The Army Plans To Fire Its Version Of The Navy’s SM-6 Missile From This Launcher

The Army will field ground-launched SM-6s and Tomahawk cruise missiles using a launcher the Navy has also tested on an unmanned boat.

byJoseph Trevithick|
R/UGM-109 Tomahawk photo


The U.S. Army has released a graphic showing the various components it expects to be part of its first operational "Mid-Range Capability" battery, which will be able to employ ground-launched SM-6 and Tomahawk missiles. Most notably, it shows the unit will have four trailer-mounted, multipurpose launchers that are similar, if not identical, to one the Pentagon used to conduct a test of a land-based Tomahawk two years ago. A derivative of that same launcher, which is based on the U.S. Navy's Mk 41 Vertical Launch System design, was tested on an unmanned surface vessel earlier this year.

The Army's Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) released the new information about the planned composition of its first Mid-Range Capability (MRC) unit during a presentation at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual conference in Washington, D.C., which opened on Monday and wraps up today. The service has also disclosed that the complete MRC weapon system is now named Typhon, an apparent reference to the deadly giant serpent from Greek mythology.

The full Typhon briefing slide from the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office presentation., U.S. Army

Each Typhon launcher has four cells and is installed on the trailer in an articulated mount that allows for it to be carried in a horizontally stowed configuration during transit. This is the same general configuration as the launcher the Pentagon's Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) previously tested onboard the Ranger unmanned surface vessel (USV) in cooperation with the Navy. That USV has been used in multiple experiments as part of the Ghost Fleet Overlord program, which you can read more about here. A similar, but less robust, trailer-mounted version of this launch system test-fired a Tomahawk missile in 2019.

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As for what the Typhon launcher will be able to fire, the Army announced last year it had selected ground-launched versions of the Navy's SM-6 and Tomahawk cruise missiles as the initial weapons for its MRC battery. The most up-to-date SM-6 variant in service now, the Block IA, is ostensibly a surface-to-air missile but has a secondary ability to strike surface targets. The Tomahawk is primarily a land-attack missile, but current versions also have an antiship capability

The new, Block IB variant of the SM-6 is in development now. It is expected to boast hypersonic speeds and have other improved capabilities, as you can read more about here, and could be added to the Typhon system's arsenal in the future. Similarly, improved versions of the Tomahawk series of missiles, including types further optimized for antiship use, are also in the works. The modular nature of the Typhon launcher, thanks to its Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) heritage and the canisterized missiles the system uses, will only make it easier to integrate other weapons over time. 

An M983A4 tractor truck, a variant of the Oskhosh Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT) family, is the prime mover for these launchers. This will provide a degree of offroad mobility, as well as general road-mobile capability. The Army uses M983A4s as prime movers for, among other things, Patriot surface-to-air missile launchers as well as the new trailer-mounted launchers for the Army's future Dark Eagle Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW).  

The MRC Battery Operations Center (BOC) will also be trailer-mounted and pulled by an M983A4. Each MRC battery is expected to have one BOC, which will link the unit into various fire control networks, including the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS) and Joint Automated Deep Operations Coordination System (JDOCS). It seems likely that the Army would eventually move to link Typhon into its Integrated Battle Command System (IBCS), which is presently focused more on integrating air-defense systems but is expected eventually to take on a broader role. You can read more about IBCS in this past War Zone feature.

A trailer-mounted reloading system, able to carry at least four canisterized missiles, as well as a Humvee-based BOC support vehicle, round out the major equipment that will be found in the planned MRC battery, according to the Army.

It is somewhat interesting to compare this overall battery composition to that of the U.S. Air Force's Ground Launch Cruise Missile (GLCM) units that were active toward the end of the Cold War. The GLCM weapon system featured nuclear-armed BGM-109G Gryphon variants of the Tomahawk loaded into four-round trailer-mounted launchers. It had two command centers on trailers for every four launchers, instead of just one in the Army's MRC battery, something that seems mainly to reflect various general technological improvements in the intervening decades, including the continuing miniaturization of computers and other advanced electronics.

A graphic showing a typical Ground Launched Cruise Missile unit organization, with four launchers lined to two trailer-mounted launch control centers (LCC)., Public Domain

Typhon is just one part of a large push by the Army to develop and field a variety of new long-range strike capabilities. The service has already outlined plans for including an MRC battery in a future Strategic Fires Battalion construct, together with a battery armed with Dark Eagle hypersonic missiles and another with the combat-proven High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). A new long-range missile, the Precision Strike Missile (PrSM), is in development now for use with the HIMARS launcher, as well.

An organization chart the Army has released showing the possible components of a future Multi-Domain Task Force, including a Strategic Fires Battalion with an MRC Battery, among other elements., U.S. Army

The Army sees Typhon, as well as Dark Eagle, as key a contribution the service will make in any future high-end conflict against near-peer adversaries, such as China or Russia. Earlier this year, it emerged that U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) had specifically included future Army and Marine Corps ground-based cruise, ballistic, and hypersonic missiles as important parts of a broader plan to deter Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific region.

In addition, it's important to note that Typhon, especially when combined with established missile types such as the SM-6 and Tomahawk, simply offers a lower-risk and lower-cost option for increasing the Army's long-range strike capacity compared to more novel weapon systems like Dark Eagle. Of course, the MRC system will not have the range and other capabilities that the LRHW brings to the table, which the Army still very much sees as an important part of its future mixture of capabilities for prosecuting an array of target sets. 

It seems very possible, if not plausible, that Typhon, or another system that uses the same basic launcher, could be of interest to the Marine Corps, as well, which is also exploring the possibility of fielding ground-based Tomahawks in the future. With the test involving Ranger, the Navy has already demonstrated how a variant of this launcher could be rapidly integrated onto various maritime platforms, even relatively small ones, as well.

As it stands now, the Army wants to have a prototype MRC battery with a limited operational capability established no later than September 2023. This is a similar timeline for when the service hopes to have fully stood up its first battery armed with Dark Eagle missiles.

All told, the new details about Typhon and the planned MRC battery are just the latest examples of how the Army is steadily working toward a new, long-range missile-armed future.

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