Army Transforms Integrated Air, Missile Defense Capabilities
Army photoHUNTSVILLE, Alabama — Few arenas in the Army are witnessing more significant transformation than integrated air and missile defense, according to service officials.
Col. Pat Costello, director of Army Futures Command’s Air and Missile Defense Cross Functional Team, said, “Nowhere during my career have I seen such transformation across a branch.”
From new approaches to defending against small handheld drones to the well-established Patriot missile defense system, the Army is changing the way it defends its troops from airborne threats, he said at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force symposium in Huntsville, Alabama.
The Army is “doing it all simultaneously, and then making it all fit together and work together by eliminating some of the long-standing stovepipes we’ve had. And that’s why I really use the word ‘transformation,’ instead of ‘modernization,’ because yes, we are modernizing the materiel solutions, but this is going to fundamentally change the way that we are organized and employed as a branch,” he said.
Col. Curtis King, commandant of the Air Defense Artillery School at the Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, highlighted the growing threats to troops.
“One thing we’ve seen is no longer do we have one system focused on one threat. We’re seeing this play out in Ukraine, in real-world time now,” he said. “We have to have layered and in-depth defense. In many cases, you’re having to use some of your air and missile defense capability to protect some of your other systems against some of your more advanced threats.”
“This is not just an air defense fight,” he added. “This is not just an Army fight. This is the joint fight.”
Costello said the transformation of air and missile defense is going to not only open new opportunities for the Army but is also going to expose new gaps that it will have to address in the future.
There are five distinct lines of effort that the air and missile defense enterprise is supporting for the delivery of Army 2030 goals and paving the way for the Army of 2040, he said. They are: integrated air and missile defense; counter-unmanned aircraft systems; maneuver-short range air defense; indirect fire protection capability; and lower tier air and missile defense sensors.
The number one priority is the integrated air-and-missile defense, underpinned by its battle command system, which is designed to break down the long-standing stovepipes “not only within the Army, but within the joint force,” Costello said.
The battle command system “serves as the cog for interoperability with the joint force right now through the different experiments that we’ve been doing as a service and with the joint community. And this open systems architecture is really opening our eyes to utilizing data in a much different way,” he said.
Data previously for an air defense soldier was about putting an icon on a screen telling him what a radar sees. “This system really allows us to turn that data into actionable intelligence, where we’re able to develop fire control quality solutions, to communicate and really enable the concept of ‘any sensor and best shooter,’” he added.
Jon Ferko, senior director of mission solutions and strategy, combat systems and mission readiness for the battle command systems at Northrop Grumman, said, “When you think of modernization, you think of something that represents next generation; perhaps faster or better,” he began. “But … this really changes and transforms not only how the Army is going to fight in their missile defense, but it transforms how the joint force will fight and how we’ll fight with our international coalition partners in the future.”
The creation of a single command-and-control system for integrated air and missile defense will allow “plugging in” any sensor, any type of shooter or effector, including directed energy, high power microwaves, electronic warfare systems and conventional weapons, Ferko added.
The system was slated for its full-rate production decision in April, with the previous low-rate initial production systems poised to provide an initial operational capability declaration later in the month.
Meanwhile, Costello said counter-UAS is a concern. He spends “most of his days and nights” right now “thinking about the way that we’re adapting to this evolving threat.”
Countering drones is a problem without one single solution, he said. The Army needs “to be agile in our processes and in our thoughts to keep up with the rapidly evolving threat,” he said.
“It’s going to require us to be able to integrate electronic warfare, directed energy, kinetic energy and cyber capabilities together to provide commanders a layered and tiered defense against the UAS threat,” he said.
“But we’ve got to be agile, and we’ve got to find a process that really helps us bridge the gaps between rapid prototyping, procurement at scale and then being able to reset quickly when the threat continues to evolve,” Costello said.
He added: “Being on the right side of the cost curve has always been a problem for air and missile defense and counter-UAS is a great example of where that is going to continue to be a struggle.”
For example, firing a million-dollar missile to take down a small drone that may have cost its maker $50 is not a viable way to get at the problem.
Another transformational line of effort focuses on maneuver-short range air defense, better known as M-SHORAD, and bringing air and missile defense formations back into the force.
Costello pointed to the activation of three short-range air and missile defense battalions and the delivery of the first two batteries of capability to Europe over the last year. And there are additional technology development efforts to support subsequent M-SHORAD increments, such as a 50-kW directed energy solution developed by the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office that has been provided to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for range testing, a next-generation, short-range interceptor and a new 30mm proximity round “to give us some additional capabilities.”
The service’s strategy is to deliver four M-SHORAD battalions, totaling 144 systems, by the end of fiscal year 2023, with an existing mix of guns, missiles, rockets and onboard sensors integrated on a Stryker A1 vehicle platform.
Follow-on battalions will be equipped with enhanced effectors emerging from those technology development efforts, he said.
Another line of effort is the Indirect Fire Protection Capability Increment 2. The first launcher — scheduled to be delivered at the end of this year — will bridge a gap between short-range air defense — currently Stinger based — and the Patriot weapon system. This will focus on the cruise missile threat, which has been one of the enterprise’s biggest challenges, he said.
Dynetics received a three-year other transaction authority agreement to build the indirect fire protection capability prototype in the fall of 2021. The agreement covers the development and delivery of 16 fieldable launcher prototypes, 60 interceptors and associated all-up-round magazines. The company displayed the first of the fieldable launchers in a nearby parking lot at the symposium.
The final line of effort, the lower tier air and missile defense sensor, will replace the Army’s aging Patriot radar.
“It will really enable us to not only have 360 degree [air and missile defense] capability with a single battery, as opposed to deploying two batteries to do 360 degrees, but also allow us to fully realize the kinematic capabilities of the interceptors that we have that can outrange how far we can currently see with the legacy Patriot radar,” Costello said.
Army 2030 documents call for the service to address air and missile defense capability gaps, support high operational tempos, move from interoperability to integration with other services and multinational partners, create affordable solutions and increase the complexity for potential adversaries.
As for Army 2040, the goals are to create scalable and tailorable units to enhance operational flexibility, enable multiple options against future adversaries, achieve full integration of air and missile defense with other services and multinational partners and develop and maintain capability against advanced threats.
Brig. Gen. Frank Lozano, the Army’s program executive officer for missiles and space, said, “In any given timeframe, when you look at one of [the Army] branches, whether infantry or armor or aviation, if you had one or two significant modernization efforts, that was pretty huge for that community. To have five modernization efforts going on simultaneously is significant. It’s important. It’s also incredibly challenging.”
Specific challenges range from successful completion of developmental and operational test activities to the timely obligation of funds to help mature manufacturing production capacity, he said.
Lozano also emphasized the criticality of ongoing activities with the Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill from an integrated fires perspective.
“What we’re realizing is that our threats across the globe have invested in capabilities to maximize their strengths against some of our perceived weaknesses,” he said. “The ability to leverage multiple sensors on the battlefield, have that data fused and managed … and then simultaneously being able to ensure that the right effector is applied against the appropriate threat, in a relevant, meaningful timeframe, is key to what we’re trying to achieve across the globe,” he said.
The Army’s integrated fires test campaign is focused on ensuring that the individual programs all work together, he added.
“That, in and of itself, is an incredible challenge,” he said. “It drove a reorganization within PEO Missiles and Space. We have project offices focused on sensor management. We have project offices focused on mission command assets. And a project office focused on effectors. And when you do that, somebody has to do the hard system engineering,” he said.
The PEO reorganized and created an Integrated Fires Rapid Capabilities Office that provides overarching system integration, he said.
Moreover, the system development and focus on systems integration is supporting the development of future tactics, techniques and procedures while also leveraging test data to inform doctrine, manning decisions and organizational decisions, he added.
“That’s all very challenging within the community, and we’re working very tightly and close together with the Fires Center of Excellence to figure those things out,” he said.