HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The U.S. Army plans to launch a testing campaign aimed at creating a direct avenue to field new capabilities more rapidly.
The service has a wide variety of offensive and defensive missile capabilities, but also a need to tie into space sensors and non-Army organic sensors that can see at much farther ranges to cue these missile systems, Maj. Gen. Robert Rasch, the Army’s program executive officer for missiles and space, said Aug. 9 at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium. His office will conduct what it to become an annual integrated fires test campaign.
Sensors found across the services that can detect targets at long ranges are able to, for example, provide valuable targeting information for weapons like the Army Tactical Missile System, the forthcoming Precision Guided Munition and the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, Rasch said.
The Army has shown the effectiveness of integrating sensors with shooters on the battlefield to accomplish both offensive and defensive fires missions during its campaign of learning last year, Project Convergence, held at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.
The Army took its Integrated Battle Command System, or IBCS, which is meant to serve as the brains of its air and missile defense system, and expanded its defensive mission set to a precision strike capability.
Rasch said IBCS has finished its first phase of its major initial operational test and evaluation event, and is now gearing up for the second phase. Once the second phase concludes, the Army can make a full-rate production decision on the system, which is currently in low-rate initial production.
The system was demonstrated in one of the seven use-case scenarios at Project Convergence. During the joint air and missile defense use-case scenario, IBCS conducted a successful engage-on-remote test. Threat targets were launched from White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. An engagement operations center using IBCS picked up on the threats at Fort Bliss, Texas, and tracked them. Then the system was able to remotely initiate from Fort Bliss the launch of Patriot missiles at White Sands to neutralize the threat.
Part of the demonstration included using space-based sensors, which Joint Tactical Ground Station operators tap into through satellite communications to track a missile threat. While ground and airborne sensors have been used in demonstrations involving IBCS, the addition of the space sensors shows the system is able to tie into the space capability layer.
IBCS was able to obtain information from an F-35 fighter jet tracking a ground target and feed it to the Army’s fire control system — the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System — for the first time. That system then engaged the target using a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, Rasch said.
“How do we take it out of the experimental realm and move it into a ‘let’s do it every day’ realm,” Rasch said, describing the next step.
So in fiscal 2023, the service’s Program Executive Office Missiles and Space will conduct its first-ever integrated fires test campaign, Rasch noted. “We’re going to get an opportunity to bring these things out on the range that maybe were not initially designed or thought [were] being designed to work together, but actually have them out on the range and either demonstrate, if it’s early, or operationally test, if it is ready to get to materiel release for new capabilities.”
The Army is using Project Convergence to identify what does and doesn’t work well for the service, Rasch added. The plan is to take good ideas from Project Convergence, go through a hardening process and take it right out to test as part of the integrated fires test campaign, he explained.
The venue will also offer the Army an ability to get more sets and repetitions to build up range legs more on an annual basis, Rasch noted.
But more importantly, the integrated fires test campaign is an opportunity to get those good ideas fielded without having to wait six or seven years for the “big bang that is typically associated with the program of record,” Rasch said. “We have never done that before.”
Rasch told Defense News to stay tuned for more details on what specifically will be evaluated at the first campaign next year as the new incoming program executive officer puts his stamp on the event.
Rasch is tapped to become the next commander of the Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office. The new leader at PEO Missiles and Space will be Brig. Gen. Francisco Lozano, who most recently served as the chief of staff in the Office of the Secretary of the Army for Acquisitions, Logistics and Technology.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.