Maneuver SHORAD: First Success for Army Acquisition Reform?
To date, the U.S. Army’s efforts to reform its elephantine acquisition system has been focused on organizational and process changes. Some of these, such as the structure of the new Futures Command as well as its authorities and responsibilities, have yet to be defined. Others, particularly the cross-functional teams, are underway but have not yet produced any results.
A relatively short time has passed since the Army Chief of Staff, General Mark Milley and then-Acting Army Secretary, Ryan McCarthy, announced their intentions to radically alter the acquisition system. Nevertheless, it is not too early to look for signs that the Army’s leaders intend, as the old saying goes, to put their money where their mouths are, and actually procure something in a new, and hopefully, faster way. The Army’s leadership needs some early successes to justify its reform efforts and secure its nascent revolution against the inevitable attempts at rollback. The sooner, the better.
A good candidate for a quick victory is a program called the Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (Maneuver SHORAD or M-SHORAD). Following the end of the Cold War, with U.S air superiority uncontested, the Army concluded that it would not face a threat from hostile aircraft for the foreseeable future. Facing the need to reduce force structure and economize, the decision was made to disinvest in tactical air defenses. The number of battalions equipped for short-range air defense fell from a high of 26 in 2004 to just nine today. Of these, seven are in the National Guard while just two are still part of the Active Component.
While U.S. air defense capabilities declined, the threat grew. Potential adversaries have invested in an impressive array of manned and unmanned aerial systems both for strike operations and the conduct of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Furthermore, the once-uncontested ability of U.S. airpower to dominate the skies and provide a blanket of protection for Army units, particularly in the early days of a future conflict, have been placed in doubt by decades of investments by Russia, China and other states in advanced, integrated air defenses. Almost overnight, the Army found that it would have only limited protection from hostile air operations in a future conflict. Maneuver forces, in particular, lacked any survivable tactical air defense capability.
Recognizing this unacceptable capability gap, General Milley took action. He ordered warehouses and depots to be searched for Cold War-era Stinger man-portable anti-aircraft missiles. He resurrected the Avenger system, a Humvee with a Stinger-firing turret. The Army also initiated an effort to field an interim M-SHORAD capability based on mature technologies ahead of a program of record.
In furtherance of this last objective, the Army conducted a showcase of potential interim solutions. One participant was the Iron Dome system built by the Israeli firm, Rafael. Another was a General Dynamics-Boeing offering of a Stryker vehicle with an advanced turret based on the old Avenger design but upgraded with new sensors and able to carry multiple weapons such as a variant of the AIM-9X air-to-air missile, the Apache Longbow anti-tank missile and a .50 machine gun. In the near future, this system could be upgraded to include a tactical laser weapon. In a separate test conducted by the Army, Raytheon successfully demonstrated its advanced pedestal-mounted Stinger launcher atop a Stryker.
In a testament to how effective it can be when unshackled, U.S. defense companies responded to the Army’s requirement for an interim M-SHORAD solution with additional options. At last October’s annual convention of the Association of the U.S. Army, a number of potential candidates were on display. One was a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle from Oshkosh with a Boeing-built turret. Another was a BAE Systems offering consisting of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle mounting a turret equipped with sensors, a 30mm cannon, a missile launcher and electronic warfare systems.
The Army needs to pull the trigger on the procurement of an interim M-SHORAD system. The Army should not wait for its larger acquisition reform plans to unfold. Maneuver forces need protection now. The Army leadership needs to demonstrate that they will not allow old acquisition habits to continue to hobble modernization and put soldiers’ lives in danger.
Daniel Gouré, Ph.D., is a vice president at the public-policy research think tank Lexington Institute. Goure has a background in the public sector and U.S. federal government, most recently serving as a member of the 2001 Department of Defense Transition Team. You can follow him on Twitter at @dgoure and the Lexington Institute @LexNextDC. Read his full bio here.