In the second test of a new radar-linking system, air and missile defense soldiers on Thursday shot down a low-flying cruise missile, while tracking and destroying a high-altitude, short-range ballistic missile.
It was the final live-fire exercise in a limited user test of the Army's Integrated Battle Command System, or IBCS, at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.
IBCS is being developed to link Sentinel, Patriot and other radar systems across long distances so they can relay targeting information to Patriot missile launchers in an effort to meet future complex air and missile threats.
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The Army currently has a "litany of systems that get after unmanned aerial systems, ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, airplanes, rotary-wing aircraft" and other threats, said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Martin, who witnessed Thursday's test.
"What we see in the future fight is that these systems, and their follow-on systems, need to be linked together," Martin told reporters during a roundtable discussion. "The Integrated Battle Command System is at the center of delivering that like nothing else we have now or anybody else has."
Last week, soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, completed a similar test of the IBCS that allowed the unit to track and destroy two cruise missiles with Patriot interceptor missiles while under an electronic warfare attack that jammed one of the integrated fire-control network relays.
Thursday's test did not include an electronic warfare challenge, but the "jamming will show back up" in the Initial Operational Test and Evaluation phase next year, program officials said.
The limited user test (LUT), which is scheduled to end in mid-September, has been far more successful than the first LUT of IBCS, which suffered multiple software challenges and resulted in the program being delayed by four years, said Brig. Gen. Brian Gibson, director of the Air and Missile Defense Cross Functional Team.
"In the first LUT, we couldn't get the car out of the garage," he explained.
Army officials acknowledged that the roughly $2.5 billion program must still overcome more complex tests in the future before it is ready for fielding.
"If we had it our way, we would like it to take less time, but the capability nevertheless is critical as we go into the future and face near-peer adversaries in a warfighting environment that none of us have seen before," Martin said.
The Pentagon is scheduled to make a Milestone C production decision on the program Nov. 20 and begin Initial Operational Test and Evaluation 13 months from now, said Col. Phil Rottenborn, project manager for Program Executive Office Missiles and Space, adding that the service hopes to be at initial operating capability for IBCS in late fiscal 2022.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct that the missiles shot down were not simulated, that one was a short-range ballistic missile and that last week's test jammed a fire-control network relay. It also corrects the overall cost of the program.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.