By Geoff Fein

Although the Navy has ceased funding of Raytheon‘s [RTN] Extended Range Guided Munition (ERGM), the service remains committed to finding a solution for Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) as rapidly as possible.

“A reassessment of this program will provide the Navy and Marine Corps with an opportunity to take advantage of advances in technology to develop a more reliable option,” A Navy spokesman told Defense Daily. “Recognizing the NSFS requirement is still valid, the Navy will immediately commence an AoA (Analysis of Alternatives).”

For its part, the Marine Corps, which has been adamant in its need for an Extended Range Munition (ERM), said the requirement for surface fire support remains.

“The Marine Corps has a valid requirement for naval surface fire support, and although the ERGM program does not appear to be the solution, we believe the Navy will continue to partner with industry to deliver a weapons solution that will reliably meet our mission requirement,” a Marine Corps spokesman told Defense Daily.

Last week, the Navy said it would no longer provide funding for the continued development of Raytheon’s ERGM program. The company had conducted a series of engineering shots in early February that, according to sources, demonstrated only 20 percent reliability.

Raytheon and the Navy have declined to comment on those tests. However, the company said it was disappointed in the Navy’s recent decision to cease funding the program.

“We are disappointed in this decision and feel that it is premature given the critical point we have reached on this engineering development program,” Raytheon said in a statement. “We are now on the verge of proving ERGM can reliably provide precision fire capability, which was the objective of the 20-round test scheduled for September of this year.”

Raytheon had planned to produce ERGM alongside its more reliable Excalibur guided munition that it is making for the Army. According to the company, Excalibur “has consistently been delivered ahead of schedule, is demonstrating very high reliability, and is saving lives in theater. We are confident that Raytheon could have delivered a reliable, capable and affordable ERGM to meet the naval surface fires needs of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps.”

Raytheon employed 40 people on ERGM. They have already been re-assigned to other programs, the company added.

With no Navy funding forthcoming, it’s unknown whether Raytheon will be willing to continue forward and pay for the planned reliability tests in September.

Raytheon had been expected to shoot upward of 20 rounds, with the requirement that it demonstrate at least a 60 percent reliability.

While the end of the ERGM program came as little surprise to those tracking the effort, most thought the Navy’s decision was a result of the February engineering tests. But last week, word spread that the program had run out of money.

According to a Navy source, the Navy’s contracting officer was notified by Raytheon Missile Systems that costs incurred on the ERGM contract as of March 21, 2008, exceeded the total amount currently allotted to the contract.

“The Navy’s Contracting Officer notified Raytheon Missile Systems, on March 19, 2008 of their failure to meet the reporting requirements of the contract and that additional funds are not going to be applied to the contract,” the source said.

ATK [ATK] said Monday it will continue to pursue development of its Ballistic Trajectory Extended Range Munition (BTERM), once seen as an alternative for the ERM.

“We are working to complete the program and demonstrate success,” said an ATK spokesman. “[We are] looking to the Navy to see where they are going with it.”

Unlike Raytheon, ATK’s BTERM has survived through congressional plus-ups. However, in the FY ’08 defense bill, ATK received no funds for BTERM.

According to an industry source, ATK has about $1 million it can put toward development and testing of BTERM.

BTERM has also had its share of problems. ATK, which makes the rocket motor for not only BTERM, but also for ERGM, has encountered repeated engine failures on BTERM. The company held engineering tests in late January at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. While ATK successfully tested two unguided rounds, according to a source, round three’s (the first guided round) rocket motor failed to ignite. The BTERM round flew approximately 9 miles, far short of the required 62 nautical mile range the Navy is seeking (Defense Daily, Jan. 24).

ATK canceled the second guided test to determine why the rocket motor on the earlier test had failed. The company has not yet set a date to test any variant of BTERM.