WASHINGTON — Software problems are causing the Army's new air-and-missile defense battle command system program to fall behind schedule, a recent Pentagon testing report finds, and the service has yet to determine just how delayed it is.
The Northrop Grumman-manufactured Integrated Battle Command System is a crucial part of the Army's future Integrated Air-and-Missile Defense System. It is meant to be the brains of the entire suite, connecting sensors and fire-control systems to detect threats and respond to them.
Ultimately it will replace the command system in the Army's current missile defense weapon — Raytheon's Patriot — and will connect all future air- and missile-defense systems on the battlefield. It includes an Engagement Operations Center, hardware-interface kits and integrated fire-control network relays.
The Army was scheduled to achieve initial operational capability in fiscal year 2019, according to a report from the Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation. But in August 2016 the plan to reach the production phase of the program, planned for November 2016, was put on hold "until IBCS software deficiencies are resolved in accordance with contracted requirements."
The report states the program management office is working with Northrop to resolve the deficiencies.
A Northrop Grumman statement provided to Defense News on Monday said the overarching anti-missile program and its command element "are well down the path to meeting all key performance parameters" and the team made "significant progress in maturing the IBCS capability during 2016," including a successful test flight in April where soldiers destroyed multiple targets including ballistic and cruise missile threats.
"These accomplishments prove the IBCS objective, architecture and design are sound, and test results reinforce our confidence in the transformational capabilities" of the system, the statement reads.
An Army spokesman, in a statement sent February 3, said it was not "uncommon" to find "unanticipated results" during testing outside of a controlled environment. According to the spokesman, providing the system to actual soldiers for further testing would allow the Army to analyze and correct "identified results" and re-establish a production milestone date.
The statement came after weeks of repeated requests by Defense News for details about the software shortcomings flagged in the testing report.
DOT&E found, during the system’s limited user test conducted in the spring of 2016, the IBCS software was "neither mature nor stable as evidenced in numerous software problem reports." The report added that software immaturity contributed to the AIAMD Engagement Operations Center’s "reduced reliability" and noted operator workstations "often became sluggish or ceased to operate."
This led to operators being unable to "effectively coordinate with engagement and identification authorities, a key function of air defense," the report states.
When workstations malfunctioned or froze, the median time to repair them was approximately 13 minutes, according to the report, and the lapse in time could result in "multiple failed engagements and loss of critical defended assets."
The workstations also showed "multiple false tracks" where only one test target was flying and operators had difficulty identifying targets in a "cluttered air picture," the report states.
AIAMD was unable to operate on a standard tactical data exchange network — Link 16 — and had "significant" problems with dual tracks and reporting responsibility with the IBCS network, according to the report.
Fire-control relays were also "not reliable" and failed on multiple occasions, "thus disconnecting the associated radar or shooter" from the AIAMD system and causing operators to be unable use the radar or shooter, the report details.
The Army did not address specific questions posed about each of these problems outline in the report and whether any had been resolved, but an Army spokesman said the service's air and missile defense programs "are on a path to converge to IBCS, to include hardware and software designed to plug and fight on the IFCN."
The Army plans to conduct a production decision review later this year, the statement said.
As for Northrop, the IBCS team "has tackled difficult issues, achieving what many thought impossible," a company statement reads, adding that all problems would be addressed.
Meanwhile, IBCS is starting to garner attention from foreign countries seeking to build missile defense capabilities. Specifically, Poland has requested IBCS for the Patriot systems it wants to buy. However, the delay of IBCS fielding with the U.S. Army pushes the system farther out of reach for Poland, which is eager to procure at least a few missile defense systems quickly to protect itself from potential Russian attacks.
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.