The Army originally developed IBCS as the brains of a future air and missile defense system. The service intended to link it with a new 360-degree radar and potentially new launchers, replacing the aging Patriot air-and-missile defense system component by component.
But in 2018, the Army expanded the planned role for IBCS, deciding the system would also connect other sensors and shooters on the battlefield. However, the expanded mission has delayed the effort.
Even as the Army experienced schedule hold-ups related to both the expanded mission and technical difficulties in tests, Poland, which had agreed to purchase the RTX-made Patriot systems in 2018, opted to move forward even though the system wasn’t ready to be fielded to U.S. soldiers. Poland received a waiver to acquire IBCS ahead of the U.S.
With the threat of Russian aggression looming over the past decade, Poland has been clambering to buy high-end defense capabilities, including a robust air-and-missile defense system.
Poland received its first IBCS systems earlier this year and declared initial operational capability this week, according to Col. Chris Hill, the Army’s project manager for integrated fires within Program Executive Office Missiles & Space.
Michael Hahn, Northrop’s IBCS program director, told reporters touring the company’s new production facility for the system in Huntsville last week that with Poland bringing its systems online, the Army officially declaring full-rate production for the IBCS program in April, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine raging on, “the demand for [IBCS] is pretty significant, obviously, [based on] the sort of public employment of cruise and ballistic missiles, hypersonic missiles in Ukraine.”
“Clearly if you’re a ... NATO partner, that has some concerns, and we are seeing some demand signals,” he said.
Eight new countries have recently reached out to Northrop expressing interest in buying IBCS, Ian Reynolds, the company’s director of network solutions, added. They include Germany, Romania, Greece, Switzerland, Netherlands, Spain, Denmark and Sweden. Northrop demonstrated the system to these countries earlier this year.
Except for Denmark, these countries already own the Patriot system; Switzerland is the newest customer, contracting for the system at the end of 2022.
Additionally, Northrop submitted IBCS to an Australian competition for a joint air battle management system and is expecting a decision this summer. Both Japan and the U.K. are seeking international proposals for an air defense battle command capability.
Poland also plans to use IBCS for its Narew short-range air defense program, and the country is working on issuing a letter of offer and acceptance with the U.S. government before the end of the year. Poland is buying MBDA’s Common Anti-Air Modular Missile for the Narew program.
As interest in IBCS grows, the Army and Northrop are working through how best to configure systems that can tie into countries’ various sensors and shooters without ending up with a variety of “one-off” systems, Hill said.
“What we’re doing to help facilitate that on the Army side, we already have a requirement to what I call ‘componentiz[ing]’ IBCS,” Hill said. IBCS could be installed on a truck or a shelter and used at a fixed site.
“Our position moving forward really is, step one, if you come and you want IBCS, buy what you see and we get you to a capability,” Hill said. “Phase two would be now let’s start looking at integrating some of your indigenous sensors and effectors, so that’s how we’re trying to delineate that just to give some predictability because if everything is a one-off, at some point, it gets pretty difficult to manage.”
Meanwhile, the first unit to receive the IBCS system in the U.S. Army will get full-rate production versions in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2024. The Army will then field two battalions of IBCS per year to the remaining Patriot units, Hill said.
The service anticipates receiving the Lower-Tier Air and Missile Defense Sensor along with IBCS in 2027 to begin building out the future Integrated Air and Missile Defense Systems that will ultimately replace the Patriot systems, according to Hill.
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.