As seen in our interactive map released on Friday, there have been over 78 publicly acknowledged rocket, mortar, and drone attacks against U.S. ports, forts, and air bases in 2020. These attacks placed thousands of American lives at risk within the nearly 45 forward-positioned bases across the globe, due to the strain placed on air defense capacity and the limited air defense capability of the Army’s three operational counter-rocket, artillery, and mortar systems (C-RAM) battalions. The United States relies heavily on its passive defenses, with sensors on every base that alert units to take cover, but cannot defend against the incoming threats to exposed lives and infrastructure.
Last week, the United States top Air Force base in Europe, Ramstein Air Base near Kaiserslautern, Germany, alerted its personnel of a potential incoming missile strike after detecting a “real-world missile launch in the European theater,” although the threat never materialized. The USAF recently put out a $925 million contract notice intended to develop, plan, and provide organic air defense of Ramstein air base, as well as of other air bases in Europe. This plan must address the full spectrum of aerial threats, including Dai-Jiang Innovations variant drones that China may use in the future, as well as Russian cruise missile variants.
The near-peer and rogue adversaries currently own extensive arsenals of equipment that render electronic warfare (EW) technology almost useless, such as their provided anti-standoff jamming, frequency hopping, and advanced encryption abilities. Additionally, the nature of these unmanned threats is rapidly changing, especially as non-state actors turn to commercially-procured drones to drop payloads upon critical assets, and existing EW capabilities fail to account for such changes. In Ukraine, non-state actors have demonstrated the effectiveness of these new tactics, as well as underscored a key flaw in the existing 360-degrees base-defense architecture. Given the low barrier to entry, and the commercial means of acquisition, non-state actors like the Houthi rebels, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and al-Shabab will all likely continue to pursue the use of these low-flying aerial vehicles against U.S. bases and exploit the ‘gaps and seams’ that currently exist. The risk is further exacerbated when it comes to state threats, like China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, who capitalize on these existing weaknesses and develop more advanced technologies.
The combination of rogue and near-peer threats is forcing the United States to invest in effective 360° defense that accounts for these unmanned aircraft systems, standoff over-the-horizon cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, rockets, mortars, and hypersonic glide vehicles. It is an enlarging problem for the whole joint force and allies in defense of their lives, assets, and critical infrastructure. Severely-limited capacity and lack of immediate solutions for 360° land-based defense (the priority), as well as lack of resources for defending all forward-operating land bases, forts, and ports, are causing friction and uncertainty across the joint force.
Since 1968, Air Defense Artillery has been a dedicated United States Army mission with a very limited capacity of actively-deployed ‘Patriot’, THAAD, M-SHORAD, and C-RAM units globally. The United States Air Force is challenging the conceptual limits underlying that mission, as the demand far outweighs Army capacity and capability. Further, the USAF has requested rapid fielding initiatives (RFI) for its air bases instead of waiting for Army RT&E to develop and deploy new air defense systems. Interestingly, the NCR NASAM is not only unique in the sense that it was rapidly deployed after 911 and still not a program of record, but also that it is the only land based 360 cruise missile defense currently deployed by U.S. forces and is operated by the U.S. National Guard. This system offers an rapid opportunity with our Allies to strengthen and expand our comprehensive ‘requirement’ for assured 360 protection and defense in other locations.
The Chief of the USAF, Charles Q. Brown Jr., recently stated that “the Army does not have the resources it will need to defend our air bases,” adding that “I think the Air Force should take that on, should it be an Air Force role” — on looking at taking the air defense mission for its defense of air bases. He later added that the Army’s air defense systems are too large and heavy to defend the Air Force as it maneuvers around island airfields. He also stated: “THAADs and Patriots take a lot of [air]lift”, concluding that he would “like to keep it simple, maybe high-powered microwave or other systems that don’t need a lot of lift.” The Joint Command has taken note and assigned, this past year, an overall Joint Counter Unmanned Aerial Systems Office (for Class 4 and below), and MG Sean Gainey, who has been put in as director.
The U.S. Army is developing the IFPC (Indirect Fire Protection Capability). It will be linked to the IBCS (Integrated Battle Command System), as its mission command component, and will use the Army Integrated Air and Missile Defense (AIAMD) open systems architecture, for its 360° missile defense system. Until then, the U.S. Army will continue to use the antiquated Phalanx weapon system to provide defensive fires of troops and critical infrastructure.
The United States currently operates 1,500 deployed Patriot PAC-3 missiles that could be rigged to fly off of non-organic sensors with a software package that would ensure an effective defense in the near-term. This would also be a cost-effective solution that allows the military to utilize existing systems rather than invest in a costly overhaul of the current architecture. In a worst case scenario, the U.S. could use its current capability while more rapid research, testing, and development of new systems take place.
In 2017, the Rand Corporation produced a study making key recommendations to the Army’s air and missile defense posture, with one recommendation being that the Army should invest in active 360° protection systems on armored vehicles. Since then, the United States Army has purchased two ‘Iron Dome’ batteries and is working to integrate these systems onto the Joint Integrated Fires Network. IFPC is still years away from fielding, but the Army needs to deliver 360° base defense now.
The Army’s current concept to provide 360° base defense through electronic warfare is cumbersome, resource-intensive, and does not fit well within readiness metrics of the multi-domain battlefield. Rather, the United States Marine Corps, in their quest to defend their bases, have the first-ever directed-energy laser system defending their base with Counter-Unmanned Aerial Systems (C-UAS). The capability, called the Compact Laser Weapon System (CLWS), is considered today’s most proven directed-energy solution available to the warfighter. The United States Marine Corps has moved fast on prototyping, delivering, and exercising CLWS capabilities in CENTCOM Forward Operating Base (FOB) defense, with proven C-UAS lethality. CLWS’ low-cost, high-maneuverability, and combat-proven effectiveness make it a ready-now asset that the Army needs, in order to move rapidly on to integrate it into layered 360° FOB defense, M-SHORAD maneuvers with brigade combat teams, and high-altitude missile and air defense systems.”
Lasers and Directed Energy systems will be the solution in the future — within a comprehensive MD architecture. They offer “Unlimited Magazines.”
There is currently no known capability for an adversary to stop a laser, which gives the CLWS DE system a distinct advantage. Department of Defense officials can use the existing USMC authorization to contract CLWS with a low-budget ceiling, to be developed and delivered to units in less than 12 months. Further delays will continue to leave American forces and infrastructure vulnerable to air attack, as CLWS is the cost-effective and rapid answer to the Army’s decades-old problem of 360° defense. CLWS must be developed, CLWS must be integrated, and CLWS will deliver.
Current point AMD (air and missile defense) systems cannot continue to fight the legacy fight in a heavily contested, multi-domain conflict. CLWS DE can deter and conduct active engagement in support of AMD systems that cannot defend themselves, without firing a missile. CLWS DE weapons systems have great potential to provide the needed capability across the entire joint force and ensure that proper defenses are in place to deter modern threats, and therefore must be considered by the United States among other emerging systems.
In the future, this CLWS capability will play an integral role in providing 360° defense of U.S. military bases, especially against the evolving nature of state and non-state technology and proliferation of unmanned aerial systems, as a cost-effective means of waging war. Though development is still required in the field of directed energy, CLWS has already proven effective, and adds another layer of defense to these forward-operating bases. Rather than searching for an all-inclusive defense system that will challenge limited resources and capacities, the United States must continue to pursue specific solutions that will address specific threats and, in turn, bolster the layered defense of the lives most at risk. Lasers and Directed Energy Systems – in Space, at Sea, and on Land – offer the potential for impactful Strategic Deterrence and comprehensive 360 (+) Defense!”