Recognizing the potential threat to NATO forces from Russian unmanned aircraft, guided missiles and artillery, the Army is pushing interim air- and missile-defense (AMD) capabilities to Europe and speeding soldiers through training to man them.
Air and missile defense is a major modernization priority for the Army, but while new systems and capabilities are under development, AMD capabilities are increasingly in demand in current hot and cold conflicts, according to Army AMD Command Chief Lt. Gen. James Dickinson.
“Meeting the increasing demand for air and missile defense forces is one of our toughest challenges,” Dickinson said. “Missile defense forces are a low-density, high-demand resources.”
Army units in Europe in particular are at risk from prolific Russian guided missiles, unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and long-range artillery. To fill that capability gap, the Army has made mobile short-range air defense a priority while refurbishing legacy systems to field interim capabilities, Dickinson said.
Dickinson was speaking at an Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Army Air and Missile Defense event today.
“The Army has realized the need to bring additional Avenger sets back to the active component,” he said.
The AN/TWQ-1 Avenger surface-to-air missile system was introduced in 1989 but has largely been relegated to National Guard units. The SHORAD system can protect ground units from cruise missiles, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), some fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.
Army Materiel Command has inspected overhauled mothballed Avenger batteries that were sitting in a field at Letterkenny Army Depot, Pa., and scheduled for disposal, Dickinson said. At least 72 fully functional Avenger sets have been resurrected from that boneyard to support the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI).
The Army is ahead of schedule to deliver Avenger battalion equipment sets to Europe in 2018 in support of EDI. Personnel and infrastructure to establish an active-component Avenger battalion in Europe will follow next year, Dickinson said.
An Army National Guard Avenger battery also will begin annual rotations to Europe this year alongside the rotational armored brigade combat team.
A parallel effort is training two-soldier teams to protect maneuver units with man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) like the FIM-92 Stinger heat-seeking surface to air missile. The MANPADS pilot program so far has trained 208 soldiers, or 104 two-man missile teams, most of which are deployed in support of the EDI, Dickinson said.
AMD is simultaneously working on the future of anti-missile systems, to include upgrading the Patriot missile radar and fielding a lower-tier air and missile defense sensor (LTAMDS). The goal of LTAMDS is to field a full-spectrum counter- rocket, artillery, mortar (CRAM) capability by 2022.
Dickinson also works with the new AMD cross-functional team to set in motion an ongoing test-and-evaluation regime to identify emerging technologies, weigh their effectiveness and suitability and potentially form programs of record.
“The Army recognizes that we need more innovation and agility in research and development,” he said. “We have to leverage commercial innovations, cutting-edge science and technology, prototyping and war fighter feedback.”
Also in the offing is a Stryker-mounted laser capable of taking down small UAS and potentially missiles. The mobile high-energy laser, a 5kw system atop a Stryker testbed, has already proven its ability to burn up small unmanned systems in testing. The Army plans to equip it with a 50kw laser this year and to test a 100kw laser on the same platform before fiscal 2022, Dickinson said.
Richard DeFatta, head of Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s (SMDC) Future Warfare Center, confirmed the 5 kW Mobile Experimental High Energy Laser (MEHEL) demonstration system is “now over in Europe. And it will be participating in some exercises over there.”
He did not specify what units are using the laser weapons or what exercises they will participate in.
At the heart of the Army’s missile-defense modernization strategy is the integrated air and missile defense battle command system (IBCS), a central processor, or “brain,” that can sense, identify and track incoming threats and then prescribe an appropriate countermeasure.
Built by Northrop Grumman [NOC], IBCS is an open-architecture battle-command processor into which the Army can plug legacy and emerging sensors and interceptors to match missions and anticipated threats. It also will network the Army’s legacy systems into a single, multi-layered air defense capability.
“We continue to advance our interoperability … by transitioning them into a flexible and agile AMD mission command network using the IAMD battle command system to link Army, and ultimately the joint, AMD mission command-node sensors and launchers,” Dickinson said.