HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The Army is looking at several different ways to alleviate the burden on Patriot units deployed around the globe, including an increased reliance on allied contributions, the commanding general of Army Space and Missile Defense Command said.
Patriot Air and Missile Defense battalions are some of the most frequently deployed units in the Army, often experiencing deployments far longer than an average one. They are distributed throughout the globe, from the Middle East, South Korea and elsewhere. Many Army leaders have said over the past few years that these units are overdue for some relief.
Fourteen countries have already bought Raytheon's Patriot, and several are buying upgrades to it while other European countries are in the market for new air and missile defense systems.
"We are looking very closely at where we can leverage, to a greater extent, allied contributions to the fight," Lt. Gen. David Mann told a group of reporters at the Association of the US Army's Global Force Symposium on Wednesday. "As you know we have a lot of assets that are spread around the world, we are in a lot of bilateral agreements with different countries in terms of missile defense, but there's more opportunity out there to leverage what countries bring to the fight in terms of air and missile defense capabilities.
"We have a lot of engagements that are out there as to how can we address the threat from a more 'coalition partners' standpoint versus 'us only.' "
The Army also seeks to alleviate the stress on Patriot units through modernization efforts, Mann said. "By accelerating some of the modernization efforts, we will also be helping with the stress-related issue on the force because they are more modern, they are more efficient and more effective to be able to address threats that are out there."
Some of those modernization efforts have been slowed through near-yearly congressional cuts to Patriot upgrade funding. Congress has continued to demand a more clear picture of the cost to modernize the systems and has withheld funding each year it receives an answer from the Army it deems unsatisfying.
Mann said the ability to keep Patriot in the field for upgrades is another way the Army makes it easier on Patriot battalions. Most of the modernization efforts are performed simply through a software upgrade to the system and does not require the systems to be shipped back to the US for work.
A newer effort is the Army's plan to devote a unit to testing and modernization upgrades, Mann said.
"In the past we would have to devote one of our [operational] battalions to really focus on the modernization effort," he said.
The service has elected to establish a "test detachment capability that frees up that operational battalion to focus on its mission and have that test detachment continue the developmental work that needs to be done, research and development, software upgrades, and all that," Mann said.
The Army is also looking at procuring "dismounted Information Command Central" capabilities — or ICCs, the "brain trust" of the Patriot battalion, according to Mann.
Instead of having to deploy a whole battalion somewhere, "we can use Information Command Central, this dismounted ICC, to be able to deploy, execute a mission with the firing batteries and not have to move the whole battalion and all the stress that is related to moving a whole battalion to a location," Mann said.
The three-star noted there is no "one silver bullet" in solving the problem.
Meanwhile, the Army looks further at modernizing its entire air and missile defense operation. It is looking to hold a competition in fiscal 2017 for a new radar for its Integrated Air and Missile Defense System.
Raytheon, Patriot's maker, has an offering showcased at the Global Force Symposium that uses a Gallium Nitride Advanced Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. And Lockheed Martin is looking for customers for its Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), a radar developed by the US, Italy and Germany. Germany has decided to continue its development.
Mann said the Army is looking for a new radar with enhanced digital processing capabilities "where we are able to really maximize capability of the [Missile Segment Enhanced] missile."
Additionally, solving some environmental issues "that have plagued us with our systems over in the Middle East, the heat issues, … making these radars that are better able to operate for extended periods of time in very harsh conditions is going to be key," Mann said.
The current Patriots can only detect in a 120-degree fan, he said, so "being able to increase protection from a 360-degree capability is going to be a very important component of what we are looking at for that radar," Mann said.
The radar will also need to have an architecture that can respond to advances in threat technology, he added. An open architecture will allow the Army to make upgrades to it to respond to a more challenging threat, according to Mann.
Sustainment of the radar is also important, he noted. "Being able to operate for extended periods of time in some very harsh conditions and then along with that the ability to continue to operate even if it's degraded, in other words you don't have a single point of failure."
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 in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.