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Air & missile defense - Incremental improvements are coming

Friday, May 01, 2015

Directed-energy weapons, rail guns and other futuristic weapons could play a role in the Army’s future fights, but for the next fight, incremental improvements on current systems is probably going to be the norm, according to experts.

Those air and missile defense experts spoke during an Association of the United States Army Hot Topic panel.

Maj. Gen. Glenn A. Bramhall, commander of the 263rd Army Air and Missile Defense, or AMD, Command, said so-called legacy systems are still fairly effective.

In protecting the National Capital Region (NCR), Bramhall said the Avenger Air Defense System, along with Sentinel radar, does a pretty good job. It’s very reliable and could continue to be effective in the coming decades.

The key to using these systems in the NCR is integrating the systems and feeds with agencies tasked with defending the homeland, including the Coast Guard, Secret Service, Park Police, FBI and others, he said.

Also, the Sentinels are already integrated with Federal Aviation Administration radar to "get a certain fidelity," Bramhall added.

Elsewhere in the United States, the Customs and Border Protection uses AMD-capabilities for enhanced border security, he said.

Michael D. Trotsky, vice president, air and missile defense systems, Lockheed Martin Corp., said, "The future won’t be shaped by the next multi-billion dollar widget. Instead, you’ll see getting the most out of the equipment we have – and I don’t think we’ve done that yet."

Integrating AMD components and shooters will provide "the biggest bang for the littlest bucks," he added.

Besides that, there are evolutionary – and in some cases revolutionary – advances that can be made in the AMD force without breaking the bank.

For example, Trotsky predicted advances in electronic miniaturization of some of the interceptors.

Right now interceptors are big, bulky and expensive.

A Patriot or Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system facing an unmanned aerial vehicle threat, or UAV, would "have a terrible exchange rate," he said, meaning the cost to take down an inexpensive UAV would be prohibitive, especially if a lot of UAVs were attacking.

A future unmanned aerial system interceptor would need to be extremely small to get the cost-benefit out of it as well as the mobility, he explained.

Networking miniaturized sensors and shooters is not too difficult from a technical standpoint, he said.

The policy, politics and organizational structure pieces would be much more difficult.

Information assurance and cybersecurity is another obvious growth area, he said, especially to get to a reliably networked and integrated AMD.

Allies are taking notice of all of these efforts, Trotsky said, and they want to get on board and have their equipment integrated as well.

But, "Will we share data when we go to war, they wonder?"

Trotsky then addressed the elephant in the room: money.

"The biggest challenge is the money for innovations," he said. Things tend to be costly.

One way to bring in more money is to oblige allies’ request to integrate with U.S. systems. "Allies want our systems," he said.

Foreign military sales could bring in the billions they are prepared and willing to pay.

Even with shrinking dollars, procurement is still taking place today in some important areas.

For instance, Maj. Gen. Ole A. Knudson, program executive, programs and integration, Missile Defense Agency, said the Army is expecting to purchase some 300 THAAD systems by decade’s end.

Brig. Gen. Daniel L. Karbler, director, Joint and Integration Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-8, said the Army is moving toward a multi-mission launcher, also known as MML.

The launcher "uses the best sensor, best shooter and optimal munition approach to destroy cruise missiles, UAS, rockets, artillery and mortars.

It is the next step to operating in a complex world with emerging threats," he said.