By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven
The Army is fast-tracking newly configured Stryker vehicles armed with helicopter and drone-killing weapons to counter Russia in Europe and provide more support to maneuvering Brigade Combat Teams in combat.
“We are looking for a rapid solution for the near-term fight,” Maj. Gen. John Ferarri, Director, Program Analysis and Evaluation, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
The Strykers will fire a wide range of weapons to destroy close-in air threats attacking maneuvering ground units, to potentially include Hellfire or Stinger missiles. The program, which plans to deploy its first vehicles to Europe by 2020, is part of an Army effort called short-range-air-defense - Initial Maneuver (SHORAD).
Senior leaders say the service plans to build its first Stryker SHORAD prototype by 2019 as an step toward producing 144 initial systems.
Given that counterinsurgency tactics have taken center stage during the last 15 years of ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army now recognizes a need to better protect ground combat formations against more advanced, near-peer type enemy threats - such as drones, helicopters or low-flying aircraft.
“We are looking for an end to end system that is able to detect and defeat the rotary wing fixed wing and UAS (drone) threat to the maneuvering BCT (Brigade Combat Team),” Col. Charles Worshim, Project Manager for Cruise Missile Defense Systems, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
Worshim said the Army has sent a solicitation to a group of more than 500 weapons developers, looking for missiles, guns and other weapons like a 30mm cannon able to integrate onto a Stryker vehicle.
Although drone threats have been rapidly escalating around the globe, US enemies such as the Taliban or ISIS have not presented air-attacking threats such as helicopters, aircraft or large amounts of drones. However, as the Army evaluates it strategic calculus moving forward, there is widespread recognition that the service must be better equipped to face technically sophisticated enemies.
"We atrophied air defense if you think about it. With more near-peer major combat operations threats on the horizon, the need for SHORAD and high-tier weapons like THAAD and PATRIOT comes back to the forefront. This is a key notion of maneuverable SHORAD - if you are going to maneuver you need an air defense capability able to stay up with a formation," the senior Army official told Warrior Maven in an interview.
As part of its emerging fleet of SHORAD Stryker vehicles, the Army is exploring four different weapons areas to connect with on-board sensor and fire control, Worshim said; they include Hellfire missiles, Stinger missiles, gun capabilities and 30mm cannons.
Also, it goes without saying that any kind of major enemy ground assault is likely to include long range fire, massive air support as well as closer in helicopters and drones to support an advancing mechanized attack.
As a result, ground infantry supported by armored vehicles, will need mobile air defenses to address these closer-in air threats. This is where the Stryker SHORAD comes in; infantry does not have the same fires or ground mobility as an armored Stryker, and hand held anti-aircraft weapons such as a hand-fired Stinger would not have the same defensive impact as a Hellfire or Stinger armed Stryker. In a large mechanized engagement, advancing infantry needs fortified armored support able to cross bridges and maneuver alongside foot soldiers.
Chinese or Russian helicopters and drones, for instance, are armed with rockets, missiles and small arms fire. A concept with SHORAD would be to engage and hit these kinds of threats prior to or alongside any enemy attack. SHORAD brings an armored, mobile air defense in real-time, in a way that most larger, less-mobile ground missiles can. PATRIOT missile, for instance, is better suited to hit incoming mid-range ballistic missiles and other attacking threats. While mobile, a PATRIOT might have less of an ability to support infantry by attacking fast-moving enemy helicopters and drones.
The Army is also developing a truck-mounted Multi-Mission Launcher designed to destroy drones and cruise missiles on the move in combat. The MML has already successfully fired Hellfire, AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles and other weapons as a mobile air-defense weapon. It is showing great promise in testing, fires multiple missiles, and brings something previous not there to Army forces. However, an Armed Stryker can fortify this mission - by moving faster in combat and providing additional armored vehicle support to infantry on the move in a high-threat combat environment.
The SHORAD effort has been under rapid development by the Army for several years now; last year, the service held a SHORAD “live-fire shooting demo” at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., where they fired a number of emerging platforms.
Some of the systems included in the demonstration included Israel's well-known Iron Dome air defense system, a Korean-build Hanwha Defense Systems armored vehicle air defense platform and a General Dynamics Land Systems Stryker Maneuver SHORAD Launcher.
US military officials familiar with the demonstration said the Hanwha platform used was a South Korean K30 Biho, called the Flying Tiger; it is a 30mm self-propelled anti-aircraft weapon which combines an electro-optically guided 30mm gun system with surveillance radar on a K200 chassis.
A General Dynamics Land Systems specially-armed Stryker vehicles were also among the systems which recently destroyed enemy drone targets during the demonstration at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. - according to Army officials familiar with the event.
One of the Strykers used was an infantry carrier armed with an Orbital ATK XM 81330mm 30mm cannon; this weapon can be fired from within the Stryker vehicle using a Remote Weapons Station, Army officials said.
An industry source familiar with the demonstration said Iron Dome hit its air targets but elected not to fire at surface targets, the Flying Tiger completely missed its targets, the Orbital ATK integrated gun failed to engage targets and General Dynamics Land Systems SHORAD hit all three targets out of three attempts.
Worshim emphasized that those vendors who participated in the demo will not necessarily be the technology chosen by the Army, however the event did greatly inform requirements development of the weapons systems. Also, while SHORAD has been integrated onto a Stryker, the Army only recently decided that it would be the ideal armored combat platform for the weapon.
At the same time, building similarly armed Bradleys or infantry carriers is by no means beyond the realm of the possible as the service rushes to adapt to new ground war threats.
“There could be an air and missile defense mission equipment package integrated onto other combat vehicles,” Worshim said.