The U.S. Army and the Launched Effects Effort: Driving Change in the Force

By Robbin Laird

A key element for the U.S. Army as it frames its approach to force modernization involves re-casting the role of the aviation side of the force. One aspect has been the decision to acquire a new build tiltrotor attack aircraft to give the Army the speed and range it needs to operate in areas like the Pacific, but also to operate over more extended battlespaces.

The Army recently cancelled the new reconnaissance helicopter to operate with the new FLRAA tiltrotor aircraft. They are focusing on various unmanned systems to operate in the battlespace to provide for such capability. They refer to this as a “launched effects” capability.

As a Defense News story put it: “With cancellation of the Army’s manned Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, the service has more funding to pursue launched effects, a major unmanned element of a modernized aerial tier that will be able to deliver capabilities such as targeting, reconnaissance, surveillance, network extension and lethality in a complex environment.”

And at the recent Army Global Force symposium. Brig. Gen. Phillip Baker, the director for the service’s Future Vertical Lift cross-functional team, highlighted the approach.

As a Breaking Defense piece noted about the presentation: “Baker is calling for industry to bring whatever potential launched effects candidates they have to EDGE to help the service gather data on how it can use the new category of weapons to extend the ranges at which it can collect data and strike targets. The service will also use that event to test out swarming options and ways to have one controller operating multiple vehicles at the same time from one device.

“Baker and other service leaders at this week’s Association of the US Army’s Global Force symposium in Huntsville, Ala., provided new details about their plans to acquire three different categories of launched effect weapons — the ongoing medium-range option, and new short-range and long-range versions.”

The new FLRAA tiltrotor vehicle is to be built with a digital backbone which enables an open architecture. The kind of change forecast for what the cross-functional team is working on is essentially the delivery of payloads to the battlespace which enable enhanced capabilities for the warfighter.

There is a direct relationship between having an open architecture FLRAA and payloads delivered by unnamed or autonomous systems in that the FLRAA will be able either to operate directly the launched effects payload or draw upon the data associated with an externally launched payload to enhance its mission capabilities.

But there is as well a shift in the sustainment challenge.

How do you move launched effects payloads to where the FLRAA will operate or where other elements of the force can launch these payloads for desired combat effect?

The Army’s Chinooks are not air refuelable and not capable of the speed and range for a fast moving force to be provided with the launched effects payloads they are planning to rely on.

And secondly, how will these launched effects payloads be packaged and moved with the security and safety they require? These payloads won’t be sitting at military Walmart but have to move with the force, requiring an appropriate packaging solution. This almost certainly requires changing the packaging and movement capabilities for the Army, different from a garrison or occupation force.

FLRAA plus launched effects will drive further changes.

Photo is of Brig. Gen. Phillip Baker.