The intercept of a ballistic missile target May 28 represented the first test on White Sands Missile Range of the future of Army air defense.
The intercept at WSMR is the first test in a series of developmental tests for the Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System. Connecting the IBCS to a pair of Patriot missiles, and their accompanying radar and control systems, the IBCS was then used to control the launch of the missiles against a target missile, also a Patriot family missile, but flown to simulate a tactical ballistic missile.
“This is the first time we’ve (launched Patriot missiles) from an engagement operations center where the IBCS software generated the firing solution and sent the command to fire,” said Mike Chandler, project manager for the Army Integrated Air and Missile Defense. “This is the crawl test in the crawl, walk, run (test) leading up to our limited user test.”
The AIAMD program seeks to develop a unified air defense, by providing the ability for Soldiers to connect various air defense weapons and systems to a single command and control network, allowing the air defense Soldier to control all the various weapons and sensors that form an air defense network through a single battle command system.
In the past each air defense system, be it a gun, missile, radar, or other device, was largely independent. While the Army has long mastered the planning and coordination that allows for an effective air defense zone to be established, the lack of connectivity results in some challenges AIAMD plans to overcome.
The typical air defense zone is covered by an overlapping pattern of various air defense systems and sensors. This can sometimes be difficult to accomplish, especially in a joint or interagency environment, as everything from terrain to system incompatibilities, or possibly even simple language barriers can cause slowdowns, or even gaps in air defense coverage.
AIAMD plans to address problems like these through the unification of the air defense network. By connecting all these different weapons and sensors into one unified system, they plan to provide the Soldier with the ability to utilize sensors they normally wouldn’t have direct access to, while reducing the number of deployed systems needed to cover an air defense zone.
“When we have IBCS and we have our engagement operations center, every engagement operations center is configured the same, so you can move that around, but also you don’t have to deploy a battalion when you deploy a fire unit,” Chandler said. “You can also bring in other sensors. We can bring in the Sentinel radar, even future sensors we don’t even know about yet.”
This allows for weapons system with ranges that exceed that of their sensors, due to things like intervening terrain or the simple curvature of the earth, to better utilize sensor and targeting information from another location or site, allowing that long range weapon to better defend a larger area.
“What it does is give greater command and control to the warfighter. It also lessens our footprint,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Moore, product manager of the IBCS, for the AIAMD program. “From a cost and lifecycle management perspective, it lessens the amount of money the taxpayer has to utilize to sustain it on the battlefield.”
It also would allow the Soldier to select the right weapon for the job, improving the likelihood of a successful kill, and allowing for possible cost savings by giving the Soldier the option to use a better suited and more cost effective weapon to engage a threat, instead of a weapon that just happens to be in the right location.
“By providing everyone a common system, and the situational awareness of where other units are located, this gives Soldiers the ability to share radars, missiles, and launchers to provide a better integrated air picture; so threats can be engaged with a higher probability to kill,” said Melissa Lee, a test engineer for the AIAMD project office.
Of course making all these different systems, new and old, domestic and foreign, talk to each other is no easy feat. Older systems simply weren’t built with an integrated command system in mind. Even relatively new systems can present connectivity challenges as the different systems have different manufacturers, and so may not be built to be compatible.
“It’s a new paradigm and new architecture, in which we adapt the legacy air defense systems, to include patriot and sentinel (radar) in our early flight test, and we put them across the net,” Moore said. “We adapt them with an A-kit, which allows us to use different sensors with different launchers or shooters, with one command and control node, with one engagement operations center, so we can allow the best sensor, and the best launcher to engage with a higher probability of intercept.”
As the system is developed, the plan is for it to become a “Plug and Fight” system, allowing any system built to the AIAMD specifications, or equipped with appropriate adapters, to be connected to the network.
As an early developmental test, the AIAMD systems will continue to see ongoing testing at WSMR, as the system is revised and refined. Part of this testing process will be the integration of members of WSMR’s 36th Patriot Test Detachment. To prepare for this integration, members of the detachment were placed at special terminals in the command center, where they could observe the system in action up close. While the Soldiers couldn’t actually use the system, the program office is in the process of completing the Army’s special requirements that will allow the Soldiers to take a direct part in future tests.
While this test didn’t involve the most recent Patriot Advanced Capability 3 version of the Patriot Missile, the AIAMD system isn’t based on legacy systems. The interceptor missiles chosen for this test were selected because they are still being fielded, and may see use, but also because their time in service means they had few unknown variables, reducing the possibility of an unforeseen issue arising and causing problems for the test. Moving forward the IBCS will be tested with newer systems, and baseline integration standards will be established. These standards will allow future systems to be built with an integrated air defense in mind, so by the time they reach the Soldier, they can be plugged into the AIAMD systems and put to work immediately.
WSMR was selected as the location for the AIAMD testing due to its long history of missile and air defense systems testing. One of WSMR’s major mission components is the Patriot system test program, which conducts regular firings to test software upgrades, or evaluate the reliability of missiles.
“This range has the infrastructure we need, they are very familiar with the Patriot equipment, they have the support structure, they have the nontactical sensors we need to gather the data and the ability to move the data around,” Chandler said.
The test is related to a pair of other programs testing on WSMR. The first is the Indirect Fire Protection Capability, Increment 2 – Intercept, IFPC Inc 2-I, which conducted ballistic testing earlier this year, and is expected to return. IFPC Inc 2-I is a modular multi-mission missile system being built with AIAMD connectivity in mind. Another related testing program is the Navy’s Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air. A separate program with a similar goal, the integration of Naval air defense assets and systems, the NIFC-CA program isn’t testing with the AIAMD systems at this time, but as AIAMD matures, it’s planned to incorporate NIFC-CA, allowing for even better integration between the services.
AIAMD system testing is expected to continue at WSMR for some time. As a system in the developmental stage of testing, it’s still undergoing improvements and adjustments to ensure the system will work as intended and meet its core requirements. Later the system will also need to go through an operational test phase to ensure it is ready for combat. Under the current program schedule AIAMD could be in the hands of air defenders as early as late 2017.