WASHINGTON — In their version of the 2018 defense policy bill, House lawmakers are putting pressure on the Army to figure out a path forward to acquire a radar for the service’s future Integrated Air and Missile Defense System by threatening to withhold funds or transfer the responsibility to the Missile Defense Agency if progress isn’t made.
But the White House is opposed to the pressure, objecting to the bill’s provision in its Statement of Administration Policy last month.
The House Armed Services Committee said in the provision that the Army needed to produce an acquisition strategy no later than April 15, 2018, to procure a radar for its IAMD system capable of detecting threats from 360 degrees. The radar in the current system — Raytheon’s Patriot — has blind spots.
The committee also set a deadline for the Army to achieve initial operational capability for the new radar — the Lower Tier Air and Missile Defense Sensor or LTAMDS — within the new missile defense architecture by Jan. 1, 2022, and it should be fielded to all units of the Army no later than Jan. 1, 2026.
And if the strategy isn’t produced by the deadline, the Army would not be able to spend any more funding on the radar and the defense secretary would be required to transfer responsibility to procure the radar to the Missile Defense Agency. MDA would then have to deliver a strategy no later than Dec. 15, 2018.
The White House, however, takes issue with imposed deadlines in the legislation. “The requirements and timelines in this provision are not feasible,” the statement reads.
“They would prevent the Army from developing LTAMDS integrally as part of its phased modernization approach for integrated air and missile defense based on Army and Joint Staff validated requirements,” according to the statement. “Additionally, the Administration opposes the provision’s direction to transfer the acquisition responsibility of the sensor to the Missile Defense Agency should the Army not issue the strategy in time.”
The White House does not delve further into why it opposes the transfer of responsibility to MDA.
The Army’s missile defense modernization process has been a long and frustrating one in the eyes of Congress. Both the House and Senate have repeatedly injected language into previous National Defense Authorization Acts that demand more clarity on how the service plans to modernize its Patriot system and how much it might cost. And Congress has been disappointed more than once with the Army’s response, at one point receiving a roughly 12-page document lawmakers deemed insufficient.
The Army has been trying to modernize its missile defense and acquire a 360-degree radar since the mid-1990s, a quarter century, and still has not procured anything even though industry has developed and successfully tested such radars, according to Tom Karako, a missile defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The service has spent years grappling with when and how it will replace the Patriot system first fielded in 1982. At one point, the Army planned to procure Lockheed Martin’s Medium Extended Air Defense System as the replacement, but it canceled its plans to acquire the system, opting instead to procure key components of a new IAMD separately.
Northrop Grumman is developing the IAMD’s Integrated Battle Command System, the command and control architecture for the system, but that development is already falling behind schedule. The Army also plans to use Lockheed’s Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement missiles in the future system.
Karako takes particular issue with the White House thinking the timeline isn’t feasible for fielding a radar by 2026. “This seems remarkable to me,” he said.
“That statement may well be true at the margin, given the extraordinary delays in Army acquisition and AMD modernization broadly,” he stated. “That’s a problem which can’t be overcome overnight. The litany of shortfalls, delays, and missed opportunities relating to Patriot modernization, IBCS and MEADS are legion, and need no repeating here. On the other hand, the solving of this problem has presumably been in the works for a long time.”
And if the Army can’t figure out how to get a new radar, “then maybe the responsibility for acquiring such things should go back to a dedicated organization like the MDA,” he said.
The suggestion isn’t so far-fetched. Both the Patriot system and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system were developed by MDA. Patriot was transferred entirely to the Army and THAAD is fielded to the service, but still considered an MDA program.
The Army has made some moves recently that indicate progress in procuring a new radar.
The service told Defense News in June that it intends to hold a competition to replace the Patriot radar, beginning analysis of materiel solutions in fiscal year 2018.
The Army had spent the past year trying to decide whether it would simply upgrade Patriot’s radar or replace the sensor outright.
Raytheon and Lockheed Martin have been vocal about a desire to compete for the new IAMD radar, but it’s possible other companies like Northrop Grumman will produce capable offerings.
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.