WASHINGTON — A high-stakes test of the U.S. Army’s battle command system expected to control air and missile defense shooters and sensors is underway following a delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kenn Todorov, Northrop Grumman’s vice president for missile defense solutions, told Defense News in a recent interview.
Northrop Grumman is the developer of the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, or IBCS. The system’s development and its fielding is the Army’s top air and missile defense modernization priority.
IBCS has had a long and marred history due to struggles in previous tests as well as increasing requirements causing a plethora of challenging software changes.
But recent successful tests over the past several years have resulted in a deeper confidence of the system, and the Army has been racing to move through a limited-user test, or LUT, at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, to reach a production decision. The test will decide the fate of the program.
The program was supposed to reach initial operational capability last year, but those plans slipped in 2017 by four years following software problems in the system’s first LUT in 2016.
IBCS was originally meant to serve as the command-and-control system for the Army’s future Integrated Air and Missile Defense system against regional ballistic missile threats, but now the service sees a much more expansive future for the technology, with plans to tie it to sensors and shooters capable of defeating complex threats like unmanned aircraft.
According to Todorov, the Army and Northrop had to take a “COVID pause” to ensure the safety of all of the participants of the LUT before proceeding. Originally, the IBCS test was scheduled for earlier in the spring as COVID-19 was spreading quickly across the United States.
Precautions are taken to ensure participants stay healthy, Todorov said, but he doesn’t believe those measures will sacrifice any of the rigor within the test.
The LUT will have a broader range of threats to counter than the original, from ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and air-breathing threats, and this test will include the integration of some joint air assets, Brig. Gen. Brian Gibson, the head of the Army’s missile defense modernization effort, told Defense News last year.
Northrop took the extra time from the pause caused by the pandemic to improve the system’s readiness and develop policies and procedures to ensure employees take precautions to avoid the spread of the virus during the LUT. The test is expected to go through the month of August and include endurance runs as well as two major flight tests.
In Northrop’s second-quarter fiscal 2020 earnings call on July 30, CEO Kathy Warden said that “successful completion of this [engineering and manufacturing development] milestone will support IBCS production, deployment and fielding to execute the Army’s [IAMD] modernization strategy,” adding that the program is on track to reach a production decision later this year.
Warden also noted that success with the IBCS program and the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System puts the company on a path to contribute heavily to an anticipated “next-generation” program called Joint All-Domain Command and Control. JADC2 is expected to provide an information architecture across all service and domains of warfare.
Northrop’s IBCS development efforts are seen as a springboard into work it could do to develop JADC2, Todorov said.
He added that the IBCS system in particular has gone through “tremendous advances,” as it has adapted to maturing and changing threats. One of the reasons the system has been able to quickly evolve is due to its designation by Congress — among just a few Defense Department programs — to adopt an agile software-development process that allows the system to be frequently updated with software upgrades or patches, as opposed to big software drops that potentially happen only once a year.
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.