WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is on a path to choose an enduring system that will counter both drone and cruise missile threats by releasing a solicitation to industry for a prototyping effort and by hosting a shoot-off for two teams at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

The service released a solicitation for prototypes for its Indirect Fires Protection Capability, or IFPC, in April.

According to several sources familiar with the activity, the shoot-off to evaluate possible existing capabilities that can be incorporated into an enduring IFPC solution began in earnest, with one team firing its offering — a combination of a launcher and an interceptor — at White Sands at the end of April.

A second team would have its chance in May.

One team is known to be an Israel-based Rafael and Raytheon Technologies pairing, incorporating elements of Rafael’s Iron Dome and its Tamir interceptor — otherwise known as SkyHunter in the U.S. If chosen, the team would launch production in the United States at a location yet to be disclosed.

The second team is believed to be led by Dynetics, according to sources, but the company did not respond to a request for comment confirming participation. Sources believe the team is using Raytheon’s AIM-9X Sidewinder interceptor as part of the solution.

The intention for IFPC is to protect critical fixed- or semi-fixed assets, and would be a more mobile solution than one that would suffice at a forward-operating base. IFPC is planned to bridge the gap between short-range air defense systems, the Patriot air and missile defense system, and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system.

The Army has been trying to formulate its enduring IFPC system for several years. It purchased two Iron Dome batteries, produced through a partnership between Rafael and Raytheon, to serve as an interim solution for cruise missile defense. The acquisition was congressionally mandated, and those batteries have been delivered to units and are on track to be deemed operational by the end of the year.

The Army conducted analysis for an enduring IFPC solution in fiscal 2019 to include taking technical data from its Expanded Mission Area Missile program of candidate interceptors.

The verification phase evaluated Raytheon’s Low-Cost Active Seeker as well as its SkyHunter interceptor (the U.S. variant of Rafael’s Tamir missile used in Iron Dome) and Lockheed Martin’s Miniature Hit-to-Kill missile. All three of the interceptors were characterized as possible candidates for an IFPC interceptor.

The Army originally planned to develop and field its own multimission launcher as part of the enduring IFPC solution but canceled that program in favor of finding a more technologically mature launcher.

According to the solicitation, the Army is laser-focused on solving how to counter both cruise missiles and unmanned aircraft systems, with plans to later incorporate a capability to stop the threats of rockets, artillery and mortars. The shoot-off is only planning to evaluate systems against cruise missiles and UAS, but the Army will use data from the event to look at the RAM capability as well.

While the Army examines options in action, it will also round up prototype proposals — due June 4 — that would include a launcher and interceptor options able to tie into the current and future versions of the Sentinel radar as well as into the service’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, or IBCS.

The Army plans to develop, qualify and deliver “fieldable prototypes” to enter into testing and support combat capability by FY23.

The service “will select the proposal that is most advantageous and represents the best value to the [U.S. government] based on an integrated assessment of the evaluation results,” the solicitation stated.

The plan is to choose a single offeror to build prototypes with a period of performance beginning in August 2021 and ending March 2024. The Army aims to award a contract on Aug. 24, 2021, according to the solicitation.

More specifically, the Army would like to see prototypes delivered for testing by the fourth quarter of FY22 and would like to see a complete system delivered that can integrate with IBCS by the third quarter of FY23.

The Army plans to evaluate proposals based on whether they meet capability requirements with countering UAS and cruise missiles as more important than countering RAM threats. Schedule and price are also factors to consider, but they rank lower in priority, according to the solicitation.

“Capability is more important than schedule. Schedule is more important than price,” the solicitation stated. “However, price may be used as the determining factor when ratings of acceptable proposals are closely grouped.”

The Army will factor in the systems’ lethality at required keep-out ranges as most important, followed by its ability to provide 360-degree coverage of a defended area. Then, in order of importance, the number of stowed kills, target service rate, load and reload time, the amount of time it takes to emplace the system, and operational availability (which factors in reliability and maintainability) will be weighed in the decision-making process.

The service will also evaluate proposals based on their ability to support future RAM capabilities.

Following the prototyping phase, a follow-on production contract for 400 launchers and associated interceptors may be initiated, according to the solicitation.

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.

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