The Army fired a miniature hit-to-kill missile on April 4, 2016, as part of an engineering demonstration of the Indirect Fire Protection Capability Increment 2 intercept capability. (Michael Smith/U.S. Army)
By Jen Judson,
Published by Defense News, 9 October 2023
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is gearing up to pursue new interceptors capable of countering a wide range of threats, from cruise to ballistic to hypersonic missiles, according to the service’s program executive officer for missiles and space.
The Army is close to beginning a process to competitively acquire a second interceptor for its Dynetics-developed Indirect Fire Protection Capability and will also soon embark on a path to develop the replacement for the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement weapon currently fielded as part of the RTX-made Patriot air missile defense system, Brig. Gen. Frank Lozano told Defense News in an interview ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.
While the Army is still working through its budget request for fiscal 2025, Lozano’s program office has asked to have funding included in the budget request’s Future Years Defense Program to be able to begin development of a second interceptor for IFPC.
The system will provide defense against rockets, artillery, mortars, cruise missiles and drones at fixed and semi-fixed sites. The first interceptor to be used in the IFCP system is RTX’s AIM-9X missile.
“One of the big driving factors, aside from the advanced threat perspective,” Lazono said, “is magazine capacity.”
The IFPC system can currently hold 18 AIM-9X missiles in the launcher. If the Army decided to use something like the AIM-120D, which is an air-to-air missile, that can achieve a range of more than 180 kilometers (112 miles), the magazine could only fit six, Lozano explained.
“We really don’t want to have such a small magazine on an IFPC launcher, especially with the amount of threats that we expect to see from a cruise missile perspective with any of our peer competitors,” Lozano said. “Having an adequate magazine depth against cruise missile threats and the wide array of different cruise missiles out there is very important. So we’re really looking for an AIM-120D-type capability in an AIM-9X package.”
The Army released a request for information last year to get a better idea of available options. Lozano said RTX and Lockheed Martin submitted proposals, and companies in Israel also have solutions such as the Tamir 2 interceptor, made by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.
The service is also looking for missiles that can achieve certain altitudes and ranges with a rocket motor that can decrease flight time to its target. The weapon must also deflect electronic warfare countermeasures and feature enhanced seeker performance. The goal is to develop and field the interceptor in the 2025 to 2030 time frame, Lozano added.
Dynetics is in the process of delivering the first 12 IFPC launchers to the Army; then the service will conduct its first missile flight test in February 2024 followed by roughly six to nine months of developmental testing, Lozano said earlier this summer.
Farther afield is a replacement interceptor for the PAC-3 MSE missile that will be a part of the service’s future Integrated Air and Missile Defense system.
The Army already fielded its command-and-control system — the Integrated Battle Command System — and is developing and will soon field a new radar — the Lower Tier Air and Missile Defense Sensor — capable of detecting threats from 360 degrees.
Army Futures Command is formulating an abbreviated capabilities development document; if approved, funding will be included within the FY25 through FY29 future years funding plan.
“We, as an Army, have said: ‘OK, it’s probably about time that we start looking for a next-generation interceptor,’ ” Lozano said. “These interceptors, they take a while to not only create, but they also take a while to test. You have to test them in so many different conditions, so it’s not unreasonable to say there’s going to be a potentially four- to seven-year developmental time frame and then a four- to seven-year qualification timeline.”
This translates to a fielded capability in the mid- to late 2030s, according to Lozano.
As it undergoes development, the service would look toward potential threats that could exist in 2040. The Army is starting to get an even clearer sense of what PAC-3 MSE is capable of destroying thanks to the war in Ukraine, Lozano said. The missile has shot down, for example, Russian Kh-47M2 Killjoy hypersonic air-launched ballistic missiles, he added.
The Army is anticipating threat missiles will evolve to have rocket motors that make missiles fly faster with hypersonic capability, and tactical ballistic missiles that maneuver both in the exoatmosphere and the endoatmosphere. Threat missiles are also likely to contain electronic warfare countermeasures to jam or spoof an interceptor, and will employ decoys.
“As you look at those variables in the threat set,” Lozano said. “those are the parameters that we would use to then develop that next-generation interceptor. So as the threat makes adaptations — adaptations and changes on their technical systems — we’re making them [in] real time as well to maximize our ability to intercept those advanced threats.”
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