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Envisioning the Army's Air and Missile Defense | Commentary

After working for over 30 years as an Army Air and Missile Defense officer, I’ve watched with great concern the “downsizing” and related financial strain on defense. Preparing for the future is difficult in even the best of times, but now the services must focus resources on prudent, low risk investments that deliver critical capabilities.

For the Army there is neither the time, nor the fiscal wherewithal to chase folly or fancy, or invest in the interesting. So with this year coming to an end and the dust settling on the first defense budget in years hitting the Pentagon, what refinements if any could be made in the air and missile defense portfolio?

The PATRIOT surface-to-air missile system is the foundational element of Army capability. It is combat proven and continues to deliver critical protection with its ability to simultaneously counter aircraft, unmanned aerial systems, cruise missiles, and theater ballistic missiles, in a joint and combined operating environment.

While PATRIOT has been around since the 1980s, it has undergone many upgrades and is currently programmed for radar digital processor and fire control station upgrades. Both of these will enhance PATRIOT’s capabilities, effectiveness, and reliability.

The digital processor upgrade increases the PATRIOT’s radar reliability and improves its target detection, identification, and multi-function surveillance capabilities. It also fully integrates the PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement, adding another missile to PATRIOT’s quiver, so it can select the optimum missile for the target being engaged.

The Modern Man Station upgrades will improve man-to-machine interface and reliability, and greatly reduce operator workload; so the operator can focus on situational awareness, target identification, and tactical decision making – the essence of combat operations.

PATRIOT is today’s pre-eminent air and missile defense system, employed around the world by 11 other partner nations. Its continued development is a sound investment that rests on a solid doctrinal, institutional, and logistical foundation.

But PATRIOT is not the only element of a Combatant Commander’s integrated air and missile defense system requiring improvement. Operation Iraqi Freedom showed us the need for better “integration” within our defensive network, to achieve better protection for our own aviators and greater combat capability. This lesson spawned the Integrated Battle Command System program (IBCS).

IBCS uses an open architecture to integrate any sensor, weapon, and battle management system’s data to provide: a more reliable, single-integrated air picture; better situational awareness; and decision support systems that improve the operator’s decision making. IBCS enables commanders to tailor defensive capabilities to achieve mix, mass, and leverage the integrated air picture for 360-degree situational awareness and integrated fires. After only six years of development, IBCS is slated to deliver these capabilities in 2016. It is an essential capability and should be the Army’s number one priority.

PATRIOT’s continued upgrades should be the Army’s number two priority. If there were funds for a third priority, it should be to accelerate procurement of the Terminal High Altitude and Area Defense or THAAD system.

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