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US Army picks two vehicle protection systems to evaluate realm of the possible

December 13, 2019
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army has picked two active protection systems to evaluate next fall for possible applications on a variety of ground combat vehicles.

A Rheinmetall and Unified Business Technologies team received an $11 million contract from the Army to provide its StrikeShield APS system for the evaluation. And a DRS and Rafael team received a similar contract to participate, the Army confirmed to Defense News.

After evaluating two active protections systems — StrikeShield and Rafael’s Trophy VPS — in a 2018 demonstration, and determining neither were the right fit for an interim APS capability for the Stryker combat vehicle, it appears the door is opening back up for that capability.

It is likely the solution the Army is evaluating from DRS and Rafael is Trophy VPS, Rafael’s lighter version of its Trophy APS system that is being fielded on Abrams tanks.

The Army found interim APS solutions for both its Abrams tanks and Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, but the service has struggled to find one for the Strykers. The service moved quickly over the past several years to field combat vehicle protection against rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank-guided missiles while it develops a future system.

The service’s new evaluation effort — conducted through the its new Vehicle Protective Systems (VPS) program office — will begin in October 2020 at Redstone Test Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

“It provides a pathway to potential utilization of the system on vehicles in the current Army vehicle fleet as well as vehicles fielded in the future,” according to a Rheinmetall statement issued earlier this month.

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The Army will evaluate StrikeShield “as part of a larger effort to characterize APS performance against a wide variety of anti-armor threats,” Rheinmetall’s statement read. “This significant contract award represents the first funded APS testing the Army will undertake of the StrikeShield system.”

Rheinmetall and UBT funded the previous evaluation of the system for Stryker at the invitation of the Army.

Based in Unterluess, Germany, Rheinmetall has been pushing to get its active defense system in front of the Army and under consideration for integration into U.S. combat vehicles for several years. The company seemed poised to be selected as the interim solution for the Stryker prior to the Army’s demonstration last fall.

The Army also considered Herndon, Virginia-based Artis Corporation’s Iron Curtain APS for Stryker through a more extensive evaluation, but decided in August 2018 not to move forward in fielding it to Stryker units.

The new round of evaluations considers limited characterizations focused on platform agnostic testing to garner additional data on hard-kill APS, the Army told Defense News in a written statement.

The APS will be installed on a vehicle agnostic test riq, the service said, to inform APS considerations for “multiple ground combat platforms.”

“The results of this activity will be leveraged to inform the Army’s approach to future hard kill APS acquisitions,” the service added.

While the Army has looked and, in some cases, acquired APS for the Stryker, Bradley and Abrams, it is also considering what protection systems are needed for its armored multipurpose vehicle, mobile protected firepower capability and Bradley’s future replacement, the optionally manned fighting vehicle (OMFV).

The evaluations are scheduled to start at the beginning of fiscal 2021 and will last roughly six months.

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After complex test, is the US Army’s major missile defense command system ready for prime time?

December 13, 2019
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army’s major missile defense command system, which has been in development for years and experienced lengthy delays, successfully completed a complex test Dec. 12 against two cruise missiles, marking the last hurdle to get the system ready for its operational test next year.

The service planned to up the ante in the December test as a last effort to prove the capability of the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, or IBCS, ahead of a limited-user test in the third quarter of fiscal 2020, Brig. Gen. Brian Gibson, who leads the Army’s air and missile defense modernization effort, told Defense News in October.

The IBCS has journeyed a rocky road to a delayed fielding, partly after failing its first limited-user test in 2016.

Software problems discovered during that first test resulted in schedule delays of nearly four years. The Army originally planned to reach initial operational capability in FY19, but those plans slipped to the third quarter of FY22, according to FY18 budget documents.

But the system, which is meant to tie together all missile defense sensors and shooters on the battlefield through a command-and-control center, has seen recent success in its testing program.

According to the manufacturer of IBCS, Northrop Grumman, the system was able to simultaneously track and engage two incoming target cruise missiles during a flight test at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

Adding to complexity the threat-representative cruise missiles flew in a maneuvering formation until nearing targets and then “split off to attack two separate defended assets,” the company said in a statement.

The IBCS system was tied to the Sentinel radar, the Patriot air defense system and a Marine TPS-59 radar connected through an external Link 16 network, demonstrating the system’s ability to tie into joint systems and Army-specific systems.

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An F-35 fighter jet with sensors adapted for IBCS also contributed to the test.

Patriot Advanced Capability-2 Guidance Enhanced Missile-TBM interceptors were used to take out the targets in the test.

Northrop said the test “demonstrated successful interoperability and the end-to-end performance of the IBCS system to detect, track and simultaneously engage multiple threats.”

The test “further demonstrates the maturity of the Integrated Battle Command System and its capabilities in support of Multi-Domain Operations,” Maj. Gen. Rob Rasch, the Army’s program executive officer for missiles and space, said in the Northrop statement. “The inclusion of Marine Corps and Air Force sensor systems in the test architecture validate the system’s open architecture and the potential for IBCS to operate seamlessly with joint services, as well as foreign partners in the future, to extend battlespace and defeat complex threats.”

Gibson told Defense News shortly after the test that it marked the involvement of the highest number of soldier operators in an IBCS developmental test to date. The Army has worked to keep the same unit involved — a test detachment from the 30th Brigade, 3rd Battalion, 6th Air Defense Artillery Regiment — in recent tests to build confidence and entrenched knowledge in the system.

The test also proved the system isn’t just useful to the Army, but could be a joint system, as it worked to tie in a Marine Corps ground radar as well as aerial sensors on an Air Force fighter jet, Gibson explained.

The Army is still on the same path toward a limited-user test, Gibson added, and he expects it to begin in late spring or early summer. Afterward, the Army will make a decision on the way forward for IBCS in the late summer or early fall.

Gibson said he feels more prepared for the limited-user test as the result of the recent developmental tests of the IBCS system, adding that the test results put to rest the technical risk that previously existed.

While the initial fielding will involve tying together the Army’s primary air defense sensors — Sentinel and Patriot — it’s just a launching pad for broader fires integration across the Army and potentially the joint force, Gibson said.

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Lockheed deems first test shot of precision strike missile a success, amid Raytheon delay

December 12, 2019
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WASHINGTON — The first test shot of Lockheed Martin’s precision strike missile at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, was a success, the company said in a statement.

“All test objectives were achieved,” the statement read.

The PrSM was fired Dec. 10 from a U.S. Army High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launcher and flew roughly 240 kilometers to the target, the release stated.

“Today’s success validates all of the hard work our PrSM team has put into the design and development of this missile,” said Gaylia Campbell, the company’s vice president of precision fires and combat maneuver systems. “This test flight is the most recent success in a long line of product component and sub-component testing successes conducted as part of our proven development discipline to assure total mission success for our U.S. Army customer.”

The test objectives, according to Lockheed, included staying on course and maintaining the trajectory, range and accuracy.

The first flight tests for PrSM — meant to replace the Army Tactical Missile System — were delayed until the end of this year due to technical issues, the director in charge of Long-Range Precision Fires modernization, Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, said in July.

“There were a couple of technical issues that caused us to delay about 90 days for the flight test,” he said. “There was a mishap at a facility that caused some of the delay, followed by Mother Nature … extreme weather that made repair at that facility near impossible for a period of time.”

When pressed for specifics, Rafferty said the mishap was not at a Raytheon or Lockheed facility, but rather a sub-vendor used by both teams.

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Raytheon and Lockheed Martin have been in a head-to-head competition to deliver a future PrSM missile to the Army. While Lockheed was originally intended to test its missile in flight after Raytheon, the latter defense company experienced technical issues, according to sources, and had to push its flight test from November to early next year.

The Army has a goal to initially field a new PrSM in 2023; it is one of the major development efforts within the Army’s long-range precision fires portfolio. LRPF is the Army’s top modernization priority.

The service has accelerated PrSM’s fielding timeline by several years and will stick to the baseline requirements for the missile to get there.

Each company will have subsequent flight tests after the initial shot to help garner further data for development and refinement, leading the Army to choose a winner.

The Army also plans to adjust its maximum range requirement following critical test shots of the two PrSMs.

The missile’s current maximum range requirement is 499 kilometers, which is the range that was compliant under the now-collapsed Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the United States and Russia. The United States withdrew from the treaty in August, and so the Army no longer has to adhere to the range limit for its missiles.

Rafferty said the baseline missile could reach a range of 550 kilometers based on data from both companies competing to build the PrSM. But the Army won’t consider adjusting its requirements until each company has observed how their respective missile behaves in real flight tests.

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