US Army’s short-range air defense capability will grow to a battalion by year’s end

WASHINGTON — The Army plans to field a complete battalion equipped with Short-Range Air Defense systems by the end of 2022, service officials in charge of the effort told Defense News.

The service has already outfitted a platoon within the 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, in Europe with the interim Stryker-based SHORAD systems, but is now fulfilling its full fielding plans beginning in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2022 and wrapping up in the first quarter of FY23, Maj. Gen. Robert Rasch, the Army’s Program Executive Officer for Missiles and Space, said in a recent interview. The moves will be “based upon all the production time,” he added.

The first platoon of the Maneuver-Short-Range Air Defense System has been in Europe for nearly a year in response to an urgent capability gap former U.S. Army Europe Commander Gen. Ben Hodges identified in 2016.

The M-SHORAD is a Stryker A1 combat vehicle-based system that includes a mission equipment package designed by Leonardo DRS. That package includes Raytheon’s Stinger vehicle missile launcher.

General Dynamics Land Systems is the lead integrator and received a $1.2 billion contract to build and deliver the system in October 2020.

The system was developed in record time. The service received the requirement to build the system in February 2018. It took just 19 months from the time the service generated the requirement to the delivery of prototypes for testing in the first quarter of 2020.

“It continues to be a relatively new thing for the hands of air defenders and for our Army and they’ve road-marched it all over Europe and put this into play and they continue to learn with it,” Maj. Gen. Brian Gibson, who is in charge of the Army’s air and missile defense modernization, told Defense News in the same interview. “They’ve live-fired the weapon system, both the gun and the Stinger [missile] and they’ve had good success with those.”

While Rasch and Gibson did not want to pinpoint where the M-SHORAD platoon was in Europe at the time of the interview, it did participate in Saber Strike, a U.S. Army exercise, at Bemowo Piskie Training Area, Poland, in late February.

In a publicly released video from the 118th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, a vehicle commander described the system as much easier to use than the Avenger SHORAD system, previously used by the U.S. military in the 1990s, but maintained in the National Guard.

Reaching full-battalion strength, Gibson said, “really gives you a lot of capability to use it and train and exercise with maneuver partners in Europe and to do a follow-on assessment in theater, in Europe, later next year. That’s sort of the big path.”

Nothing in feedback so far from soldiers has altered that path, he added, nor required significant redesign.

By the time the platoon was fielded in Europe, the Army had already gathered “a lot of feedback” through the operational assessment conducted stateside, Rasch noted.

New equipment training that took place in Germany was based on the feedback from the operational assessment. The Army also added some software improvements and some hardware modifications based on that feedback, Rasch added.

“Since that time we actually completed another government software verification test on another set of improvements,” he said. The improvements mostly consist of “interface things,” Rasch said, such as “how to get control and how many button clicks on the interface does it take to get to a particular screen, really kind of tailoring it around that soldier input.”

The Army will field 144 systems to four battalions, followed by an enduring capability for additional battalions.

Future variants of the system will include other kinetic interceptors and a directed-energy weapons that will not only defend against unmanned aircraft systems and manned aircraft but also rockets, artillery and mortars.

The current contract will allow the Army to continue to make improvements over time on the current system, Rasch stressed, “as well as trying to maintain flexibility with the overall design as the Army has new requirements based upon new and evolving threats.”