With the evolving threats and the increasing need for more advanced air defense capabilities, the United States Army has been actively on the hunt for a Stinger missile replacement – one that can face the challenges of modern warfare.
Notably, the service is looking for a next-generation missile capable of being faster, jam-resistant, and more adept at engaging challenging targets such as drones.
This ambitious endeavor comes on the heels of escalating tensions and conflicts worldwide, with the recent deployment of Stinger missiles to Ukraine in response to Russia’s invasion underscoring the urgency of the Army’s mission.
To fulfill this mission, the service has awarded contracts to two prominent defense industry leaders, RTX and Lockheed Martin, who will engage in a competitive development process to produce the next-generation interceptor.
The Urgency of Stinger Missile Replacement
The Army’s pursuit of a Stinger missile replacement is no new concept; it has been in the pipeline for quite some time. However, recent events have thrust the program into the limelight, emphasizing its paramount importance in the military’s modernization efforts.
The current situation with Stinger missiles is emblematic of the challenge the Army faces. While the Army no longer manufactures new Stinger missiles, it continues to rely on refurbishing old ones.
In other words, the Army is eager to replace its aging stockpile with a modern and more capable missile system to meet the demand for advanced short-range air defense systems.
Competitive Development: The Two-Phase Approach
Developing the Stinger missile replacement is a complex endeavor, and the Army’s Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space (PEO MS) is at the helm of this critical initiative.
Brig. Gen. Frank Lozano, who heads this office, shared some key insights into the development process during a recent interview with Defense News.
The Army’s timeline for the development of this new interceptor spans five years, and it is divided into two distinct phases.
— Defense News (@defense_news) October 9, 2023
In the initial two years, both RTX and Lockheed Martin will be tasked with developing their respective missiles, followed by the construction of a “very small quantity” of these advanced munitions. This phase culminates in a “fly-off,” where the two missiles will be put to the test in a head-to-head competition.
The outcome of this fly-off will significantly influence the subsequent stages of development. If both missiles demonstrate exemplary performance, the Army plans to continue the competition into the second phase.
During this phase, the two defense giants will be given the opportunity to refine and improve their missile systems in “a few key areas” and produce another round of prototypes. Yet another fly-off competition will then take place, with the Army ultimately selecting one vendor to move into full-scale production.
Brig. Gen. Frank Lozano emphasized the Army’s intention to maintain flexibility throughout the process, stating that the Army seeks to preserve competition for as long as possible.
“If one vendor does very well and the second vendor does very poorly, then we have that decision there at the end of the two-year time period to off-ramp one of the vendors and just proceed with a single vendor for the final three years of the program,” Lozano noted. “We’d really not prefer to do that; we really want to keep that competition as long as possible.”
Next-Gen Interceptor: Advanced Requirements
The capabilities expected of the next-generation interceptor are nothing short of groundbreaking. These missiles will have to fit into the Stinger Vehicle Universal Launch systems on the Maneuver-Short Range Air Defense system turret, as well as being adaptable for man-portable systems. Moreover, they will need to possess a shorter time-to-target, which essentially translates to an advanced rocket motor.
Perhaps one of the most critical requirements is the need for these interceptors to feature countermeasures to fend off electronic warfare threats that have been increasingly observed on fixed-wing aircraft.
In today’s evolving battlefields, electronic warfare has emerged as a critical threat, making this capability a necessity.
Furthermore, the new missile systems must be more effective against unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones. Drones present a unique challenge because they do not emit the same heat signatures as conventional fixed-wing or rotary-wing aircraft. As a result, an advanced seeker is indispensable to ensure effective targeting and interception of these elusive threats.
Progress in Field Deployment
As the Army pushes forward with its plans to develop this cutting-edge air defense system, it has taken concrete steps to address the pressing need for improved short-range air defense capabilities.
Nearly two years ago, the Army introduced an interim solution by fielding a Stryker-based Maneuver-Short Range Air Defense system in Europe, which has been urgently deployed to provide air defense capabilities that can keep pace with maneuver formations in the European theater.
The source of this capability gap was first identified by Gen. Ben Hodges, the then-US Army Europe Commander, in 2016. With these interim short-range air defense systems, the Army swiftly equipped a platoon within the 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment in Europe —which Brig. Gen. Lozano personally visited the unit last month.
The Army is preparing for a user assessment of its Stryker-based air defense system next spring despite earlier delays due to scheduling conflicts. This assessment is crucial for gathering data to inform future decisions regarding production and deployment, playing a pivotal role in enhancing air defense capabilities.
Brig. Gen. Lozano underlined the importance of this user assessment, emphasizing that it would help build the body of test data necessary to support potential future acquisitions of the system. The results of this evaluation will play a pivotal role in shaping the initial operational test and evaluation, which is currently forecast for the fiscal year 2025 or 2026.
The future is set to witness the rise of an interceptor that is faster, more resilient, and better equipped to handle a multitude of threats, heralding a new era in short-range air defense technology.