WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army’s major missile defense command-and-control system is headed toward a critical test in 2020 that is essentially a redo after the system was unsuccessful in its first attempt at entering production in 2016.
The Integrated Battle Command System, or IBCS — the brains of the Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense System — is critical to the success of the service’s future layered air-and-missile defense mission. The goal is to tie any radar, sensor or shooter into the IBCS to create an intricate web of capability to go after a wide variety of current and emerging threats.
The program’s past is plagued with failures and schedule delays, but in recent years the system saw several successes, teasing out the potential of such a capability if all goes well.
Software problems discovered during the Army’s first limited-user test of the system in 2016 resulted in schedule delays of nearly four years. The Army originally planned to reach initial operational capability in fiscal 2019, but those plans slipped to the third quarter of FY22, according to FY18 budget documents.
“The intent for the program remains pure and the approach to try to get unbridled, uncoupled weapons systems that really seek to maximize the combination of mission command sensors and shooters in a different way,” Brig. Gen. Brian Gibson, who is in charge of air and missile defense modernization for the Army, told Defense News in an interview shortly before the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.
“IBCS requirements have stayed valid since 2016,” he said, noting the failed limited-user test caused the Army to reset the baseline of the program, though the requirements stayed the same. “We didn’t fail because of the requirements the first time; we failed because of technical feasibility of where the product was at the time. Really, it was a stability issue.”
The Army’s second attempt is expected to happen roughly around the beginning of the third quarter of the fiscal year, Gibson said. That will allow the Army to analyze the results and then make a production decision for IBCS.
Gibson is confident that the limited-user test will be successful due to recent test events including demonstrating the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s ability to send data to the IBCS system during the Orange Flag Evaluation 19-2 at Palmdale, California, and Fort Bliss, Texas, in June.
Recent soldier checkouts used to prepare IBCS for the limited-user test have also been declared a success.
The Army is getting ready for another test in December “where we seek to up the ante,” Gibson said. “Sort of our final test before we move forward going into the limited-user test next year. That test will have a broader range of threats from ballistic missiles and cruise missiles and air-breathing threats for us to counter. We will also integrate some joint air assets.”
“I think the success in our testing program, other than the traditional developmental tests and operational tests … that’s been a very positive outcome on this road since the failed one,” Gibson said.
Additionally, IBCS has been designated, among just a few programs and with congressional direction, to adopt an agile software-development process that allows the system to be frequently updated with software upgrades or patches, as opposed to big software drops that potentially happen only once a year.
“So you get a more agile development framework and a more adaptive and flexible and responsive work outcome to then allow the Army to decide on a faster timeline whether to make changes or not,” Gibson said. “I think it really puts the program at a different place than where it was when we failed the [limited-user test].”
While the Army is attempting to speed up the schedule to get to an initial fielding of IBCS, the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General recently released a report that expressed concern that there might not be enough time between the end of the limited-user test and the scheduled Milestone C production decision to analyze the data and address potential issues.
“That’s a future decision in front of us,” Gibson said. “We certainly are going to wait and assess and report and analyze our performance in the [limited-user test]. And regardless of what the program says today and what we’ve told people, we certainly are not going to shortsight our assessment of whether or not this program met the threshold requirements we are trying to meet.”
If that means the Army has to consider a slip in the schedule “by a week, a month, two months, three months,” the service will do so if the limited-user test shows there is reason to, according to Gibson.
“Given where this program has been, that’s important to make sure we’re confident where it’s at,” he said, “But secondly, this program fundamentally changes our air and missile defense force, so we better make sure how we employ that force, we better make sure that we are confident to proceed. This isn’t [the] time for a quick decision."
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.