WASHINGTON: Northrop Grumman announced today it had delivered the first “production-representative” command post for the Army’s new missile defense network, IBCS. That opens the door for test shots latter this year and the system’s crucial operational test in 2020.
The system is crucial for the Army because it is designed to work with every anti-aircraft, counter-drone and missile defense system in the future.
By the end of this year, Northrop plans to deliver 10 more truck-borne Engagement Operations Centers, i.e. command posts, for a total of 11, plus 18 Integrated Fire Control Network (IFCN) relays.
If IBCS works as advertised — it definitely didn’t back in 2016, but more recent tests have shown marked improvement — it will make it possible for the Army’s disparate anti-aircraft and missile defense systems to work together as never before. That’s especially essential as the military refocuses from fighting the Taliban and the Islamic State to deterring Russia and China, with their massive arsenals of missiles, artillery rockets, attack helicopters, and strike aircraft.
(What does IBCS stand for? You’ll be sorry you asked: It’s a nested acronym for the IAMD Battle Command System, where IAMD in turn stands for Integrated Air and Missile Defense).
Historically, each Army system came as a stand-alone package. Firing a Patriot launcher required a custom-made Patriot command post that got targeting data from a dedicated Patriot radar. The longer-ranged THAAD used the more powerful AN/TPY-2 radar to detect high-altitude ballistic missiles. Short-Range Air Defense units with Stingers used the small Sentinel radar to track subsonic cruise missiles. If one unit’s radar detected a threat but another unit was in a better position to take it out, they couldn’t share targeting data.
The Army’s already started working on some one-to-one connections, for example between Patriot and THAAD, which are both deployed together in Korea. But the long-term goal is to be able to link any sensor to any shooter, and that’s what IBCS is supposed to do when it enters service in 2022. Future air and missile defense systems like IFPC (Indirect Fire Protection Capability, a multi-purpose launcher) and LTAMDS (Lower-Tier Air & Missile Defense Sensor, a radar) are being built to be IBCS-compliant from the start, while others will require (hopefully) modest upgrades.
Air and missile defense is No. 5 of the Army’s Big Six modernization priorities. The first four — long-range artillery, armored vehicles, aircraft, and the command-and-control network — get first shot at funding, but, as Army chief of staff Gen. Mark Milley put it, “none of this is going to matter if you’re dead, and that’s why you need air defense.”