PARIS, and WARSAW, Poland — The US Army has wrapped up a review of possible short-range air defense weapons from around the world and is working to fill a critical gap in Europe.
"We have just done what I would call an international scrub that we are putting together on every technology that we can find in the world that addresses this particular concern we have," Katrina McFarland, the Army's acquisition chief, said during the ComDef conference at Eurosatory, a large land warfare exhibition, Tuesday.
The Army is also working to address a capability gap in the short-range air defense mission, dubbed SHORAD, within military labs. The activities include demonstrating a launcher that can shoot a wide variety of missiles.
"Where are we? We are better off than we thought we were and so we have at least the possibility of moving very quickly. And where we have gaps, we have already started providing technological solutions both internationally as well as organically to the US," she said.
When asked to elaborate on the possible technological solutions the Army has begun to provide, McFarland said she couldn't elaborate and indicated there is more to come soon.
US Army leadership in Europe, as well as many countries in the region, have warned there is a growing gap in short-range air defense.
Even the National Commission on the Future of the Army singled out the mission area as having an "unacceptable modernization shortfall" in its report released in February.
Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the US Army Europe commander, told Defense News during an interview in Poland last week he has similar concerns. For him, the biggest worry is countering unmanned aerial vehicles. "That is my SHORAD concern, especially if there's like a swarm," he noted, adding there is a lot of work being done to develop the capability.
Recently, the Army conducted a river crossing exercise in Romania where the Romanians provided a SHORAD capability to counter such threats as aerial drones, Hodges said, and at Poland's Anakonda exercise this month, the Army brought Avengers from the US National Guard for a live-fire, air-defense drill.
Hodges' chief of staff, German Army Brig. Gen. Markus Laubenthal, said Germany and the US both have a capability gap when it comes to the SHORAD portfolio.
Laubenthal told Defense News last week directly following a bridge crossing exercise in Chelmno, Poland, part of Anakonda, that Avenger systems were used that morning to secure the bridge, but "this is a very scarce capability, so between the assault rifle and Patriot there is not enough between to tackle short-range air defense challenges."
He added, "I think this is a common ground where we need to work together to find a solution. I think that is a good opportunity and a great chance to come up with something with both nations and we are not alone."
Other countries, like Poland, have similar requirements and are in the market for short-range air defense systems, but there are others who can't afford a system by themselves and will need to rely on a different strategy rather than simply buying an off-the-shelf system.
In Poland's case, it is holding a competition for its Narew program to acquire a short-range system. However, that is paused as the new Polish government assesses most defense-procurement decisions made by the previous government, including another competition, called Wislaw, intended to buy a medium-range system.
Raytheon and its Norwegian partner Kongsberg are pitching the Network Centric Air Defence System (NASAMS) to Poland for a SHORAD solution. Lockheed Martin is also planning to submit an offering based on the Medium Extended Air Defense System it is developing.
MEADS was originally intended to replace Raytheon's medium-range Patriot air and missile defense system, but the US government bowed out of buying the system after funding its development with Germany and Italy.
Kongsberg and Raytheon have sold NASAMS to Norway, Spain, the Netherlands, the US, Finland, Oman and an undisclosed country. In those nations, the system is used by both armies and air forces alike, Hans Christian Hagen, the Kongsberg's vice president for integrated defense systems business development, said on the Eurosatory exhibition floor Tuesday.
NASAMS, according to Hagen, is capable of tying any launcher or radar to the system and is capable of being programmed to exchange data with any other air defense system. The launcher also has multi-mission capability and has shot a wide variety of missiles such as Raytheon's Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), the AIM-9X Sidewinder and the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile.
"We see a lot of opportunity for NASAMS air defense in Europe and also outside of Europe," Hagen said, adding the interest among European countries in a SHORAD capability as grown in the past few years.
Other companies with offerings for that market include Israel's Rafael and France's MBDA.
Chris Lombardi, Raytheon's European country executive, said at Eurosatory that his company and Kongsberg are working closely with Baltic countries, which can't necessarily afford to go it alone. "They might already have a sensor that is used in NASAMS," such as Sentinel, Lombardi explained, "or already operating AMRAAM for the air force."
Kongsberg and Raytheon have been helping these countries understand they can take what they already have and procure what they don't, such as a launcher or a fire distribution center, and tie it all together, Lombardi said. This, he claimed, can be done "in a way that is very affordable for these nations."
Army acquisition chief McFarland argued that SHORAD solutions must be interoperable, pointing specifically to the Integrated Fire Protection Capability Increment 2 effort, which uses government funding to build and field a multi-mission launcher (MML) capable of shooting a multitude of missiles. So far, MML has shot such missiles as the Hellfire Longbow, Aim 9X Sidewinder, Stinger and Israel's Tamir interceptor.
"We have demonstrated multiple shots successfully," McFarland said. "For international partners, one of the reasons why we built capability in the fashion we did was we didn't care what missile went into that tube, if we could fit into it. That's very important to us because … we have highly technical munitions and they have lead times associated with them, which means we have to have the ability to balance our inventories on top of just having a capability. We need to have the ability to have the depth of capability."
And Hodges said what is critical to him in shoring up short-range air defense capabilities is to ensure whatever systems are bought within Europe can exchange data seamlessly.
During Anakonda in Poland, the US Army conducted a live-fire exercise with Polish systems that highlighted the difficulty of getting different countries' systems to work together.
Getting those systems to operate in one common picture is difficult because each country feels a need to protect their own networks and technology. Improving interoperability is often tied to policy changes.
"Candidly, there are various policies governing sharing of intelligence and information that have not kept step with modern requirements in several areas but specifically in that field," Hodges said. "You've got competing demands."
The live-fire drill during Anakonda showed that "it still requires too much time and too many steps to get the exceptions to achieve the common air picture," Hodges said. "You can get there, but it takes a long time and we have to be prepared to 'fight tonight.' You have to be able to show up and plug right in."
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.