Key point: The M6 Linebacker was the Army's best armored anti-air troop carrier.
Recent conflicts in Armenia, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine have demonstrated the widespread adoption of drones by state actors—as well as rebel and terrorist groups—for reconnaissance purposes and as improvised attack platforms carrying grenades or explosive charges. Most recently, Russian air-defense vehicles and electronic-warfare assets in Syria reportedly defeated a simultaneous rebel attack by thirteen kamikaze drones.
To counter such threats, ground forces needed fast-reacting Short-Range Air Defense systems, or SHORADS—and better yet, they need it come in a package that can move with frontline units on the battlefield, which the Army dubs “Maneuver SHORADS”.
For decades the U.S. military has counted on fighter jets to achieve air supremacy, and focused land-based defenses on long-range Patriot missiles as a counter to tactical ballistic missiles. But while long-range missiles and patrolling jet fighters may be able to engage a few drones at a time, both are impractical to employ against large numbers of tiny systems that might be dramatically cheaper than the missiles used to destroy them. In many cases, fighters and long-range SAMs will also simply be to far away to intervene against such small, low-flying threats in time, particularly if they are targeting frontline troops.
But this leaves the U.S. Army in a pinch—since 2004 it has drastically downsized its SHORADS force from twenty-six battalions in 2004 to just nine, only two of them active-duty, and phased out its last armored antiaircraft system, the M6 Linebacker.