One of the major lessons of the war between the Azeri forces and the Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020, was the great vulnerability of force support sites, such as logistics zones, command posts, and fortifications, to modern artillery systems coupled with reconnaissance drones. And if the Armenian anti-aircraft defenses managed to keep the Azeri fighters at a distance, they were greatly idle in the face of the small reconnaissance drones directing the fire of the opposing artillery. Beyond this example, the increased range and accuracy of modern and future artillery systems, whether conventional artillery or rockets, coupled with the increasingly arrival massive drones and cruise missiles now pose a very high threat to all Allied infrastructures present within 100 km of the line of engagement. However, if it is possible to deport, thanks to modern communication systems, part of the chain of command outside this lethal zone, the logistical support points must remain close to the units they are responsible for. argue.
Traditionally, the US Army protected its logistics and command sites using the Patriot anti-aircraft and anti-missile system, as well as relying on the air superiority of the US Air Force, and by staying out of range of the opposing artillery. From now on, this device is no longer sufficient, faced with 2S35 Koalitsa-sv guns firing shells more than 40 km away, Tornado-S systems with a range of 120 km, as well as by the multiplication of drones, whether reconnaissance or kamikaze, and which can potentially evolve in swarms. This is the reason why, as part of the Indirect Fire Protection Capability or IFPC program, itself integrated into super program BIG 6, the US Army has undertaken to equip itself with an anti-drone and anti-missile system capable of intercepting mortar and artillery shells, to protect its sites and infrastructures positioned within the range of action of enemy systems .
And it is in this context that the US Army has, at the end of April, started an intensive testing phase of the prototypes competing for this IFPC program on the White Sands range in New Mexico. Two systems are opposed in this category, the famous Iron Dome of the Israeli Rafael associated with the American Raytheon with a version designated Sky Hunter and potentially produced locally, and a system of the American Dynetics which would be, according to Defensenews.com, based on Raytheon's AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile as well. The final contract would cover no less than 400 launch systems, and the required number of missiles to implement them.
Recent news in Israel naturally gives Sky Hunter a serious advantage derived from the Iron Dome, which has shown, whatever may be said, remarkable performance in the face of the saturating attacks launched by Hamas in the past few days. Not only did the Iron Dome show a given effectiveness of nearly 95% for rockets actually targeting inhabited and potentially dangerous areas, but the system was able to repel attacks designed and sized to exceed its own. capabilities. To be perfectly clear, today, apart from the Iron Dome, it does not hesitate any system that would have been able to do the same on the planet, especially since it showed remarkable reliability during the duration of the crisis, as was the case in 2019 during the previous Hamas offensive.
In fact, Dynetics' proposal will have a hard time establishing itself objectively against its competitor, especially since the AIM-9X missile, it is very efficient, also costs between 4 and 6 times more expensive than the Tamir who equips the Iron Dome. But the US Army's operational context is far removed from protecting Israeli towns from Hamas rocket attacks. In addition, the American offer can be based on two specific assets: firstly, the firing envelope of the AIM9X is more extensive than that of the Tamir, making it possible in particular to intercept targets much faster and more maneuverable than the Israeli system cannot, which relies on the complementarity of the Iron Dome, Arrow and David Sling systems to cover the entire spectrum from mortar shells to ballistic missiles. In fact, with the Sidewinder, the US Army system would very effectively complement the Patriot system and the THAAD anti-ballistic system in the face of all types of threats, apart from ultralight drones.
Second, and to like the Norwegian system NASAM, the AIM9X used for anti-aircraft defense could come from stocks of obsolete missiles of the US Air Force and the US Navy. Indeed, an air-to-air missile, like an airplane, has only a limited potential in terms of the number of hours flown. This is why combat aircraft most often use training missiles with only seeker apart from combat missions. Beyond this potential, the missile must be completely overhauled and rebuilt, which costs almost as much as acquiring a new missile. However, with the intensification of tensions in the world, combat missions carrying armed missiles are increasing causing rapid wear and tear of ammunition stocks. In this context, the transfer of missiles at the end of their potential to terrestrial systems represents a significant advantage.
Let us also recall that the priority axis of the US Army in the field of anti-aircraft, anti-drone and C-RAM (Cruise-Roquette-Artillerie-Mortier) protection remains directed energy weapons, and in particular the high energy laser programs, with the programs DE-SHORAD (Direct Energy SHORAD) anti-drones mounted on Stryker, and especially the High Energy Laser, or HEL, which is developing a 300 kW laser capable of destroying cruise missiles, and which also belongs to the IFPC program. The objective for the US Army is to have the first HEL as the first IFPC-Missile systems currently tested by the end of the year 2023, to begin the first deployments from 2024. The complementarity of the missile systems, HEL and Patriot will offer, at this time, a very effective protection for the sites and infrastructures of the US Army in the face of many forms of attack.
The fact remains that the modernization programs of the US Army, including those belonging to the BIG 6 super program, are today threatened by budgetary arbitrations which are likely to be unfavorable while priority would be given to the renewal of naval resources and American airlines. It is therefore probable that the BIG 6 will see, in the years to come, amputated of some branches, whereas Biden administration appears determined to keep defense budget under control. Some programs, such as the FARA and FLRAA helicopters of the Futur Vertical Lift pillar, and the OMFV program to replace the Bradleys, appear too critical to initiate, or even slow down. The same goes for the HEL laser component of the IFPC, directed energy weapons being considered strategic by the Pentagon. In fact, the IFPC-Missiles program is now evolving with a sword of Damocles hanging over its head, and only very encouraging results and an irreproachable performance-price ratio will be able to ensure a certain durability.