WASHINGTON -- After identifying Short-Range Air Defense as a critical gap, particularly in Europe, the Army is moving at lightning speed to bring the neglected capability back to the forefront of the battlefield.
The National Commission on the Future of the Army released a report to Congress last year that determined the Army had an "unacceptable modernization shortfall" in SHORAD capability. And the Army's European theater commander told Defense News last summer that one of his main priorities was to boost SHORAD capability to deter an intrusive Russia.
The new Army Space and Missile Defense Command commander, Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, said during an Association of the US Army missile defense conference in Arlington, Virginia, on Tuesday that the goal is to field SHORAD capability to Europe in fiscal year 2018.
The Army made headway in a review wrapped up last year that looked at possible SHORAD weapons from around the world in order to fill the critical gap in Europe.
At Eurosatory in Paris last June, then-Army Acquisition Chief Katrina McFarland called it an "international scrub" of every technology in the world that addresses the concern. And she added the Army is also working to address the gap in its own military labs, developing a launcher than can shoot a wide variety of missiles -- appropriately dubbed the Multi-Mission Launcher.
The MML will be integrated into the Indirect Fire Protection Capability that is being designed to defeat UAS, rockets, artillery and mortars and cruise missiles, but the weapon is still years away from prime time.
Col. Greg Brady, the fires division chief for Training and Doctrine Command at Army headquarters, said at the AUSA event that the service in 2004 had 26 battalions with SHORAD capabilities. Now the Army has nine. Of those nine battalions, seven are resident in the Army National Guard while two are still with the active force.
"In the end, there are four Avenger batteries in the active component," Brady said, while the Army is expecting to fight in the future in highly contested and congested environments against adversaries with fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, an abundance of UAS, and other threats where a SHORAD capability will be vital.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- that posed different threats to the warfighter -- caused the Army to focus and prioritize other weapon systems, letting SHORAD capabilities fall by the wayside.
Col. Doug White, a TRADOC capabilities manager for the Air Defense Artillery Brigade, C-UAS and now SHORAD, explained the Army is focused on fielding quickly to Europe, but is also developing the future of the capability.
The service wants "fixed" and "semi-fixed" assets that defend critical combat enablers for the armed maneuver forces and also wants capability resident within the maneuvering force, he said.
Avenger is still a capable system, White said, and, for example, defends the National Capital Region. Other interim capabilities will continue to be used until IFPC is fielded. Sentinel has been around for years, White said, and there are plans in the works to develop a future Sentinel radar in the mid-2020s.
The SHORAD systems in the future will need to be highly expeditionary and easily integrated with other systems on a networked battlefield. The service also wants to eventually bring in low-cost interceptors and game-changing capability still in the early phases of development like directed energy, steerable rounds and high-powered microwave technology, White said.
Hoping for additional support, the Army included more money for SHORAD in a supplemental requirements wish list for fiscal year 2017 prepared for the new administration.
The list asks for $1.3 billion to pay for modifications to the Patriot Air and Missile Defense System, procures Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles, accelerates Stinger air-defense system modifications and a service life extension program and also would fund modifications of the Army’s Avenger SHORAD systems.
A list of what the Army needs to fill its more critical capability gaps in 2018 includes another $1 billion boost in terms of upgrades to SHORAD and Patriot missiles and radars. The money would also go toward Stinger man-portable air-defense system upgrades and procurement.
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.