US Army’s air defense modernization boss on missiles, machine learning

In recent months, U.S. Army leaders have made it clear air defense is a top priority now and into the future. The service has spent more than a decade modernizing its ability to counter missiles, rockets, artillery, mortars and drones. Helping accelerate this effort and bring programs to fruition is Army Futures Command’s Air and Missile Defense Cross-Functional Team, led by Col. William Parker.

Defense News on Feb. 9 talked to Parker about how the Army is working to integrate its modern capabilities on the battlefield to provide a layered approach to addressing a widening array of complex threats, as seen in Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s invasion and in the Middle East.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Some programs among various cross-functional teams are transitioning to other portfolios, particularly Program Executive Office Missiles and Space, in your case. How is that coming along for major programs like the Integrated Battle Command System and Maneuver-Short Range Air Defense?

We would like everything to be able to transition into a program of record. You’ve hit on two of our signature modernization efforts. As we look at M-SHORAD Increment 1 — our kinetic version — we are currently fielding our third battalion for that at Fort Cavazos, Texas, with our first battalion in Germany and the second battalion at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

PEO Missiles and Space is heavily involved with that. When we look at M-SHORAD Inc 1, that initially came out as part of a directed requirement.

We are moving through the requirements process, we briefed the Protection Functional Capabilities Board in December, and we got the [Joint Capabilities Board] scheduled for April for an Inc 1 capabilities development document.

We continue to codify those requirements, specifically for sustainment of the capability. That’s going to put us in a good place to get this thing fully transitioned and get that capability to the warfighter.

IBCS is our other big signature effort. It is a program of record. A full-rate production decision has been made. PEO Missiles and Space is working on that.

[We are looking at] software upgrades to the system to be able to incorporate additional capability. We’ve established a governance process where we [consider] additional capabilities to incorporate within the system, and we’re able to prioritize that from not only a material developer but from a capability developer standpoint with the proponent at Fort Sill.

We want to transition all of our programs over to the two Army capability managers.

We’re still on track for fielding to the first unit in fiscal 2025.

The Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation recently released a report with a section on integrated air and missile defense. A full operational test and evaluation for IBCS was scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter of FY24. Is that on track? As the report mentioned, that FOT&E will evaluate how well deficiencies were corrected.

There were some challenges noted in the initial operational test and evaluation, and that’s part of our prioritization process we look at about every month.

We are currently working through that to make sure they are addressed and we have those fixed for FOT&E. That is on schedule.

That’s part of the bigger complex problem PEO Missiles and Space has — three signature modernization efforts all inherently linked together between IBCS, the Lower Tier Air and Missile Defense Sensor, and the Indirect Fire Protection Capability, all being fielded on a very similar timeline — and making sure all those efforts are integrated. It is not an [enviable] task. That’s why they essentially came up with the integrated fires test campaign we’re now on, leading up to that FOT&E for IBCS.

It’s about working those development efforts simultaneously. PEO Missiles and Space is doing a great job making sure these development efforts are synchronized because one slip and we could be looking at a domino effect. That’s why the second and third order effects to other programs are part of that conversation.

The integrated fires test campaign is designed to support milestone decisions we have coming up for each of the programs. Everything is currently on track. That’s the good-news story, but your “spidey senses” are always looking for where that hiccup could happen that then creates a domino effect across three programs.

The Lower Tier Air and Missile Defense Sensor is in testing now. You’ve received radars. The front end and the back end will come together later. How are things going?

There’s been no change to the plan. This program has had challenges, but the thing that’s really reinforced my confidence as of late was the flight testing that happened this past quarter — two successful engagements on the front end against surrogate threat targets.

Now we are looking toward integrating that back-end piece as well so that we actually have the full 360-degree capability. It’s still in development, but some of the initial feedback was positive.

The Indirect Fire Protection Capability is another program that has taken longer than expected. Please provide an update on the Army’s receipt of the first IFPC launchers. There was also a request for information that came out for a second interceptor.

[IFPC is an] important piece of the puzzle. This is definitely a concept we’ve had coming for a while. The good news is we have launchers now out on the ranges.

The PEO Missiles and Space team recently had a successful launch of an AIM-9 missile off one of our launchers. I’m looking down the road toward that continual developmental testing we have coming up, all leading toward test flights and IOT&E, [expected] in 2026.

We’re going to have a cruise missile-capable interceptor with the AIM-9X. [The second interceptor] is about more advanced capabilities.

[The PEO Missiles and Space program executive officer], Brig. Gen. Frank Lozano, and his team are working diligently as they get their request for information responses back.

You are designing a multimission launcher for IFPC. How is the Army looking at a wider variety of interceptors beyond one or two types? What is realistic to have in the family of interceptors that could be part of IFPC?

I have had a lot of conversations about interceptors lately. A specific lesson we’re taking out of Ukraine is there’s no silver bullet. What is working for Ukraine is a layered system-of-systems approach.

I’m kind of frequency hopping over [the topic of] counter-unmanned aerial system [technology]. How do we get ahead of the cost curve? Some of these small UASs are developed for a few [hundred dollars] or a few [thousand]. The commander on the ground will fire [at] that to save lives or protect an asset, but I’d rather not have to force them into that corner.

We’re taking a look at some low-cost solutions. We’re taking a look at how we can increase magazine depth. We’re taking a look at capabilities such as the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon, the less expensive Hydra rocket variants that potentially get after that cost curve but still provide a level of lethality we would need to combat two or three small UAS threats.

The same can apply for IFPC; the counter-cruise missile fight; the Patriot air defense system for [the Lower Tier Future Interceptor] in bridging some littoral space; and the Patriot and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense systems.

The counter-small UAS mission is relatively new for the AMD CFT. How is that taking shape? How are you supporting the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office as well as the Joint Counter-small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office?

You kind of hit the nail on the head in terms of it taking a village, especially with this mission set. Case in point: I just met with the Air Force Research Laboratory on what it’s developing.

In April 2022, there were four signature modernization efforts [for AMD CFT]. A couple months later, we had five. So as we talk about evolving, that’s one of the things we’re continuing to transform on.

We are currently in the process of fielding our first two division sets. It’s the first phase of that first division set fielding —primarily the handheld capabilities we’re procuring.

That will be followed, before the end of the year, with essentially phase two, which is focused more on the Low, slow, small, unmanned aircraft Integrated Defeat System, the Ku-band Radio Frequency Sensor radars, [and] the Coyote variants. Those capabilities [will go] to the first two divisions.

What observations from warfare in Ukraine and the Middle East are influencing what your team does?

Some of the stuff is potentially in the realm of machine learning and being able to help system operators make decisions.

We are continuing to look at how the threat is evolving with respect to speed, with respect to hardening defense mechanisms that platforms have in terms of payload, capacity, battery life — all these things that can enhance their capability.

The Army wants to replace the Stinger missile. Where does that effort stand?

That’s Inc 3 of M-SHORAD. Inc 1 is the kinetic version we’re currently fielding; Inc 2 is our directed-energy version we’re working on with the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office.

Inc 3 is two things primarily: one is the next-generation Stinger, two is the 30mm proximity fuse ammunition.

Both are helping us gain capability within that M-SHORAD [space] and over to the counter-UAS space. With the next-generation Stinger, we are looking at increasing or getting better capability than we had with our previous generation.

There are two main competitors for the [Stinger replacement] competition PEO Missiles and Space is handling.

What else is getting your attention beyond specific portfolio items?

One of the things we’re starting to look toward is a human-machine interface. We’re going to [carry out] some engagements and try to learn as much as we can.

I’m not trying to look at it from a platform perspective, but a system perspective in terms of what we can leverage that’s already been done, and how can we adjust that in order to be able to focus on an air defense-type system on top of it.

Author: Jen Judson
Source: DefenseNews

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