The Army’s new plug-and-play network for missile defense passed its third flight test on April 8th. In a particularly complex exercise, the Integrated Air & Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS) controlled two types of radar and two types of Patriot missile shooting down two types of incoming missile in the same engagement, contractor Northrop Grumman announced today. Next up for the program — its “Milestone C” review to determine whether IBCS can move from development into production.
IBCS is intended to connect the current arsenal of stand-alone systems into a greater whole, one in which any shooter — including potential future weapons such as lasers — can get firing data from any sensor. In a previous test in November, for example, a low-altitude cruise missile threat evaded a Patriot radar but got picked up by a Sentinel — originally designed for short-range anti-aircraft fire, not missile defense. With both radars plugged into IBCS, the network fed the Sentinel’s targeting data to a Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC-3) launcher for a successful shoot down.
In the field today, by contrast, Patriots can only take targeting data from their own purpose-built radars. The first IBCS test back in May 2015 kept both Patriot radars and PAC-2 Patriot launchers, but connected them through IBCS instead of the Patriot system, proving the new network worked.
The most recent test was the most complex yet. Cued by both Patriot and Sentinel radar, ICBS sent a PAC-2 interceptor against an incoming cruise missile target and a PAC-3 against an incoming ballistic missile. While a low-tier adversary such as Yemen’s Houthi rebels might fire off just one missile at a time, even a mid-tier threat like Iran or North Korea — let alone China or Russia — would likely launch a whole salvo at once to overwhelm missile defenses. That makes multi-target tests particularly important.