WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army’s Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space is a busy outfit as the service expends munitions at a high rate in theater, but it’s also developing several major systems integral to fighting in a multi-domain battle environment the Army envisions it will operate in in the future.
Several programs within the office’s purview are listed among the top six modernization priorities outlined by the Army Chief of Staff, with long-range precision fires at the top of the Army’s priorities.
Defense News sat down with its program executive officer Barry Pike at the Association of the U.S. Army for updates on progress across several developmental efforts.
Where is the Army in the process of developing its Hellfire replacement — the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile?
The Joint Air-to-Ground Missile is, we are in our manufacturing development phase right now. So we are doing a series of 48 flight tests. We have completed 20 of those flight tests very successfully so far. We still have a number to go yet. We will do a limited user test in the January timeframe and then we will go to our low-rate initial production phase thereafter. So sometime in the spring timeframe of next year, we will go into low-rate initial production, go through our initial operational tests and evaluation, and begin fielding in FY-19. So we are very close.
The JAGM missile will have a dual-mode seeker, is the Army going to work toward a tri-mode seeker eventually?
There are still discussions going on about the future improvements we can do. Once we have the basic capability fielded to the Army then obviously as the threat evolves or the conditions change we still have opportunities. In the design phase that we went through, we actually allocated margin in the design for weight and space and power and those kinds of things to be able to incrementally add capability. So we have done a little bit of thinking about how to bring that back should the money or the requirement become available.
The Army just completed a soldier checkout of the Integrated Battle Command System – the brains for the future Integrated Air and Missile Defense system. Previous tests identified software deficiencies. Did the new checkout show improvement?
The Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, or IBCS, is really the foundation for modernization of the Army’s Air and Missile Defense forces. So it’s a fundamental building block from which all the future modernization for air-and-missile defense will be done.
We did have some challenges coming out of our limited user test in 2016. So in the meantime, we have been correcting software deficiencies that you mentioned. As we receive additional increments of software, we have taken them through government testing in our labs and then, like you said, we have taken it out to the soldiers at Fort Bliss to allow them to do testing. Actually, we repeated a part of our limited user test but we actually were able to execute it at a higher intensity air battle system and the software was very stable. The results were very promising.
Because of software deficiencies and other factors, the service has delayed the initial operational capability of IBCS by four years. Do you think you can shore up that delay given its performance at the checkout?
We just recently briefed out the Army Leadership on the progress that we have made. They are very excited. They see the dramatic improvement that has been made in the stability and the soldier’s ability really to use the system that they were not able to execute before just because of the software deficiencies. So we have made great strides in that program.
Right now we are set on a path — there are three or four things yet we still need to do. So we are at sort of a medium level of intensity air battle. We need to be able to progress to higher intensity air battles. To do that, we need to refresh our hardware, which includes not just the tactical hardware that our soldiers operate but our lab hardware. We still have to integrate the latest version of the Patriot software into the system and the latest version of the Sentinel software, go back through our developmental test program, go through our limited user tests, and then on to our low-rate initial production decision and fielding.
So right now, we are looking at fiscal year 22 as the year that we would field our initial operational capability. We have lots of incremental things along that way. If the system and the software continues to show progress like it has, obviously we will be looking for earlier off-ramps to be able to field the system sooner.
The Army is developing a system to counter rockets, artillery, mortars and also unmanned aircraft systems threats — the Indirect Fire Protection Capability. Can you provide a program status update?
We have just completed our prototyping phase, our risk reduction phase, very successfully. We met all of our exit criteria and we are just on the verge of doing our manufacturing development phase. So we have made great progress. The fundamental new piece of that system is a multi-mission launcher. So we will be building our next six or eight prototype launchers that we will take through our limited user testing and looking to be able to field that initial operational capability in FY21.
What types of interceptors will be used in the multi-mission launcher? What has been decided or qualified so far?
So it actually uses the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System for its fire control. It uses Sentinel radars, which already exist but we are always updating the software. And then in the first increment, at least, we are using an existing missile, the Navy and Air Force’s AIM-9X missile, and then pairing all that with the multi-mission launcher.
We are actually in the prototyping phase; we launched successfully six different missiles. Everything from Stingers to Hellfire Longbows to developmental missiles, a Miniature Hit-to-Kill missile, AIM-9X of course, which is our baseline missile, a developmental missile that is kind of a variant of AIM-9X, and then we actually launched the beginning of an Americanized version of the Israeli Tamir missile. So those six missiles we have already successfully launched. Two of those were more deeply integrated in the prototyping phase. So then we are looking at how quickly we can bring the second missile into the architecture to help us from a fixed and semi-fixed site defense against unmanned aerial systems and cruise missiles.
We have about three of those systems that we think are really very promising to compete for that second missile to go in the launcher.
The Army’s top modernization priority is to field long-range precision fires. Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are competing to develop solutions. Industry says it can move faster, but the service delayed the schedule by a year in the FY18 budget request. What do you believe is the timeline, and can things be sped up?
It is currently envisioned to be in the ’27 to ’25 time frame but we are looking for opportunities to accelerate the long range precision fires. Like you said, it is one of the number one priorities, or the number one priority, just that overall mission area, the capability area of getting long-range fires.
So in the meantime, with our existing systems, we are making modifications to be able to fill the gap in time until we are able to field the long-range precision fires. So we have completed our concept definition phase of long-range precision fires. We are going into the prototyping phase, ... so each of those two vendors will build four prototype missiles that we will take into flight-testing. Again, we will look at the maturity of their technology and then the ability to accelerate once we have more information.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.