The U.S. Army has just put more than a billion dollars into a new air defense system called IM-SHORAD to protect soldiers from drone attacks. It is a vital mission – but the last time the Army tried to develop something like this the project failed horribly. And even if the new system works as intended, serious questions remain.
The U.S. has enjoyed air superiority, if not air supremacy, in every conflict for decades. American planes have swept the enemy aircraft from the sky or destroyed them on the ground. The last time an American soldier was killed by enemy air attack was during the Korean War. As a result, while the Russians and others have continued to develop generations of armored vehicles carrying surface-to-air missiles or cannon, U.S. tactical air defense has been steadily wound down. By 2005 the U.S. Army had only a handful of Avengers, essentially Hummers mounting four or eight light Stinger missiles.
In 2015 the Army identified a critical gap in its short-range air-defense (SHORAD) capability as the threat of drones emerged:
“Since 2005…The use of unmanned aerial systems (UASs – drones) has increased exponentially, and UASs have been used successfully by both sides in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict,” noted the Congressional Research Service.
The threat was underlined in 2018 when Iraqi forces supported by the U.S. trying to re-take Mosul came under sustained attack by waves of small, grenade-dropping drones. USAF jets ruled the skies above, but were no use against quadcopters flying at a few hundred feet.
In response to an urgent needs request, the Army fast-tracked a selection process for a new Initial Maneuver, Short-Range Air Defense (IM-SHORAD) vehicle.