By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
Now that Congress has directed the U.S. Army to deploy a stop-gap cruise missile defense system, Boeing has a proposal for Washington: buy affordable, buy fast, and buy local.
To fulfill the Congressional directive for a cruise missile defense, the Pentagon announced the new priority known as the Indirect Fire Protection Capability Program (IFPC). Boeing is pitching a plan to upgrade the U.S. Army’s existing Avenger missile launcher to meet the capabilities of cruise IFPC.
But Boeing could face an uphill battle. Competitor Raytheon is widely seen as the favorite to win the IFPC project with one or both of its existing cruise missile defense systems: the Israeli Iron Dome or Norwegian National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS). Lockheed Martin is also reportedly proposing a missile battery option for IFPC, but has said little about the details.
Upgrading Cruise Missile Defense
Earlier this year, the Army began speeding up plans to rebuild its missile defense systems. Part of the plan includes improving capabilities for intercepting and neutralizing cruise missiles, which travel at a lower speed than ballistic missiles but are more difficult to detect. Since the Cold War ended, much of the nation’s missile defense platform has focused on higher tech ballistic missiles with systems like the well-known Terminal High Altitude Aerial Defense and Patriot platforms.
But lower-tech cruise missiles are still a threat – particularly the Russian-made 9K720 Iskander (pictured above) – and Congress has now told the Army to get moving on finding a system to deter them.
The budget for the the IFPC amounts to about $350 million, which the recently-enacted National Defense Authorization Act authorizes for “acceleration of cruise missile defense.” That law specifically asks the Army to purchase an interim IFPC system to install by 2020 rather than continue to develop its own new one.
Many defense industry analysts consider Raytheon’s NASMAS and Iron Dome the leading contenders to win an Army bid for the IFPC. In fact, a House-passed version of the NDAA directed the Army specifically to use Iron Dome for the American IFPC mission.
But Boeing officials say their upgraded Avenger missile defense platform could cost less, be ready to deploy sooner, support American jobs, and be just as, if not more capable for the mission.
“As the original Avenger manufacturer, Boeing can rapidly execute an affordable interim IFPC solution to counter current cruise missile threats against our military forces and nation,” said Boeing Director of Missile and Weapon Systems Sales and Marketing Rich Choppa.
“By modifying existing Avenger platforms with our live-fire tested Universal Weapons Interface Controller, the Army can achieve an Initial Operating Capability (IOC) to counter the cruise missile threat in 12 months and can achieve a cost savings of as much as 30 percent.”
Boeing estimates such a schedule would be 12 months faster than the Norwegian-made NASAMS batteries. From an Alabama perspective, Boeing employs more than 3,000 in its production facility in Huntsville – jobs that would be supported by the Army choosing to upgrade the Avenger missile launcher.
“The Army has a unique cruise missile defense challenge, and interim upgrades to the Avenger get real capability to warfighters quickly and affordably, all powered by our Alabama workforce,” Choppa said.
Raytheon counters that its systems are proven in Israel and European theaters and are ready to purchase “off the shelf.”
“The U.S. Army is working to modernize its air defense capabilities to respond to a growing threat. Some of America’s allies have developed highly effective systems that are ready now. These off-the-shelf solutions are immediately available from both Israel and Norway,” one defense industry source told Alabama Daily News.
Short Term vs. Long Term
Raytheon also has a missile assembly facility at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville. However, company officials could not say if any work on the Army’s stop-gap cruise missile defense mission would be done at the Huntsville facility.
The AMRAAM interceptor missiles at use for NASAMS are manufactured in Tuscon, Arizona, and parts of the Iron Dome Tamir missile are built by various Raytheon subcontractors, including some in the United States.
A more likely pick-up opportunity for Raytheon’s Alabama facility would be the Army’s larger, longer-term cruise missile defense system needed by 2023. Their proposed “Skyhunter” and “Skyceptor” systems would be an American-made versions of the Israeli Iron Dome and David’s Sling air and missile defense systems and possibly grow the company’s footprint in North Alabama.
Boeing says “100 percent” of the work for an Avenger IFPC upgrade would be done at its Huntsville, Alabama facility.
Reached by phone and email, Army officials overseeing the IFPC could not yet comment on where exactly the Army is with a decision or how soon it might come.