WASHINGTON — The Army spent years internally developing its own multimission launcher for the Indirect Fires Protection Capability program — designed to counter threats like rockets, artillery and mortars as well as cruise missiles and unmanned aircraft systems. But that grand plan is now officially off the table.
The service purchased two Rafael-made Iron Dome systems as an interim solution to close the capability gap for defending against cruise missiles, but the Army has taken a step back to rethink its enduring IFPC program strategy.
While much is up in the air, it’s certain that the launcher that will ultimately be part of the IFPC program won’t be the multimission launcher, or MML.
“It’ll be something different that we will develop,” Brig. Gen. Brian Gibson, who is in charge of the Army’s air and missile defense modernization effort, told Defense News at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.
As of 2016, the Army had spent $119 million to build MML prototypes, which included owning the technical data rights. The cost of developing the system outside of the Army would have been about three times as much, the service said at the time.
Over the course of its development, the launcher was able to defeat a cruise missile target and an unmanned aircraft system using an AIM-9X missile at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, and fired the Miniature Hit-to-Kill (MHTK) and Tamir missiles.
The Army had awarded three $2.6 million contracts in the summer of 2018 for the first phase of a program to find a second interceptor — the Expanded Mission Area Missile — for the MML. Also already selected was the first interceptor for the launcher, the Sidewinder.
In addition to Lockheed Martin’s MHTK missile, two missiles from Raytheon were chosen to be qualified for the launcher: SkyHunter, the U.S. version of the Iron Dome missile Tamir; and the Accelerated Improved Interceptor Initiative missile.
The effort to qualify the MHTK is now paused, Scott Arnold, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and deputy of integrated air and missile defense with the company’s Missiles and Fire Control business, said at AUSA.
The company did not have an intercept test, but was able to move the MHTK missile through some testing prior to the Army’s decision to pause the program.
The Army may take technologies developed as part of the MML effort and spiral them into a future launcher, “but there were a lot of things, with all the right reasons, that launcher turned out the way it did,” Gibson said. An assessment of the launcher determined it was insufficient for an enduring capability, he added.
“All the variables of when you define a new piece of hardware matter. And for air defense, it really comes down to angles you launch things at — whether it’s vertical or whether it’s horizontal — and the applicability of how many different interceptors potentially you can put in,” Gibson said. “Those are all lessons learned from MML, and it matters on the threat set.”
The one-star general is confident the Army can develop something appropriate on the right timeline when it comes to a launcher for the enduring IFPC plan.
And while the service doesn’t want to buy beyond the two batteries of Iron Dome already purchased, it is considering the feasibility of taking its launcher and missiles for the future IFPC program.
The Army has until the end of 2023 to field an initial enduring capability or, by law, will have to buy more interim Iron Dome systems.
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.