WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is under pressure to develop an enduring indirect fires protection capability, or IFPC, before fiscal 2023 due to a congressional mandate that the service buy more stand-alone interim systems if it doesn’t have a plan for an overarching system by then.

The service bought two Iron Dome air defense systems co-developed by Israeli company Rafael and American firm Raytheon as an interim solution to counter existing threats — particularly cruise missiles. In the service’s FY19 budget, Congress mandated the Army deploy two batteries by FY20.

To fill the gap, “there was nothing else out there that was deemed feasible, acceptable and suitable to get after the threats where IFPC is intended to operate,” Brig. Gen. Brian Gibson, who is in charge of the service’s air and missile defense modernization effort, told Defense News in an interview shortly before the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.

“We bought Iron Dome because that was the only way we were going to meet timelines. It was the right thing to do, but it’s a stand-alone weapon system and, at this point, our intent is to not buy more stand-alone weapon systems,” he said.

The Army instead would like to take the best-of-breed launchers, sensors and shooters tied together by the service’s Integrated Battle Command System to build a platform capable of countering rockets, artillery and mortar threats as well as unmanned aircraft systems and cruise missiles.

Iron Dome is “a very good weapon system for why it was designed and how it’s employed inside of Israel,” Gibson said. “There’s quite a bit of advantages, especially with its missiles and its launchers.” The question is whether the service can we integrate Iron Dome with U.S. sensors and the U.S. architecture using IBCS. Gibson explain.

"Is that feasible in cost, schedule and time without significant changes in performance?” he asked. “If the answer is ‘yes,’ that’s a pretty powerful path forward because you’re basing it on your common mission command system you have today for the rest of your force, your air defense force. You’re taking advantage of your sensors you have today and you’re not introducing another different sensor inside of your defense programs.”

That decision is still out in front of the Army, and the service is experimenting to try to decide the right path before it would have to commit to buying more interim solutions.

“For us as an Army and [the Department of Defense] and the joint force, failure would be if we are forced to buy more stand-alone weapon systems; and it’s not just Iron Dome, you pick it. I don’t care what it is,” Gibson said.

The service has to make a decision well in advance of 2023, Gibson noted, because the Army needs time to decide on a path, make recommendations and develop a timeline. “I see that more as a near-term decision and recommendation that we’re going to seek to achieve this year,” he said.

The Army recently decided not to proceed with its self-developed multimission launcher. The service has also paused its efforts to qualify future interceptors for the IFPC program to include Lockheed Martin’s Miniature Hit-to-Kill missile.

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.

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