Air Defense: Ambitious Anti-Aircraft Efforts


January 28, 2024: The American military is receiving twelve of the new IFPC (Indirect Fire Protection Capability), a new anti-aircraft system starting production in 2024. These twelve systems will be armed with launchers for the ground based version of the air-to-air AIM-9X heat seeking missile, which has a range of 40 kilometers. The first twelve systems are for further testing and refining of the IFPC system.

IFPC is mobile and can detect and destroy cruise missiles, UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), and projectiles fired from rocket, artillery, and mortar systems. The IFPC system consists of a launcher carrying interceptor missiles to protect stationary systems from low-altitude threats. Longer range and higher altitude threats from ballistic missiles are already covered with Patriot and the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system

IFPC uses a LTAMDS (Lower Tier Air and Missile Defense Sensor) radar to detect, identify and track multiple incoming projectiles. LTAMDS then launches the appropriate interceptor missile from those it has available. These missiles range from the ground based version of the air-to-air AIM-9X heat seeking missile, which has a range of 40 kilometers, ground based Hellfire (seven kilometers), Stinger (five kilometers) and the Israeli Iron Dome Tamir missile (70 kilometers). There is a modular launcher with appropriately sized cells to hold these missiles. The twelve IFPC systems delivered this year are armed with AIM-9X missiles, with eighteen of these missiles carried in a launcher. This configuration has been tested under realistic conditions, but considerable testing is needed to confirm that the system is ready for a combat environment. At a certain point, IFPC will be sent to Ukraine.

Many Western anti-aircraft systems are being sent to Ukraine and heavily used to intercept the growing number of Russian missile attacks. So far these have provided significant protection for Ukrainian targets from Russian attacks. This will continue only if Ukraine’s supply of foreign air-defense missiles matches the number of Russian missiles attacking. Some of the slower subsonic Russian missiles can be intercepted with automatic gunfire, especially if larger 20mm or 30mm projectiles are used. The trend is towards missiles versus missiles. There is a problem with this trend because missiles are more expensive and difficult to replace, at least compared to machinegun projectiles ranging from 7.62mm to 30mm. Air-defense missiles are much more complex, containing thousands of electronic components. Missile reliability comes from extensive testing and exacting manufacturing processes. This is not only expensive but makes it difficult to quickly increase production of missiles. That means that once peacetime stockpiles are used, replacements are slow to arrive. It is too expensive to stockpile the huge quantity of many different components needed to resume or expand production, especially as those become outdated and even useless much faster than other munitions. This is less of a problem the smaller and simpler the projectiles are. Pistol and rifle bullets consist of several different components but not nearly as many as a missile.

In Ukraine Russia is trying to overwhelm Ukrainian air defenses with more ballistic missiles. This includes a growing number of missiles purchased from North Korea, the only major producer of these missiles willing to sell to Russia. Iran is another potential source but is currently keeping its missiles off the market because Iran has a number of active opponents who can be discouraged from attacking as long as Iran has an ample supply of missiles. Ukraine depends on missiles supplied by their NATO allies but these nations, especially the United States and Germany do not have stockpiles of missiles sufficient to meet the Ukrainian demand. The Americans, in particular, need some missiles for possible use against China. Defending yourself against airborne threats requires a sufficient number of missiles to intercept the larger missiles used for attacking ground targets.




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