Drones or unmanned vehicles are becoming a major threat as more and more countries are developing and relying on it. The latest conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia also saw extensive use of drones.
Thus, with the imminent threat of drones, it is important to be able to defend against them in case of a confrontation. While the US Defence forces boast air superiority with its most advanced and lethal fighter jets, it has recognised its deficiency in its short-range air-defence (SHORAD) capability.
“Since 2005, there has been a dramatic increase in air and missile platforms that could threaten US ground forces. The use of unmanned aerial systems (UASs) has increased exponentially, and UASs have been used successfully by both sides in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Furthermore, fixed-wing aircraft, attack helicopters, and cruise missiles continue to pose a significant threat to US ground forces.,” stated the Congressional Research Service in 2018.
As a result, Congress has already poured billions of dollars to materialise the Initial Maneuver Short Range Air Defense (IM-SHORAD). General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS), who is partnering with Leonardo DRS and Raytheon was awarded a $1.2 billion contract.
Reportedly, the Army’s initial order is for 28 vehicles, $230 million, however, it plans to acquire 180 such IM-SHORAD Stryker systems.
The IM-SHORAD is an air defence artillery to counter threats from UAS and other Rotary and Fixed Wing aircraft.
According to the official document by the Congress Research Committee, the Army requires Stryker combat vehicle as its chassis with an unmanned turret which will include: two Hellfire missiles capable of hitting the ground and air targets; four Stinger missiles for less-well armoured aerial targets in a launcher; a 30mm automatic cannon; a 7.62 mm machine gun; electronic warfare (EW) package to counter selected enemy systems; and a Rada (Israeli) multi-mission radar capable of tracking both ground and air targets.
However, while the US Army is closing to acquire the weaponry, it is reportedly facing several technical issues before the Army can induct it in service.
The platform went through technological issues including the integration of a 30 mm cannon and Stinger missile system with the platform, reported Janes.
“The accelerated nature of the programme, in order to deploy the critical capabilities to the warfighter, presents unique challenges for us to get the capabilities to the warfighter,” Lieutenant Colonel Beau Barker, the M-SHORAD product manager inside the Program Executive Office (PEO) Missiles and Space, told Janes.
“A specific technical challenge is integrating mature weapon systems such as the M299 launcher, Stinger missile system and 30mm cannon,” he added. “Even though each component is mature by itself, they have to be integrated to work as a system.”
David Hambling of the Forbes recalled the bad fate of DIVAD (Division Air Defense), also called Sergeant York, a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun based on M48 Patton tank featuring twin radar-directed Bofors 40 mm rapid-fire guns. It suffered several obstacles in the development and was ultimately shelved in 1985, eight years after the development began, costing $1.8 billion.
“The radar, designed for air-to-air combat, had difficulty with clutter at ground level and mistook trees waving in the wind as targets. During one test it locked onto a latrine fan; in another trial the fire-control computer aimed the guns at a stand full of watching VIPs, resulting in minor injuries as they scrambled for cover. In one test a target drone had to fly over 18 times before Sergeant York could bring it down,” recalled Hambling in his report.
He concluded that even if SHORAD-IM is successful and is received by 2023, as planned, the world would have moved on in terms of the threat it will face since the program was adopted in 2015.