Over the years, the U.S. military has become reliant on precision-guided munitions
(PGMs) to execute military operations. PGMs are used in ground, air, and naval
operations. Defined by the Department of Defense (DOD) as “[a] guided weapon
intended to destroy a point target and minimize collateral damage,” PGMs can include
air- and ship-launched missiles, multiple launched rockets, and guided bombs. These
munitions typically use radio signals from the global positioning system (GPS), laser guidance, and inertial navigation systems (INS)—using gyroscopes—to improve a weapon’s accuracy to reportedly less than 3 meters (approximately 10 feet).
Precision munitions were introduced to military operations during World War II; however, they first demonstrated their utility operationally during the Vietnam War and gained prominence in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Since the 1990s, due in part to their ability to minimize collateral damage, PGMs have become critical components in U.S. operations, particularly in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. The proliferation of anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) systems is likely to increase the operational utility of PGMs. In particular, peer competitors like China and Russia have developed sophisticated air defenses and anti-ship missiles that increase the risk to U.S. forces entering and operating in these regions. Using advanced guidance systems, PGMs can be launched at long ranges to attack an enemy without risking U.S. forces. As a result, DOD has argued it requires longer range munitions to meet these new threats.
The Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps all use PGMs. In FY2021, the Department of Defense (DOD) requested approximately $4.1 billion for more than 41,337 weapons in 15 munitions programs. DOD projects requesting approximately $3.3 billion for 20,456 weapons in FY2022, $3.9 billion for 23,306 weapons in FY2023, $3.9 billion for 18,376 weapons in FY2024, and $3.6 billion for 16,325 weapons in FY2025. Previously DOD obligated $1.96 billion for 13,985 weapons in FY2015, $2.98 billion for 35,067 weapons in FY2016, $3.63 billion for 44,446 weapons in FY2017, $5.05 billion for 68,988 weapons in FY2018, and $4.3 billion in FY2019 for 60,62 munitions. In FY2020, Congress authorized $5.30 billion for 56,067 weapons.
Current PGM programs can be categorized as air-launched, ground-launched, or naval-launched.
- Air-Launched: Paveway Laser Guided Bomb, Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), Small Diameter Bomb, Small Diameter Bomb II, Hellfire Missile, Joint Air-to-Ground Missile, Joint Air-to-Surface Strike Missile (JASSM), Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), and Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile.
- Ground-Launched: Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS), Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), and Precision Strike Missile (PrSM);
- Naval PGMs: Tomahawk Cruise Missile, Standard Missile-6 (SM-6), and Naval Strike Missile.
Congress may consider several issues regarding PGMs, including
- planned procurement quantities and stockpile assessments,
- defense industrial base production capacity,
- development timelines,
- supply chain security,
- affordability and cost-effectiveness, and
- emerging factors that may affect PGM programs.