Army Charts New Path for Air and Missile Defense
To counter new and evolving weapons on the battlefield, the Army has created a new roadmap aimed at beefing up its air-and-missile defense force.
The document — released in March — outlines the service’s vision for its systems and soldiers from now through 2028 to help prepare it for multi-domain operations. The last time the Army released such a blueprint was about four years ago, Lt. Gen. James H. Dickinson, commanding general of Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, told reporters.
“The operational environment has definitely changed and become more complex,” he said. Additionally, there is “more of a great power competition,” he noted at the Association of the United States Army’s Global Force Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama.
In support of the 2018 national defense strategy, the Army must have air-and-missile defense forces that can counter advanced adversaries such as Russia and China, the roadmap said.
The operational tempo for these forces “will remain high, supporting current commitments while simultaneously developing capability to support multi-domain operations,” it noted.
The changing battlefield is pitting the service against advanced weapons such as unmanned aerial systems and sophisticated ballistic missiles, Dickinson said. Additionally, hypersonic vehicles are “looming,” he noted.
This means the Army will need to use a mix of coordinated capabilities to counter these threats, Dickinson said.
“How do you do that? You synergize it within the document so that you’re addressing each one of those not only from a materiel standpoint, but from a training standpoint as well,” he said.
Tom Karako, director of the missile defense project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in an interview that combining these capabilities has been a “long time coming.”
“We need to move away from having these capabilities in stovepipes — and segregated — to having robust and layered defenses against the full spectrum of threats,” he said.
Russia is already using a variety of air-and-missile capabilities to fight in Ukraine, he said. It is “mixing and matching” unmanned aerial systems, cruise missiles and artillery, he noted, and the United States will need to adapt.
“There’s no time to be beating around the bush,” Karako said. “If we’re going to adapt to great power competition, then we’re going to have to pivot our active air-and-missile defenses away from just rogue states to the real threat.”
Dickinson said the Army wants to create air-and-missile defense battalions that each have a variety of platforms at their disposal. These formations will have “tailored force packages” to counter specific threats, he noted. For instance, one unit may have Patriot missile systems and a terminal high-altitude area defense system, whereas another may pair Patriot with an indirect fire protection capability.
“We’ve got to have capabilities that are mixed together in order to provide us a capability that can counter everything … from a UAS up to a ballistic missile,” he said. “Tiered, layered missile defense is one of the main messages within this document.”
The composition of these units will be based on specific situations, he said, because “the threat may not be the same across the entire battlefield.” The future force will need to be “agile, rapidly tailorable, scalable, and able to fight multiple, complex, integrated attacks,” the document stated.
The roadmap is divided into four lines of effort. These include developing air-and-missile defense technologies; building capability for multi-domain operations; providing trained and ready forces; and maintaining forward presence and building allied and partner capacity.
Intercontinental ballistic missiles are the most dangerous aerial threat, the document stated. The most common threats include intermediate-range and theater-class ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial systems, rolling airframe missiles, and fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. Airborne threats are even more harmful when enemies use them in integrated attack and from different directions, it said.
The Army’s current forces have assets to counter ballistic missiles, but it needs to improve its ability to fight maneuvering forces at close range, the document noted. Avenger short-range air defense units currently do not have the survivability, mobility, range and lethality they need, the document noted.
To get at this problem, the Army plans to bring in the indirect fire protection capability, or IFPC. With a kinetic missile interceptor and a networked sensor, IFPC will be a transportable system that can counter cruise missiles, unmanned aerial systems up to 55 pounds and rolling airframe missiles. Initial operational capability is slated for fiscal year 2023, according to the roadmap.
The need for more short-range air defense capabilities has been one of the service’s top challenges for years. In the 2015 report “National Commission on the Future of the Army,” servicemembers and experts pointed out that the active component did not have short-range air defense battalions and that those within the National Guard were occupied in the national capital region. This left the service unable to provide protection in high-threat areas such as Northeast Asia and Eastern Europe, the report said.
“Short-range air defense represents another example of an important shortfall,” it said. “In the post-Cold War era, the Army envisioned little threat from the air forces of potential adversaries. Recent activities in Ukraine and Syria have demonstrated the threat environment has changed.”
The Army’s new air-and-missile defense roadmap also highlights the service’s push to build capacity with partner nations. Dickinson said this is key to the Army’s global air-and-missile defense architectures, capabilities, planning and designs across the world.
The Army is running an exercise called “Nimble Titan” to explore different air-and-missile defense capabilities from around the globe, he said. About 26 countries are participating in the event.
“Our ability to continue to work with our partners and allies in terms of bringing them into our collective defense building capacity — as well as capability — is fundamental to what we do,” he said. “We’ve never fought alone.”
To build ally and partner capacity, the service plans to rely on foreign military sales, building interoperability through doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, facilities and policy, and having persistent engagement at all levels of command, the document stated.
Building interoperability between nations is “pretty feasible” when allies have common U.S.-built weapon systems such as Patriot, Dickinson noted. However, the service will still need to find ways to work with other missile defense platforms, he said.
“It’s a little more challenging when you have a weapon system that’s not necessarily a U.S-built system,” he said. “But still, at the end of the day we’ve got to be able to interoperate and integrate with those systems. Because that’s how you build that collective capability.”
To successfully carry out the plans outlined in the roadmap, Karako advised the Army to “stay the course and don’t get distracted.”
“The history of Army air-and-missile defense is … a windy path of things that are started and then stopped and then changed and then restarted and then stopped,” he said.
However, the Army will need to have “sustained and predictable funding” for missile defense capabilities, Dickinson said. Many of the efforts outlined in the roadmap are multi-year projects, he noted.
“We need consistent and predictable funding [for] more than two years so that we can keep that development moving along at the speed of relevance,” Dickinson said. “That document is based upon consistent and predictable and sustained funding so that we will have these capabilities by 2028.”
President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2020 budget request called for $4.6 billion in missile defense procurement including base and overseas contingency funds. One of the major missile defense efforts outlined in the request includes providing $737 million for the production of 147 Patriot missile segment enhancement missiles and 40 launcher mod kits.
The roadmap was also based on the assumption that current research-and-development efforts — such as directed energy and advanced sensors — will yield new capabilities by 2028, the document noted.
“Significant delays to the programmed delivery dates of these capabilities will leave the force with capability and capacity shortfalls, resulting in the adversary gaining advantage with systems that will overmatch our defenses,” it said.
Dickinson said the roadmap could evolve in the future to accommodate potential changes in the operational environment or weapons programs.
“If we have a significant change to the operating environment, we would go in and update it,” he said. “If we had a significant change in one of the programs — whether it’s a funding or a performance perspective of that program — that might spur us to put an update out.”
Topics: Army News