WASHINGTON -- Several programs tied to the Army's air and missile defense modernization priority have made timeline adjustments due to COVID-19, but remain on track to deliver capabilities as planned, according to Army Futures Command officials.
The Army's Interim Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense platform, or IM-SHORAD, was slated to complete developmental testing in June. However, the virus and challenges with the software development process have forced the Army to delay its next testing milestone, said Gen. John M. Murray, the commanding general of AFC, during a virtual engagement with defense reporters on Wednesday.
Mounted on a Stryker A1 platform, the IM-SHORAD system will provide Soldiers with 360 degrees of air-defense protection through a mix of guns, missiles, rockets, and onboard sensors. The Army will spread 144 systems throughout four battalions during the initial acquisition phase by the second quarter of fiscal year 2023, AFC officials said.
"I think we slipped it a few months to the right. I was talking to the CEO today on the software issues … and we're making great progress,” Murray said. "The delivery of IM-SHORAD, in terms of the first unit equipped, remains on track."
Integrated Battle Command System
In addition to the IM-SHORAD program, the virus has impacted further testing of the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, or IBCS, for short, Murray said.
The IBCS program will provide the Army with an integrated command-and-control system, capable of blending current and future air and missile defense sensors and weapon systems under a unified network.
The Army recently canceled a limited-user test scheduled in mid-May at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, officials said. The close confines of the testing environment made it "almost impossible to maintain the 6 feet of social distance," Murray said.
During future evaluations, program leads plan to incorporate personal protective equipment, in addition to making other changes to ensure the health and safety of all personnel.
Full integration of the Army's air and missile defense with the indirect fire protection capabilities, or IFPC, is essential to the way ahead, said Bruce Jette, the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology.
Creating a wide range of sensor and shooter combinations will yield significantly higher outcomes, officials said. IBCS should maximize the Army's kinematic technologies, increase operator decision times and improve the overall situational awareness throughout the battlefield, he said.
"We remain on track for the first unit equipped for all programs," Jette said. "That doesn't mean that some of the programs aren't having to make adjustments to delivery schedules or milestones. We are making adjustments as necessary and working with the companies to catch up."
The Army also bolstered its indirect fire protection capabilities with the recent acquisition of two Iron Dome missile systems, slated for delivery in December and February, respectively, Jette said.
It will take some time for Soldiers to learn the new system, Murray added. In the end, the Iron Dome will add to the Army’s current layered air-defense network.
“We want to be clear -- [the Army] will work to integrate Iron Dome into the IBCS architecture,” Murray emphasized. “We are not interested in a stand-alone system.”
Along with emerging technologies, AFC is creating training opportunities to bolster its artificial intelligence expertise throughout the force.
The Army needs talent within its formations, Murray said. To support, AFC will authorize a select group of officers, warrant officers, and noncommissioned officers to participate in a masters-level artificial intelligence and innovation program. The course, provided by the Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science, will start this fall.
After Soldiers complete the five-month course, they will be assigned to the Artificial Intelligence Task Force for less than a year before returning to the force.
"This is just beginning to help seed the Army with the talent we will need ... to take advantage of artificial intelligence in the future," Murray said.