As the Army looks to its near future, senior leaders see clearly that they can no longer count on constant air superiority. To meet that growing vulnerability, they’ve been growing and training up their air missile defense.

At the Association of the U.S. Army’s AMD conference today, commanders discussed efforts that are underway to use missile defense at their level in the future multi-domain operations that the Army expects to encounter where air, land, sea, cyber and space will all be contested.

Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, pointed to how the air missile defense that the Army focuses on has been practically overlooked in the recent Missile Defense Review.

“Air defense, particularly force defense … is a giant vulnerability,” Karako said.

Karako pointed to gaps in current employment of sensors specifically. There’s an overreliance on radio frequency detection and a lack of “sensor agnostic” platforms within networks.

Focusing specifically on the Pacific region, Karako noted that despite protests that there are not enough islands to emplace effective radar systems in the area, that’s what’s being done, creating “radar archipelagos,” that can create weak areas not covered effectively to detect missile launches or incoming attacks.

Gen. Robert Brown, commander of U.S. Army Pacific, ran through recent events that indicate a renewed commitment to missile defense.

He pointed to the large-scale Roving Sands missile defense training exercise in 2018 and 2019. The exercise ceased more than a dozen years ago as commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan took priority. But that led to a decade gap in which younger and upcoming commanders spent portions of their career without doing such an exercise.

Last year’s event saw more than 1,800 soldiers shooting, displacing and communicating over 100 km ranges at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

Also, one year ago the first Army National Guard Air Defense Artillery headquarters rotated to Europe, the 678th ADA brigade in March.

Last October, the Army reactivated the 38th ADA brigade and in November established its newest ADA battalion, 5th Battalion, 4th ADA.

That pace doesn’t seem to be slowing. AMD was established as one of the Army’s six modernization priorities and one of its cross functional teams.

The Roving Sands exercise was held again this year. Also, AMD units will continue missile defense firing exercises in Israel and add on events in Bulgaria and Poland to further integrate combined missions with allies and partners, said Col. David Shank, commander of 10th Army AMD Command.

“That’s another way we get after it,” he said.

Looking forward, the total air defense package will look much different as the Army pursues ways to improve that aspect in light of advanced missile and targeting systems being deployed by Russia and China.

The transition from where the Army is now to where it needs to be will include rebuilding old skills in the air and land sections to the level of mastery, said Brig. Gen. Clement Coward, commander of 32nd AMD Command.

Many of those skills have atrophied, he said, pointing specifically to the Army’s lack of air defense brigades for the corps-level commanders.

Another challenge will be to move beyond air and land and incorporate cyber, space, information and maritime domains to their defense.

What that outcome looks like, Coward said, will include:

  • Meeting the capabilities of Russia and China in their respective theaters by 2022.
  • Having ADA able to protect maneuver forces against near peer competitors.
  • Putting AMD brigades and battalions in corps and division warfighting exercises.
  • Continuing Roving Sands.
  • Pushing upcoming ADA leaders to become experts in large-scale ground combat operations.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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