HUNTSVILLE, ALA.: If you fly Russian MiG fighters, Sukhoi attack jets, or Hind helicopters, your life just got a little harder — and in the event of war, potentially much shorter. At the Space & Missile Defense conference here, General Dynamics rolled out the latest variant of their eight-wheel-drive Stryker armored vehicle, with the troop compartment that’s normally in the back replaced with a Boeing-built anti-aircraft turret. Scroll down for our photos of the vehicle, dubbed the Maneuver SHORAD (Short-Range Air Defense) Launcher, or MSL Stryker.
Evolved from the Cold War era Avenger, which mounted Stinger missiles on Humvee, the new turret can mount a wider array of more powerful weapons:
- AI-3s, a ground-launched version of the AIM-9 missiles used by US fighters, with significantly better range and maximum altitude than the old Stinger.
- Longbow Hellfires, originally an anti-tank missile, made famous as the favored weapon of the Predator drone, and suitable for both ground targets and low-flying aircraft like helicopter gunships.
- Hydra 2.75 inch guided rockets;
- 0.50 caliber machineguns;
- and even low-powered lasers capable of burning out quadcopters and other small drones.
The vehicle on display at Huntsville’s Werner von Braun Center mounts Hellfires on one side and AI-3s on the other, as well as a specialized electro-optical sensor on top. But the GD Stryker is just one of a family of anti-aircraft vehicles that Boeing is developing with various partners, as heavy as BAE’s tracked Bradleys and as light as Oshkosh’s Joint Light Tactical Vehicles. A JLTV with anti-aircraft missiles and a machinegun will debut at the enormous Association of the US Army annual conference in Washington, DC this October.
The mission for all these vehicles: highly mobile air defense that can keep pace with frontline units and survive in combat zones– what the Army calls Maneuver SHORAD. There’s been no successful airstrike on US Army forces since 1953, when a North Korean biplane flying low and slow slipped through US defenses, Since 1991, the Army has focused on missile defense and disbanded anti-aircraft units, assuming Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps pilots will rule the air and keep enemy aircraft off their backs.
That assumption no longer holds. On the low end, proliferating drones present targets too low and slow for jet fighters to intercept. On the high end, advanced adversaries like Russia and China have developed anti-aircraft missiles that can keep US planes at bay and sophisticated fighters that can challenge US pilots for control of the air. The new threats are driving all of the services to seek countermeasures, especially a new concept for all-service operations known as Multi-Domain Battle.
But we can’t carry out any kind of operations if our forces are bombed and strafed every time they try to move, like the German reinforcements struggling to reach the D-Day beaches in 1944. That’s what Maneuver SHORAD — and the new Stryker vehicle — are all about. If friendly fighters can’t keep enemy aircraft at bay, the ground troops will shoot them down themselves.