All-round strengthening of the US Army's SHORAD capabilities

Traditionally, Western armies, particularly those of NATO, have always based the anti-aircraft protection of their land units largely on the assurance of having air superiority on the battlefield. And even today, in the European theater for example, NATO/EU forces reinforced by part of the American forces, would be able to field 2500 fighter planes, including 900 modern (Rafale, Typhoon, F22…), while Russia and its allies could only field 1300, including 450 modern ones (Su30/34/35). In fact, the need for close anti-aircraft defense did not appear critical, and the SHORAD systems were gradually eliminated from inventories, reaching the end of their operational life. This was the case, for example, of the Franco-German ROLAND, or the American Chaparal.

In addition, the entry into service of MANPADS missiles, such as the Stinger, the Blowpipe or the Mistral, was considered largely sufficient in the face of an increasingly non-existent air threat, with the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact. But, since 2017, the US Army, along with the US Marines Corps, have radically changed paradigm, and launched several programs aimed at recovering an anti-aircraft self-protection capability as quickly as possible. This initiative, which sometimes tends towards feverish haste, is based on several concomitant factors:

  • The entry into service of new Russian and Chinese access denial systems, such as the S-400 and the HQ-16, whose range is sufficient to prohibit the exercise of Western air superiority over its forces
  • The entry into service of new missiles, such as stealth cruise missiles, whose trajectory and very small radar surface make them invisible to area protection systems, such as the Patriot or the SAMP/T Mamba
  • The entry into service of drones and kamikaze drones, also impossible to detect and destroy by traditional systems, although they make it possible to collect crucial tactical information about the adversary.
C RAM on trailer Defense News | CIWS and SHORAD | Defense Contracts and Calls for Tenders
The C-RAM close protection system on trailer

And in fact, in two years, the US Army has launched no less than 4 programs aimed at expanding and strengthening its capabilities in the field of anti-aircraft self-defense:

  • The modernization of Stingers missiles, with a new, more sensitive seeker, and the possibility of equipping the missile with a proximity fuse to destroy drones that cannot be directly impacted by the missile, because they are too small.
  • The redeployment of the Avengers systems, an octuple launcher of Stingers missiles mounted on a Humvee vehicle, and linked to the unit command systems.
  • The strengthening of C-RAM systems, derived from the CIWS Phalanx system which constitutes the ultimate protection of many military ships, with the possible addition of the Israeli Iron Dome system of which 2 batteries have been acquired, to protect sites of high tactical value ( Command post, logistics base etc.)
  • And finally, the IM-SHORAD program of 144 Stryker armored vehicles mounted with an anti-aircraft turret from the Italian Leonardo equipped with Stingers, Hellfire missiles and a 30mm cannon.

However, we cannot help but notice the chaos constituted by all these programs, launched in obvious haste, and which mix different technologies, different systems, it is up to the military to do something with them. We also cannot help but compare these 4 programs with the Russian Pantsir program or Tunguska before it, concentrating in a single system all the issues addressed by the 4 American SHORADs. Certainly, the Pantsir S1/2 has not only had success in Syria, and it has notably shown weaknesses against drones. But the coherence of the system, and theentry into service of the Pantsir SM in 2021, will bring a clear advantage to the Russians in this area.

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