U.S. Army Rebuilding Short-Range Air Defense Capability

The U.S. Army is now standing up short-range air defense units, known as SHORAD battalions, and offering a five-week pilot Stinger course for Soldiers in maneuver units.

It’s part of a critical effort to defend maneuver units against the threat of aircraft, drones and cruise missiles, said Col. Mark A. Holler, commandant of the Air Defense Artillery School at Fort Sill.

Most of the SHORAD battalions in the active component were deactivated a decade ago because the U.S. Army needed this force structure to grow maneuver brigade combat teams for counter-insurgency operations, Holler said.

The Army is now reshaping its capability and capacity to conduct large-scale combat operations against a near-peer adversary like Russia or China, he said, so SHORAD units are once again needed. He added the Army was given a “wake-up call” when it observed the conflict in Ukraine.

In the 1990s, every Army division had a SHORAD battalion to protect it. In 2017, none of the 10 active divisions had one.

Last year, the Army re-established an active SHORAD battalion in Germany. The 5th Battalion of the 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment was stood up with Avengers — modified Humvees with a turret on top and two pods of Stinger missiles. The Avengers were first used by the Army in 1990, but in recent years most had been relegated to the National Guard or stored in depots.

AN/TWQ-1 Avenger
Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 263rd Air Defense Artillery, South Carolina National Guard, send a stinger missile downrange from the Humvee-mounted Avenger missile system at Range 91 near Oro Grande, N.M., Oct. 23, 2011. (Photo Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Alejandro Sias)

A total of 72 Avengers were pulled out of mothballs last year from Letterkenny Army Depot in Pennsylvania, Holler said. Half are now with the 5-4 ADA and the others are ready for issue at a pre-positioned equipment depot in Germany.

The plan is to eventually have 10 SHORAD battalions again to defend maneuver units and other critical assets within each of the Army’s divisions, Holler said. These will be stood up incrementally over time, he explained, with the next four between now and 2024.

The Avengers have multiple optics, range-finders and a forward-looking infrared receiver or FLIR monitor. It’s difficult to see some of the smaller drones with the naked eye, whereas radars can pick them up and direct the Avenger turret to lock onto them.

When the Avengers were pulled out of depot storage last year, some were modified with a new “Slew-to-Cue” Avenger Targeting Console. This enables the turret to automatically turn and lock onto targets provided by remote radars, Cook said.

The remainder of the Avengers that didn’t get Slew-to-Cue last year will receive it as part of an ongoing two-phase Modification Service Life Extension Program known as SLEP, said Holler. All Avenger consoles should be upgraded by the end of September 2020, he said.

The second phase of the SLEP upgrade includes installation of a Mode 5 Identification Friend or Foe, a new fire-control computer, and converting analog communications equipment in the Avengers to digital communications. It also includes a new air-conditioning and heating unit and a new .50-caliber machine gun. The Phase II upgrades are scheduled to begin in the 4th quarter of FY 2020 and continue through FY 2023, Holler said.

Along with the battalion of Avengers that stood up last year in Germany, the active Army also has four separate Avenger batteries: one in Korea, one at Fort Sill, one at Fort Campbell, Kentucky; and one with the Global Response Force at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Eventually these battalions will upgrade from Avengers to the new Maneuver SHORADs on a Stryker platform with two hellfire missiles, a 30mm chain gun, a 7.62 machine gun and four Stinger missiles. The first M-SHORAD prototypes are expected to roll off the assembly line in late July.

U.S. Army Stryker A1 IM-SHORAD
Rendering of a U.S. Army Stryker A1 combat vehicle equipped with Leonardo DRS Initial Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (IM-SHORAD) mission equipment package. (Photo Courtesy of Leonardo DRS)

The Army is also planning to stand up Indirect Fire Protection Capability, or IFPC units, in both the active component and National Guard to defend fixed and semi-fixed assets at corps and division-level, Holler said.

These battalions, currently fielded with the Land-based Phalanx Weapons System, or LPWS, used to counter rockets, artillery and mortars — also known as the C-RAM system — will eventually transition to a new IFPC capability as well, he said.

LPWS C-RAM System
Land-based Phalanx Weapon System (LPWS), a Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Mortar (C-RAM) system operated by the U.S. Army

Original story by Gary Sheftick, Army News Service



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