WASHINGTON — The brains of the U.S. Army’s future Integrated Air and Missile Defense system — the linchpin of a major overhaul of the service’s AMD capability — has seen schedule slips to reach initial operational capability by several years.
And it’s unlikely the Army will be able to accelerate the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, or IBCS, program to get back to an earlier IOC date, despite recent successful soldier evaluations.
But that’s OK, according to the Army’s program executive officer for missiles and space, because the mission for IBCS has expanded far beyond what the service initially intended for the system.
The Army originally planned for IBCS to be the command-and-control system for its future Integrated Air and Missile Defense, or IAMD, architecture. It would serve as the brains of the system, tying a radar, a launcher and its shooters together. The Army’s IAMD system will replace its legacy, Raytheon-manufactured Patriot systems.
Now the Army plans to use IBCS to tie together other vital air and missile defense systems on the battlefield, including the Army’s Indirect Fire Protection Capability, which is designed to defend against rockets, mortars and artillery as well as cruise missiles and unmanned aircraft systems.
The Army is “harnessing all the sensor information we can get together on an integrated fire-control network that has the speed of service to actually work against air threats whether those are ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, air-to-surface missiles, whatever those things are in the air, [unmanned aircraft systems], that are potentially hostile,” Barry Pike said at the Association of the U.S. Army’s missile defense forum Feb. 28.
“IBCS really is the heart and soul of Army air and missile defense modernization,” he said, noting that it will be integrated with joint IAMD, the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps as well as the Missile Defense Agency’s Command and Control, Battle Management, and Communications system.
Defense News first reported last year that IBCS was showing a substantial delay after reviewing previous years’ budget documents compared to the fiscal 2018 request. The documents showed the initial operational capability for the Army program was delayed by four years and would need an additional half-billion dollars across a five-year span beyond previous budget requests.
While IBCS was originally supposed to reach IOC in FY18, Pike confirmed IBCS is now scheduled to reach that milestone in FY22 “where we bring out Patriot sensors, launchers, missiles, along with Sentinel radars, some other sensors and the Indirect Fire Protection Capability all together in one integrated architecture.”
Pike said the Army will continue with testing to achieve that milestone, adding that the program has come a long way since a 2016 Limited User Test, or LUT, identified software deficiencies.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in correcting those deficiencies, demonstrating those with soldiers operating the system, repeating a portion of the LUT that we did back in 2016 to demonstrate that we resolved those software issues,” Pike said. “We’ve also recently done some more live joint air operations with the Marine Corps and the Navy; we have more of that planned for later this year for the Air Force and other partners.”
Resolving the software deficiencies hasn’t been the only issue in throwing IBCS off track and preventing it from shoring up its elongated schedule. Pike acknowledged IBCS, while still in development, has to go through a variety of updates. IBCS appears to be another victim of a program wading slowly through the thick, viscous process of Defense Department acquisition and failing to keep pace with constantly evolving software upgrades.
Pike explained the Army has demonstrated the system’s ability to work with Patriot post-deployment build version 7 software, which existed at the time of IBCS’ test program. But at the same time, the service has been fielding version 8.
“There are unique capabilities in the latest version of Patriot software that we want to be able to take advantage of inside of IBCS, so integrating the latest version of the Patriot software, integrating the latest version of the Sentinel software, because we continue to make improvements over time in that software,” Pike said.
The Army is also still operating off of the original hardware that it bought in 2010 when it began the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the program, Pike added. “So all our servers, routers, switches, all those kind of things are in intensive need of upgrade, so we have begun to do that hardware purchase to refresh the hardware and to get it in a production representative set of hardware that we will then take through another limited user test,” and through other developmental testing as well as a production-phase initial operational test and evaluation.
The Army has looked at how it could possibly buy back time on the IBCS program, according to Pike. “One of the things we looked at is obviously restructuring the program. There were several different factors in that,” he said.
Integrating the Indirect Fire Protection Capability into the IBCS network was a big factor in the Army deciding to push out the IOC of IBCS, he said.
The service has also looked at opportunities to accelerate or shorten the test schedule, Pike said.
“Best-case world, we do the finalization of our software development program, get it out there, test it, it works perfectly the first time,” Pike said. “You have a great opportunity to accelerate the program” because the Army has built in extra time to correct possible failures that may occur in testing, he said.
Pike added that the budget isn’t a factor in holding back the schedule, but if there are opportunities to speed up the program, the service may have to shift funding to make sure there are production dollars early enough to get the hardware in place to field on an accelerated basis.
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.