WASHINGTON — The Army has wrapped up developmental testing for its interim short-range air defense system after experiencing a minor “hiccup” that, when paired with complications due to the coronavirus pandemic, set the program back by a few weeks, Maj. Gen. Robert Rasch, the service’s program executive officer for missiles and space, said Aug. 5.
It took just 19 months from the time the service generated the requirement to the first delivery of a platform for testing, answering an urgent call in 2016 from U.S. Army Europe to fill the short-range air defense capability gap. The service received the requirement to build the system in February 2018.
After a shoot-off in the desert of White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, and subsequent evaluations from various vendors, the Army selected a Stryker combat vehicle-based system that included a mission equipment package designed by Leonardo DRS. That mission equipment package includes Raytheon’s Stinger vehicle missile launcher.
“We went through our developmental testing, which is what we are supposed to do when we get a new system and we found some software things that we had to work,” Rasch told reporters during a media teleconference. “A lot of the systems and components had been integrated before in other ways but putting them all together on this platform, on a Stryker, was the first time.
“I know a lot of this has been made on that in the press,” Rasch said, “but it was nothing that you wouldn’t expect to see” considering it was the first time the Army has hooked up a Hellfire launcher that is traditionally an air-to-ground system with an upgraded digital Stinger launch capability with a new turret.
In an interview with Defense News in March, Col. Chuck Worshim, program manager for cruise missile defense systems within PEO Missiles and Space, said the Army was “learning some things, which testing is all about. We’re seeing where we will have to have some corrective actions put in place as we move forward into more operational testing.”
He would not detail those actions but emphasized they were “nothing that can’t be overcome in a short period of time” and “nothing that is so far out of the box that we have to go back to the drawing board.”
Rasch said, “We just had to work through some of those software bugs and the testing,” and as the team rolled out those “relatively minor software patches” the system has been “testing out very well.”
Brig. Gen. Brian Gibson, who oversees the Army’s air-and-missile defense modernization efforts, told Defense News in its Space and Missile Defense Debrief event Aug. 5, that the Army is still on schedule to make a decision on whether it will buy its first of four planned batteries by the end of the fiscal year.
He added that testing over the past few weeks ended in successful flight tests, but “we still learned some things in it that we need to go back and address in the new equipment training.”
That training has already begun at White Sands in preparation for an early user assessment in the latter part of the year, Gibson said, and the Army is learning “great things” from the experienced air defenders assigned to use the system.
“By the end of August,” Gibson said, “we are going to know everything that we probably can know, which will inform our recommendation.”
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.