WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army plans to choose an interim solution to meet a much-needed Short Range Air Defense, or SHORAD, capability in Europe by the end of the year, according to Brig. Gen. Randy McIntire, who is leading the service’s modernization efforts in air and missile defense.
The directed requirement for a SHORAD solution has been signed by the Army vice chief of staff, and now the Army’s cross-functional team — assigned to work on air and missile defense, or AMD, modernization — is working with the Army acquisition community to come up with a procurement plan, McIntire told Defense News in a March 14 interview.
[A gun or a missile? Europe irons out tactics for short-range air defense]
There are seven cross-functional teams — or CFTs — set up under the Army’s new Futures Command to address the service’s top six priorities. AMD is the fifth.
“But the plan is right now, we think we’ve got enough knowledge points,” McIntire said, “that by the fourth quarter of the year, we should be able to downselect to one [vendor]. There are really two very viable candidates today.”
[Everything’s coming up SHORAD]
The Army has moved at lightning speed to reintroduce SHORAD into the maneuver force since then-U.S. Army Europe commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges about a year and a half ago recognized a capability gap in short-range air defense for conflicts against near-peer threats such as Russia.
The Army had pushed its SHORAD capability into the reserves and stopped investing in it during the wars in the Middle East where SHORAD was not needed to counter insurgency forces that had very little capability to attack from the air.
The service has already moved an Avenger unit from the National Guard into Europe and plans to continue rotations, but it acknowledges the need to go beyond that. The Army envisions needing to use air defense protection for the maneuver force as it penetrates highly contested enemy territory. SHORAD will also hold off enemy air capability in order to provide avenues for the U.S. Air Force to fly into enemy air space and take out critical targets.
Other capabilities like the Indirect Fire Protection Capability Increment 2 that is designed to go up against rockets, artillery and mortars as well as unmanned aircraft systems and cruise missiles is more designed for fixed sites, McIntire said, it’s not ideal for trying to keep up with Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles and the Abrams tanks in the fight.
And just keeping Avenger is not an option due to its survivability and range limitations, McIntire added.
The directed requirements call for 144 SHORAD systems which is about four battalions worth of equipment, McIntire said.
The CFT figures it will be able to field 12 systems — a battery — by fiscal 2020, with the remainder of the first battalion by FY21. The second battalion would be complete by FY22, according to McIntire.
The Army has also identified the first active-force battalion to be equipped with a SHORAD capability that will go to Europe — 4th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment — and is working the overseas stationing packet, McIntire said.
The first unit will stand up in FY19 with refurbished Avengers, but as the SHORAD vehicles come online, those systems from the 1980s will be replaced.
“We weren’t even talking about SHORAD just a little over a year ago, so by FY21 we will have that capability in Europe,” McIntire said.
The plan is to build four battalions, but it’s possible the service could take it further at a future decision point to provide every division, both active-duty and National Guard with a battalion of SHORAD, he added.
What the Army will be choosing by the end of the year is not the platform. The service has already decided the interim SHORAD solution will be Stryker-based. “The Stryker gave us the survivability that we needed compared to the Avenger” and was better in terms of size, weight and power considerations in order to potentially integrate directed energy onto the system.
In the service’s FY19 budget documents, it says the Army will assess the possibility of integrating a laser weapon onto the Stryker for SHORAD within five years.
“So we’ve got the bottom figured out and we are trying to figure out what that top of the turret looks like,” McIntire said.
The Army is looking most seriously at using existing systems, guns and missiles, particularly stuff already in the inventory so it can move out fast.
“As long as we got the potential to grow it, spiral develop things on it, we will do that,” McIntire said.
For instance, Lockheed Martin is expecting the Army to choose its Longbow Hellfire missile as part of the solution.
“Our plan was to take existing systems today, just get something out there, and so we do like the Longbow Hellfire, the [Joint Air-to-Ground Missile] capability, we’ve got Stingers in the inventory, so let’s use some Stinger missiles as well and get some quick wins,” McIntire said.
JAGM is the replacement for the Hellfire missile and is currently under development by Lockheed Martin.
And there is a variety of other options and configurations that have cropped up over the past year. The Army held a SHORAD demonstration for vendors with solutions in September and is using that as well as “paper submissions” to help it make a decision on the way forward by the end of the year, according to McIntire.
Looking beyond the interim solution, the Army believes SHORAD could potentially be integrated right onto the Next-Generation Combat Vehicle, another modernization priority for the service, he added.
“We will work with NGCV as they develop that platform with our directed-energy efforts. We will take the lead for that and we will help them inform that, but ultimately in the end we will be on the Stryker for the next 15 years,” McIntire said. “But we would ultimately maybe get on the Next-Generation Combat Vehicle with some of our capabilities down the road.”
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.