WASHINGTON -- The Army is one step closer to improving its air and missile defense capabilities after a successful live-fire evaluation intercepted two low-altitude targets flying at close proximity Thursday.
The intercept test is part of the larger Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, or IBCS, limited user test, said Gen. John M. Murray, commander of Army Futures Command.
"This is a major milestone, not only for the air defense community but for the Army as a whole," Murray said Thursday during a media event. "I'm fully confident that we're on the road to a successful [initial operational test and evaluation] in about a year's time."
More than 500 Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, have been involved with the user evaluation since July, said Col. Philip Rottenborn, a project manager with the Program Executive Office of Missiles and Space.
The IBCS is the Army’s contribution to the Joint All-Domain Command and Control system, capable of blending current and future sensors and weapon systems under one unified network. The limited user test, or LUT, out of White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, is slated to end in September.
All personnel within the 3-43 ADA, a Patriot missile unit, supported the live-fire intercept -- a first for this LUT, said Brig. Gen. Brian Gibson, the Air and Missile Defense Cross-Functional Team director.
During the test, Soldiers relied on the IBCS to interconnect two Patriot radars, two AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel radars, three Patriot launchers, and several battalion and battery engagement centers to take down the pair of targets, Rottenborn said.
"The interceptors were [Patriot Advanced Capability-3] cost reduction initiative interceptors launched from separate launchers at the same battery site," he said. "They were against two MQM-178 cruise missile surrogate targets, flying challenging maneuvers."
The sensor-to-shooter system also provided a real-time communication capability across seven different network relays to multiple echelons, Rottenborn said.
Simulated opposing forces also jammed one of the network relays to test the system's ability to seamlessly transition data to another node. Testing and evaluation officials will review information collected during the intercept to ensure the IBCS handled this process correctly.
The live-fire test is the second time the Army has used the IBCS to successfully intercept a set of targets. In December, the Army proved the capability after launching a pair of Patriot Advanced Capability-2 missiles to take out two cruise missile surrogates.
Moving forward, the Army will continue to make improvements to the IBCS capability. The 3-43 ADA will become the first unit equipped with the initial operational capability, slated for fiscal year 2022, Gibson said.
The battalion first received the new system in August 2019, said Col. Anthony Behrens, the Army capability manager and director of Army Air and Missile Defense Command.
"They created their own tactics, techniques and procedures, [which are] vastly different than how we operate today at the crew, battery, and battalion levels," Behrens said.
Current units are typically limited to Patriot radar technology to discern a missile's flight path -- a system that is restricted in both range and capability, when compared to an IBCS-enabled network, he added.
"Normally, [the Army] would probably fire two interceptors at each of these targets," Behrens said. "We were able to integrate Sentinel radars far from the launchers. By adding those additional sensors to a network … we add several minutes to the decision cycle."
In turn, prolonging an engagement creates more time for leaders to make an informed decision and allows for more effective and efficient use of Army assets and capabilities.
The Army is slated to conduct a third intercept test next week. Air and missile defense program leads will continue to learn from the 3-43 ADA and plan to use that knowledge to shape future air defense doctrine, Behrens said.