to its long-range missiles, the Army wants to develop its own aircraft and space-based sensors to provide guidance for its missiles — capabilities he asserted the Air Force already has. “This flies in the face of what it means to be joint, with services working together to yield a better whole.”
Of the Army’s LRPF program, Ray said “I kind of get it in Europe, I kind of get it in [the U.S. Central Command] but I completely don’t get it in the Pacific. I mean, I genuinely struggle with the credibility of that entire plan.”
Rays comments came weeks ahead of President Joe Biden’s proposed defense budget for the 2022 fiscal year. Defense News reported in May that the Army’s budget would take a greater hit than the other services, but that the service’s proposed budget safeguards funding for several of its modernization efforts, including the LRPF program.
Long-range strike capabilities are seen as crucial to countering China’s anti-access area denial (A2/AD) strategy in the Pacific, which would aim to quickly seize territory and block or delay other countries from being able to reenter those regions and contest with China.
In March, Defense News reported the Army submitted a new strategy paper that would position it as an “inside force” that would forward-deploy troops and ground-based missiles throughout the Pacific, giving them the capability to destroy Chinese defenses. The Army’s LPRF program would play a key role in supporting the Army’s “inside force” strike capabilities.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said in March that the Army’s plans would provide a “hugely important” means for the Army to neutralize ships, air defenses, and anti-access/area denial capabilities.
While air-power advocates like Ray see the Army’s LRPF as redundant, McConville said, “When you take a look at what some of our competitors have done with anti-access/area denial, they put up very elaborate air and missile defense systems, they’ve put up very elaborate anti-ship capabilities, and they’re basically trying to expand themselves. The argument that we have is that you want to have multiple options to do that.”