The Pentagon has recently published an RFI referring to VSHORAD systems, designated as Maneuver Short Range Air Defense Increment 3 (M-SHORAD Inc. 3). The missiles would be integrated with the M-SHORAD Inc. 3 SAM systems based on the Stryker APC, to protect mobile US Army units.
The new missiles are also going to be used in a portable setting (Soldier Portable All Up Round) and shall be compatible with the IM SHORAD's Inc. 1 Stinger Vehicle Universal Launcher (SUVL) - already fielded in the US Army. In practical terms, the above refers to a new generation of MANPADS.
The issued release stressed that the new missile should be characterized by a "similar or higher" performance, when acting against Group 2 and Group 3 UAS (weighing 21 to 55 lbs - 9.25 to 25 kilograms, for group 2, and up to 1320 lbs - up to 600 kilograms, for group 3), fixed-wing aircraft, and helicopters. The missile should also offer better capabilities in detection and tracking of the targets, also being "on its way" to meet the requirements tied to insensitive munitions (IM).
Naturally, the new US-made system shall be prepared for being used in maneuver-based operations. It should be highly modern, secure within the scope of logistics, and resilient when facing a threat in the cyber domain. The US Army is to launch the R&D works and tests of the new solution in FY2023 (beginning on 1st October). Deliveries and manufacturing are to be launched by FY2027.
The Americans expect the new system to be ready for a demonstration in FY2024, including digital simulation, hardware-in-the-loop lab testing, and/or test launches. The system is to be ready for operational demo, with more test launches, in FY2026. The submissions need to be made in the US before Apr. 21st.
The stakes are high, as the procurement concerns 10 thousand MANPADS. They are to be fielded with several hundred M-SHORAD Inc. 3, and legacy M-SHORAD Inc. 1 systems. US Army procured 144 of the latter. They would also be used in a MANPADS setting. The plan to procure that many anti-aircraft missiles is another sign of the US Army regaining interest in SHORAD/VSHORAD capabilities.
The Stinger missile has gained a lot of traction in the public eye when deliveries of these to Ukraine have begun. 1.4 thousand Stingers were handed off. The US Army had been seeking Stinger replacement earlier as well. The missile is becoming obsolete, while large-scale deliveries may be unfeasible, as some of the components are no longer manufactured. Breaking Defense reported in March, that the quantity of those missiles that can be delivered, based on the parts inventory available, is finite.
Between 2020 and 2021, the first RFI concerning 8 thousand missiles was published. Defence24.pl confirmed that information gathered during that RFI would be used by the US Army to make internal decisions on further procurement.
The Americans have not disclosed any details. We know, however, that Poland is among the nations that responded to the request. At the beginning of 2021, as we reported, an agreement was concluded on the delivery of the Polish Piorun MANPADS. A certain number of those systems was delivered to Ukraine, where they have seen successful use. Piorun can be used against air threats at a distance of up to 4 kilometers, flying at altitudes ranging from 10 meters to 6,5 kilometers. The missiles are resistant to countermeasures and can be used even in tough conditions.
How one should interpret the new US RFI? This is yet another RFI concerning MANPADS. Contrary to the one published between 2020 and 2021 it contains a specific schedule for initiation and finalization of works, as well as the date on which the manufacturing would be launched. The number of missiles expected to be acquired went up from 8 to 10 thousand. This may be related to the Ukrainian war, as well as the structural changes in the US Army, and the growing demand for MANPADS.
The aforesaid RFI refers to a new generation system that would become the ultimate solution. The RFI covers requirements regarding the IM, or integration on a self-propelled SAM platform - that is soon to be developed. One may expect that the Americans would continue the development works. Should the system be ordered externally, steps would be made to tailor it to detailed, national requirements tied to the transfer of the manufacturing process to the US. However, even such a solution would be a giant opportunity for the Polish defence industry, should the US Army procure the Piorun MANPADS or its derivatives in a few years. One shall remember that AT-4 is the primary single-use anti-tank weapon in the US Army - this launcher is license manufactured variant of a Swedish design.
Because the new system would be fielded as of 2027, while the Stinger missiles are continuously delivered to Ukraine, the US Army will need to increase its MANPADS capabilities before the final solution is commissioned. Apart from upgrades concerning some of the newer Stingers (Block I), the quantity of which remains limited, orders may be expected, aimed at the acquisition of existing MANPADS, such as Piorun.
This approach has been used widely by the US Army in other areas. For instance, the programme aimed at developing artillery rounds for neutralizing armor (C-DAEM) assumes that a system is to be procured, with a range of up to 130 kilometers. None of the existing solutions offers performance specs like that. The Americans decided to procure the European BAE Systems BONUS Mk 2 munitions. The ammunition has already been put into operational use, while the experience gathered would be utilized to develop the final system.
The plans to procure MANPADS made by the US Army are yet another proof of the growing value of such armament. This is one of the areas where the Polish industry is capable of offering a world-class, series manufactured, operationally and combat-proven solution. This is an opportunity that cannot be missed.