Thursday, 16 June 2016

US Army Grapples With Short-Range Air Defense Gap in Europe

The US Army has wrapped up a review of possible short-range air defense weapons from around the world and is working to fill a critical gap in Europe.

“We have just done what I would call an international scrub that we are putting together on every technology that we can find in the world that addresses this particular concern we have,” Katrina McFarland, the Army’s acquisition chief, said during the ComDef conference at Eurosatory, a large land warfare exhibition, Tuesday.

The Army is also working to address a capability gap in the short-range air defense mission, dubbed SHORAD, within military labs. The activities include demonstrating a launcher that can shoot a wide variety of missiles.

“Where are we? We are better off than we thought we were and so we have at least the possibility of moving very quickly. And where we have gaps, we have already started providing technological solutions both internationally as well as organically to the US,” she said.

When asked to elaborate on the possible technological solutions the Army has begun to provide, McFarland said she couldn’t elaborate and indicated there is more to come soon.

US Army leadership in Europe, as well as many countries in the region, have warned there is a growing gap in short-range air defense.

Even the National Commission on the Future of the Army singled out the mission area as having an “unacceptable modernization shortfall” in its report released in February.

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the US Army Europe commander, told Defense News during an interview in Poland last week he has similar concerns. For him, the biggest worry is countering unmanned aerial vehicles. “That is my SHORAD concern, especially if there’s like a swarm,” he noted, adding there is a lot of work being done to develop the capability.

Recently, the Army conducted a river crossing exercise in Romania where the Romanians provided a SHORAD capability to counter such threats as aerial drones, Hodges said, and at Poland's Anakonda exercise this month, the Army brought Avengers from the US National Guard for a live-fire, air-defense drill.

Hodges’ chief of staff, German Army Brig. Gen. Markus Laubenthal, said Germany and the US both have a capability gap when it comes to the SHORAD portfolio.

Laubenthal told Defense News last week directly following a bridge crossing exercise in Chelmno, Poland, part of Anakonda, that Avenger systems were used that morning to secure the bridge, but “this is a very scarce capability, so between the assault rifle and Patriot there is not enough between to tackle short-range air defense challenges.”

He added, “I think this is a common ground where we need to work together to find a solution. I think that is a good opportunity and a great chance to come up with something with both nations and we are not alone.”

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