Some Soldiers from out of town are on White Sands Missile Range putting a new air defense system through its paces and preparing it to be delivered for use.
Soldiers from the 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment out of Ansbach, Germany are on WSMR conduction training and operational testing of the Army’s Initial Maneuver Short Range Air Defense system.
The IM-SHORAD system is one of the Army’s solutions to replace the aging Avenger short range air defense system. While the Avenger worked well in its day as a Cold War platform for the protection of Army units from close in air threats, the system is showing its age, being less survivable than other modern air defense systems, and requiring a long set up time to get operational. The IM-SHORAD is built to bring a modernized package of capabilities to the table and improve in the areas the Avenger struggles. Mounted on a Stryker armored vehicle, IM-SHORAD can keep up with the units they are protecting, with better armor and survivability than a HUMVEE platform provides. The system has its own radar, and an array of weapons that can be effective against air threats without a long setup process.
“There’s a lot of equipment on this machine that will change a lot of aspects for the Air Defense Artillery. Everything from operations to capabilities to new weapons we as ADA don’t have currently, and I think it will make a huge difference to what we do.” said Spc. Andy Mendoza, an air and missile defense crewmember with the 5-4 ADA.
At this time the IM-SHORAD system is not quite ready for full production, but multiple prototypes have been made. To get the system ready to be mass produced, operational testing is needed. Soldiers need to get their hands on the system, learn to use it, and then use it just as they would, including trying new things, making mistakes, and otherwise doing the sort of thing that the system designers may not have prepared for.
“It’s easy to get caught up in what you are doing, how you're designing it and how you’re explaining it to yourself,” said Steven Powell, acquisition logistics lead with the IM-SHORAD Program Office. “Everything might look good on paper, on the board, but until we get through the testing and putting it through its paces, understanding what it’s actually capable of, we won’t know if we’re producing the right system for the Soldier.”
Thanks to Soldier feedback, some new features have already been added to the system to make it more user friendly.
“The ADA Community, particularly this (job set) of Soldiers have a gamut of sizes of Soldiers they go through both male and female. So one of the issues was being able to reach one of the launchers to reload,” said Powell. “One of the fixes we already incorporated was a reload step, so anybody from the bottom 5th percentile to the tallest Soldier they have is able to safely reload their system.”
While still being tested, so far the Soldiers are impressed with the system.
“The truck itself has different capabilities on the move and in different terrains, it’s a whole different system to get used to.” said Mendoza. “The weapon system is perfect, it's just the truck itself, it’s bigger, stronger and a lot heavier.”
While the system has been doing plenty of developmental testing on WSMR this pivot to operation testing is an important step. Without a full battery of operational tests, the system could be delivered to the Soldier with bugs and technical issues that can’t be found through developmental testing by engineers who are intimately familiar with all the technical and operation details of the system.
Bringing in a unit from Germany to just conduct operational testing may seem a little extreme, but for the long-term it’s an advantageous decision. First, the unit is already equipped with the Avenger system the IM-SHORAD system is set to replace. This means that the Soldiers giving their feedback and testing the system will have a solid base for comparison, making them perfect for not just evaluating the differences, but also giving them the ability to really test the system to the mission it’ll be expected to perform, and treat the system exactly how it will be treated by the end user.
Secondly, the 5-4 ADA is currently set to be the first unit to receive the IM-SHORAD system. By getting their hands on the system in advance, the unit is ensuring that when the finalized vehicle is delivered, there will already be a core cadre of Soldiers that are fully trained on the system and familiar with its abilities, quirks, and unique features. This should make training up soldiers new to the system a little easier, as their peers can directly contribute to the training and provide nuance that can only be gotten in a Soldier-to-Soldier training environment.
“The reason why this platoon is out here from Germany is we’ll be fielding the first system into the Army, so it not only gets us to test the system, but also understand how to use it so we can go back to our home unit and train with them on the system,” said 1st Lt. Ryan Pitcher, the units’ platoon leader.
While the future of the IM-SHORAD system is bright; for now, testing continues, running the Soldiers through every system, setting, and operation of the IM-SHORD. Final delivery of the system to Germany is currently scheduled for early next year.