US Army Faces Critical SHORAD Shortage Amid Drone Threat

The US Army faces a severe shortage of Short-Range Air Defense systems, leaving it vulnerable to drone attacks. The Army is relying on two programs, M-SHORAD and IFPC, to address the issue, but experts warn that more investment is needed to counter the growing threat.

Nitish Verma
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US Army Faces Critical SHORAD Shortage Amid Drone Threat

US Army Faces Critical SHORAD Shortage Amid Drone Threat

The US Army is grappling with a severe shortage of Short-Range Air Defense (SHORAD) systems, leaving it vulnerable to the growing threat of swarms of lethal drones. With only 300 aging Avenger air-defense vehicles, each capable of firing infrared-guided Stinger missiles out to a distance of just three miles, the Army lacks adequate protection for its one million active and reserve troops.

Why this matters: The vulnerability of the US Army to drone attacks poses a significant risk to national security and the safety of its troops, highlighting the need for urgent investment in modernizing its air defense capabilities. Failure to address this shortage could have devastating consequences on the battlefield, potentially leading to significant losses and undermining the effectiveness of military operations.

The situation is exacerbated by the proliferation of tiny, inexpensive first-person-view (FPV) drones, which are being weaponized and deployed at an alarming rate of tens of thousands per month. In Ukraine alone, the army launches 100,000 FPV drones every month, accounting for a significant portion of the 1,000 casualties suffered by Russian forces every 30 days.

In contrast to the US Army, the Russian army maintained its SHORAD forces and entered the war in Ukraine with a thousand short-range air-defense vehicles. Despite this advantage, Russian troops still find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer volume of FPV drone attacks.

To address this critical vulnerability, the US Army is relying on two primary programs: the M-SHORAD and the Indirect Fire Protection Capability (IFPC). The M-SHORAD program equips Stryker armored vehicles with a radar, a four-missile Stinger launcher, and a 30-millimeter auto-cannon at a cost of $9 million per vehicle. The Army plans to procure 162 of these vehicles, which falls short of replacing the obsolete Avengers. The IFPC, on the other hand, consists of a cargo truck fitted with an 18-round launcher for Sidewinder or Hellfire missiles, but these vehicles are too large and vulnerable to accompany frontline troops.

However, both the M-SHORAD and IFPC rely on expensive missiles that cost significantly more than the drones they are designed to counter. A single Sidewinder missile carries a price tag of half a million dollars, and the Stinger is no longer in production, with its replacement at least five years away. Under current plans, the US Army's growing SHORAD force could exhaust its ammunition supply after downing just a few tens of thousands of drones, potentially lasting only a month.

Lawmakers on the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee have proposed a new mandate in the fiscal 2025 defense authorization bill, requiring the defense secretary to designate an executive agent responsible for overseeing the department's counter-drone efforts. The executive agent would be tasked with coordinating joint requirements, providing common training, and executing joint research and development activities for counter-drone systems.

The Defense Department's Joint Counter-small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office (JCO), launched in 2020, has been experimenting with and enabling the deployment of various counter-drone weapons. However, much work remains to be done by the DOD to fully field and scale drone attack countermeasures, as well as develop appropriate training mechanisms and doctrine.

To confront this pressing threat, the US Army must double or triple its investment in these new SHORAD vehicles, accelerate their deployment by one to two years, and stockpile significantly more missiles. Failure to do so could leave American soldiers increasingly vulnerable to drone attacks on future battlefields. As Pentagon's top weapons buyer Bill LaPlante warns, it is "getting too expensive" to counter these threats with existing assets like missiles, Navy destroyers, or fighter jets.

Key Takeaways

  • US Army has only 300 aging Avenger air-defense vehicles, leaving troops vulnerable to drone attacks.
  • Tiny, inexpensive FPV drones are being weaponized and deployed at an alarming rate, posing a significant threat.
  • Current US Army programs (M-SHORAD and IFPC) are insufficient to counter the drone threat due to high missile costs.
  • Lawmakers propose a new mandate to oversee counter-drone efforts and coordinate joint requirements.
  • US Army must increase investment in SHORAD vehicles and stockpile more missiles to counter the growing drone threat.