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Author: Ed House, Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired)
Open source reporting continues to highlight how the adversaries of the United States continue to employ airborne capabilities to observe and attack U.S. and coalition forces. Threats vary in size and capability, but they present a clear and present danger to our formations. For decades, the United States has enjoyed air superiority while conducting combat operations, but those days are over. Although the Taliban and Islamic State do not possess traditional fixed and rotary wing assets, they are employing cheap, but effective, unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to achieve their goals. In the Ukraine, Russian forces are employing more capable UAS to locate and attack Ukrainian forces with great success, unfortunately. Threats vary by region and by foe, but all are dangerous and must be addressed- quickly.
Nearly two decades of counter-insurgency and stability operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and many other countries in the region led to the Army reorganizing its forces to put more “boots on the ground” to support its aggressive Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) Cycle. The Army’s modular Brigade Combat Team (BCT) was the answer, and in order to create the number of BCTs required, the Army had to make tough choices. One of those choices was to basically eliminate its Short-Range Air Defense: both man-portable and mobile. The Army’s Air Defense Artillery Corps continued to effectively employ the capable Patriot Missile Defense Systems. Patriot Missile Systems provided much-needed protection against Iraqi Scud missiles in 2003 and protect critical infrastructure today. Patriot Batteries have an important mission, but BCTs lack the organic capabilities necessary to its protect forces from UAS and greater aerial threats. The Army is moving quickly to develop, test and field Maneuver Air Defense capabilities.
As the Army rapidly re-introduces man-portable Stinger missiles, it is working two parallel, and accelerated, paths to develop, test, and field C-UAS and M SHORAD capabilities to address aerial threats. The Program Manager (PM) Cruise Missile Defense Systems (CMDS) conducted live-fire demonstrations and testing in September of possible M SHORAD solutions, and PM Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM) has been testing and deploying C-UAS fixed-site and mobile capabilities. Both efforts have demonstrated the great teamwork between the government and industry necessary to meet urgent needs for our soldiers.
These Maneuver Air Defense solutions are being evaluated based on their ability to execute what many call the “kill chain.” Capabilities must be able to “detect, identify, and defeat” aerial threats, and the most preferred solutions move and fight at the lowest tactical levels within the BCT. Solutions must possess proper balance of mobility, protection and firepower to maneuver and destroy threats- ground-to-ground and ground-to-air.
Multi-mission Hemispheric Radar (MHR)
Most solutions employ radar technology to successfully “detect” threats; however, most radar technology is expensive, too big and too heavy for tactical level mobile solutions. The affordable, smaller and lighter Leonardo DRS Multi-mission Hemispheric Radar (MHR) is ideally suited as a mobile “detect” solution. Each radar provides 90 degrees of protection and detects threats out to 40 kilometers with a range accuracy of one meter. It is easily installed and integrated on any platform and tracks multiple threats simultaneously. The United States Marine Corps has recognized the value of MHR and recently procured 94 systems to meet their urgent C-UAS requirements.
The second step of the kill chain is to “identify” the threat. There are several methods of identifying aerial systems as friend or foe, but most solutions include electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) sensor technology. These sensors allow small unit commanders to positively “identify” aerial systems before engaging them. Again, to support maneuver BCTs, these sensors must be light enough to be moved using tactical vehicles and other maneuver platforms. Additionally, to maximize its utility, the sensor should be elevated using a mast. The Leonardo DRS Surveillance and Battlefield Reconnaissance Equipment (SABRE) has proven itself during numerous Army experiments, and in fact, it has been deployed to Eastern Europe for an operational assessment as a C-UAS Mobile Integrated Capability (CMIC). A masted SABRE meets the Army’s needs to identify aerial targets.
Surveillance and Battlefield Reconnaissance Equipment (SABRE)
The final step of the kill chain, “defeat”, includes both “hard and soft kill” capabilities. Units cannot risk relying on one “defeat” solution. Instead, small unit leaders require both “hard and soft kill” solutions to adequately protect soldiers. Most soft kill capabilities rely on electronic warfare (EW) technologies. These capabilities are effective against most threats, but they are not a perfect solution. Most EW technologies are area protection capabilities which address threats in a 360 degree space out to varying ranges, increasing the possibility of fratricide of friendly UAS assets. Additionally, most EW technologies do not allow commanders to attack threats “left of the launch” or they do not provide commanders information on the location of the operator. Leonardo DRS is working diligently on technologies that will do both. Furthermore, this directional EW capability will reduce the likelihood of fratricide.
Current hard kill solutions employ some sort of projectile to defeat aerial targets. These kinetic defeat solutions use bullets, airburst rounds, missiles or drones to defeat threats. To be an effective maneuver solution, the solution must provide vehicle crews the ability to defeat ground and air targets. We cannot afford “niche” capabilities that only allow soldiers to defeat air threats, requiring separate assets to protect them. Most consider a medium caliber remote weapons station like Moog’s Reconfigurable Integrated-weapons Platform (RIwP) to be an ideal solution for kinetic defeat. The RIwP’s modular and reconfigurable design allows commanders to select from a variety of direct fire weapons, sensors, and missiles to meet current and emerging threats. RIwP is light enough to fit on most tactical vehicles and combat platforms and easily employs a 30mm cannon with proximity ammunition, missiles and drones which makes it a perfect candidate for mobile C-UAS and M SHORAD. It is being evaluated now as a possible answer for a Joint Urgent Operational Need. RIwP was also selected by PM CMDS for testing as a part of an M SHORAD solution.
Reconfigurable Integrated-weapons Platform (RIwP)
The Army has recognized the need to rapidly close the Maneuver Air Defense gaps in the BCTs. Therefore, the acquisition community and industry are working together to get soldiers the capabilities they need quickly. The current PM C-RAM and CMDS activities are great examples of rapid acquisition in action. Schedule is the driving force, and Leonardo DRS and its teammates have responded with mature technologies and proven vehicle integration skills to provide small unit commanders with highly mobile and capable Maneuver Air Defense capabilities. The need is urgent, and time is short!
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