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'80s flashback: Boeing soups up old Avenger for short-range air defense gap

March 14, 2017 (Photo Credit: Jen Judson/Staff)
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Boeing has modernized its 1980s-era Avenger air defense system to answer the Army’s call to fill its Short-range Air Defense gap within the maneuver force.

The Avenger first came off the production line at Boeing in 1987 and is known for defending the National Capitol Region. But it’s an old, non-mobile system that relies on Stinger missiles, which are passive infrared munitions. Boeing has fielded 1,100 systems to the U.S. and international partners over the years.

There are only four Avenger batteries in the active component – the rest resident in the reserve forces -- while the Army is expecting to fight in the future in highly contested and congested environments against adversaries with fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, an abundance of UAS and other threats where SHORAD capability will be vital.

Boeing is looking to address all of those threats by outfitting Avenger like a multi-mission launcher. The company brought its concept to the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Symposium with AIM 9X Sidewinder missiles on one side and Hellfire Longbow missiles on the other and affixed to the top is a directed energy laser system.

Boeing has also fired Stinger and Javelin from the platform.

While the Army is flirting with the idea of building old Avengers and fielding them with Stinger missiles as the solution to the SHORAD gap, Boeing has what it believes is a more flexible and capable system in the modernized version.

Army acquisition chief Steffanie Easter told Defense News in an interview Monday at AUSA Global that the service right now – to fill the gap in the mid-term – is focused on using the Avenger capability – perhaps “reusing and repurposing a little bit.”

According to Jim Leary, the company’s director of Integrated Air & Missile Defense and Directed Energy, Boeing can build the new, souped up version for twice the capability for a third of the price of an older system.

While it would better serve Boeing economically to just go ahead and build more of the old system, Leary said this was developed to bring better capability to the warfighter, not to purely make money.

So ahead of a procurement decision from the Army on how to proceed in filling the SHORAD capability gap, Boeing is hoping its modernized Avenger will start a conversation with the service on how to increase the capability rather than just build up a force of older systems, Leary told Defense News.

Boeing originally made the upgrades to the Avenger system a few years ago for U.S Army Program Executive Office Missiles & Space, but the option became less attractive in favor of the fast-maturing Indirect Fire Protection Program.

Yet, now the Army is in a situation where it needs to rapidly field a maneuver SHORAD gap, Leary said. IFPC is going to be too heavy, on a too-large truck, to be effective for the maneuver force, he noted.

The new Avenger is “an immediate solution that we can have the first platoon ready to go to testing within six to nine months after contract,” Leary said.

The system has been integrated onto a palette but also a platform as small as a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. Next week, the system will be integrated onto a Stryker Armored Vehicle in conjunction with General Dynamics Land Systems.

And there are plans to integrate the system onto a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle with BAE Systems as well, Leary said.

In May, Boeing will bring the capability to the Army Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and will demonstrate the new Avenger on a Stryker. At the same time, it will demonstrate a high energy laser on another Stryker.

Boeing just wrapped up testing of its high energy laser on Stryker at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, where it had 80 engagements against threat targets, Leary said.

The company plans to attend a demonstration in September at White Sands, where anyone from industry with a SHORAD capability can come exercise it, to help inform the Army way ahead.

Because of the recent success with the high energy laser, Boeing is thinking about bringing that capability along with the Avenger to the demonstration.

Since Boeing designed the Avenger to fire the various weapons remotely, there is room in the turret to accommodate the laser’s components, according to Leary.

Boeing is eager to see forward movement on a program to fill the SHORAD gap, noting the Army has a lot of demonstrations set up.

“Our concern is how many more demonstrations are they going to have? At what point do they decide to procure something to address the problem the chief of staff has laid out,” Leary asked.
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