WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army will soon decide what’s next for its two Iron Dome batteries, procured as an interim cruise missile defense capability while the service builds its Indirect Fires Protection Capability system, according to officials in charge of missile defense modernization and fielding.
The Iron Dome system, produced by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and American firm Raytheon Technologies, was deployed to Guam last year from mid-October through November as part of Operation Iron Island. The deployment was meant to test the system’s capabilities as well as train and refine the deployment capabilities of air defenders.
The effort also fulfilled the requirement in the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act that an Iron Dome battery deploy to an operational theater by the end of 2021.
That battery has since returned to the United States, Maj. Gen. Brain Gibson, who is in charge of the Army’s air and missile defense modernization, told Defense News in a recent interview. The systems are currently based with units at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Now the Army will decide where to station the Iron Dome batteries — away from test ranges — over the next several months.
“The Army has some options and decisions to decide if where it’s currently located is where it ultimately will be located or [temporarily] located, and the Army gets to look through all those different options in front of us,” Gibson said.
The Army does not plan to procure more Iron Dome systems. Instead, it’s focused on developing and fielding an enduring Indirect Fires Protection Capability, or IFPC, capability to tackle threats from cruise missiles, drones, rockets, artillery and mortars, and thus defend fixed and semi-fixed sites.
The Army tested its ability to deploy the Iron Dome from the U.S. and then return it in order to better learn the transportation process, Gibson said.
In a deployment outside of the continental United States, “you learn a whole host of things that apply regardless of where this thing is ultimately employed in the future,” he added, “to include transportation things, heights, widths, weights. … Until you physically do it from a soldier perspective, the first time is the first time.”
The system also operated over an extended period of time, longer than it did during previous testing and assessments, Gibson said. And the Army had a chance to see how Iron Dome performs in an island environment compared to the desert.
The Army integrated Iron Dome with real-world communication and command-and-control architectures on Guam for the joint force. “Those things aren’t easily replicated in test environments short of a full initial operational test and evaluation and even a full operational test and evaluation; that can be hard to resource,” Gibson said.
The service was also able to see how Iron Dome fit into a layered, 360-degree approach for air and missile defense with other Army and joint capabilities, he added.
Additionally, the deployment allowed the Army to ensure it has the necessary support on the ground for the equipment and its operation, which further helped develop tactics, techniques and procedures, Maj. Gen. Robert Rasch, the Army’s program executive officer for missiles and space, said in the same interview.
The exercise did not reveal major issues or gaps that would require significant changes to the system or operational support, Rasch noted, adding there was nothing “insurmountable or to take us off the path that the Army has put us on with this capability.”
Meanwhile, the Army is working with Dynetics on its design for the enduring IFPC system after it finalized a $247 million contract last year with the Leidos-owned company.
Dynetics will deliver 16 launchers, 60 interceptors and associated all-up-round magazines to the Army over a performance period ending March 31, 2034. By the fourth quarter of FY23, the company will make 12 of those launchers available for the Army.
“Right now, everything’s on track,” Rasch said. “We’ve done a number of design reviews, which are part of the deliverables. We want to make sure that the engineering has been done properly, that the overall component- and system-level architecture is proper.”
The Army has held a number of design reviews with Dynetics, he added.
Later this year, some of the software packages — to include integration of the Integrated Battle Command System (the command-and-control system that will tie any sensor and shooter together on the battlefield) — will be delivered, he noted.
The first IFPC launcher will be delivered in the fourth quarter of this year as well, he said, “to then be followed by the additional launchers over a period of about four or five months.”
This will allow the Army to begin developmental testing leading up to an operational assessment in FY23, Rasch said, “to give us that residual combat capability.”
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.