WASHINGTON — The Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS) has passed another communication system test, with the next step being to measure how the equipment responds to various environmental conditions and terrains.
According to Northrop Grumman, the prime contractor on the project, the external communications test took place in May and June. With a mixture of live and simulated air-and-missile defense assets, the external communications test demonstrated IBCS' ability to transmit voice and data communications between multiple operation centers and fire control network relays.
This test follows the announcement of a recent $289 million contract modification for the program after a string of successful tests dating back to 2015. In these tests, IBCS has linked together Sentinel short-range air defense radars, Patriot air-and-missile defense radars, and Patriot Advanced Capability 2 (PAC-2), PAC-3 and PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement interceptors.
In total, five IBCS-engagement operations centers and five IBCS fire control relays dispersed between White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico; Tobin Wells Training Area Tactical Systems Integration Lab in Fort Bliss, Texas; and the Government System Integration Laboratory at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, participated in the exercise.
Bill Lamb, the operating unit director for Northrop’s IAMD program, told Defense News the test integrated systems operated by the Marine Corp’s tactical air operations center (TAOC) and the Air Force’s airborne warning and control system (AWACS). “That testing was really focused on how well the system does perform in terms of operating in a joint architecture and joint network," Lamb said.
Dan Verwiel, Northrop’s vice president and general manager for missile defense and protective systems said the test is just another example of the system’s ability to integrate disparate U.S. missile defens systems.
“Test after test, IBCS continues to demonstrate high levels of interoperability, reliability and performance and is proving its immense value as the central command-and-control architecture of the future for our nation’s air defenders," Verwiel said.
The Army now plans to take the system’s hardware and put it through a complete range of developmental tests, measuring how the equipment responds to various environmental conditions and terrains to replicate stresses the system can be expected to endure over it’s service life.
Following these tests, Northrop anticipates a flight test in the third quarter of 2018 that will lead to an operational test in the first quarter of 2020. Depending on the data the Army gets out of these tests, it could make the decision to go into low rate initial production. This comes after schedule slips, which have been partly due to the service expanding the mission for the command-and-control system beyond what was originally intended.
According to Lamb, some additional development is planned for the 2020-2021 timeframe, which will be followed by another operational test and a full rate production decision in 2022.
This will be welcomed news by Poland, who signed the first procurement deal for IBCS and four patriot firing units in March, and other possible buyers on the international market.
“We are getting, [from] around the globe, a lot of interest in IBCS because of that ability and that architecture to be able to integrate new weapon systems and sensors,” Lamb said. “Wherever patriot has been sold ... IBCS can provide the capability not only to upgrade the patriot system those countries have already acquired but be able to integrate their organic sensors, obviously with U.S. government approval.”
And while IBCS has successfully integrated air defense assets like Sentinel and Patriot, it remains to be seen if THAAD is also integrated on the network.
“It’s not currently in the program, but there is interest and I think there’ll be a movement to integrate THAAD with IBCS,” Lamb said.