HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Despite some supply chain challenges, the U.S. Army is on track to receive its first 12 Indirect Fires Protection Capability launchers by the start of 2024, according to the service’s program executive officer for missiles and space.
“If you went to Dynetics today, you’d see six to seven launchers being built up on the factory floor,” Brig. Gen. Frank Lozano told Defense News in an Aug. 8 interview at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium.
The Leidos-owned Dynetics won a $247 million contract to build a total of 16 prototypes for the Army’s enduring system to counter cruise missiles, rockets, artillery and mortars as well as drones following a shoot-off against a Rafael and Raytheon Technologies team. The contract period of performance is through March 31, 2024. Dynetics will also deliver 60 interceptors and associated all-up-round magazines.
The service intends IFPC to protect critical fixed- or semi-fixed assets and to be a more mobile solution than one that would suffice at a forward operating base. The system is planned to bridge the gap between short-range air defense systems, the Patriot air-and-missile defense system and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system.
The Army is conducting system integration and checkout of the first two launchers, Lozano added, while Dynetics continues to work through some supply chain issues.
“They’re actually having to bring into their facility some of the hardware design effort because some of their sub-tier suppliers are having challenges delivering,” Lozano said.
Actuators that lift and move the launcher not performing to specifications are among those challenges, he noted, as well as quality issues with circuit card assemblies associated with soldering.
Dynetics is “having to bring some of that work in, which impacts the schedule by weeks,” Lozano said. But at the same time, Dynetics is continuing to build up all the launchers. “There’s less complexity with about 80% of the hardware,” he added.
One challenge the service is working through on the technical side, Lozano said, is thermal management. “There’s a very complex thermal management system that exists within the IFPC launcher to keep the missiles cool, especially in a hot environment,” he noted.
The launcher’s first chosen interceptor is Raytheon’s AIM-9X Sidewinder.
“These missiles were made to fly off a fixed-wing aircraft that’s flying 25,000 feet. It’s pretty cool up there,” Lozano said. “You put an AIM-9X in a magazine on an IFPC launcher out at [White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico], and so you have to have fans and everything’s got to be conditioned to keep that missile in an ambient temperature where it can operate.”
Over the summer the Army has also been working with Raytheon, who is providing two controllers for the launcher. One is the Missile Interface Controller that goes into the missile magazine and is geared toward operating the AIM-9X. The other is the Weapons Interface Controller that sits on the launcher and interfaces with the service’s Integrated Battle Command System, the command-and-control capability that will link IFPC to sensors on the battlefield.
The Army has been conducting engineering release testing of all the software for those components.
“Then as we accept launchers in the fall, then they’ll come with the associated magazine MIC and WIC,” Lozano said.
Once the first round of 12 launchers is received, the Army will conduct its first missile flight test in February 2024 followed by roughly six to nine months of developmental testing.
In the first quarter of fiscal 2025, IFPC should be ready to participate in the Army’s Integrated Fires Test Campaign along with the new Lower-Tier Air-and-Missile Defense Sensor (LTAMDS) and IBCS.
Even though the program has had to work through some challenges, Lozano said, “we don’t really see ourselves as behind schedule. It’s an aggressive schedule. It’s a capability that we don’t really have and so it’s a capability we want to get fielded as quickly as possible.”
The IFPC program is a Middle Tier Acquisition Program, which, in defense-speak, means it’s statutorily required to have operational capability within five years.
“My current plan has me leveraging three-and-a-half years of that five-year effort, so we feel like we’re in a good place,” Lozano said. “I guess in the business world, I’d call it having some management reserve.”
The Army plans to make an engineering and manufacturing development decision in the second quarter of FY25.
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.