Air Defense: Stryker MSL Saves SHORAD


September 24, 2017: Since 20o8 Russia has revived the Cold war and forced NATO countries to raise their defense budgets so they could boost their military capabilities. Some items were more immediate than others. One of the more obvious needs was reviving short-range air defense (SHORAD) capabilities that were very important during Cold war era. But after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 SHORAD became largely meaningless because no other potential threat had something as large and formidable as the Red Air Force.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq created more new threats that caused resources to be diverted from low priority items like SHORAD. Not only were few new SHORAD systems developed but existing systems were neglected and many SHORAD systems were decommissioned (especially in Europe). Fortunately for United States they decided to keep work on the new Avenger system going even though it was just coming into use when the Cold War ended. Avenger was basically a turret with 8 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and an optical tracker together with infra-red system. This turret was mounted on a Humvee chassis. Avenger was later provided with the capability to get targeting data from nearby air defense radar systems. As a result of this effort the American armed forces have 700 M1097 Avenger vehicles. It should be noted that U.S. also experimented with M2 Bradley variant called M6 Linebacker in the 1990s but it was abandoned in 2006 due to the lack of airborne threat. That changed two years later as Russia became more aggressive against its neighbors.

Thus equipped the American military has some SHORAD capability as they sent more units to East Europe where the Russian threat was very real and often visible just across the borders of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. For example during NATO exercise Anaconda in Poland American units were accompanied by Avenger system which also performed live firing. Moreover the Avenger units were added to an American armored brigade combat team being deployed in Poland.

Noting the success and low cost of Avenger the Department of Defense sought an “enhanced Avenger” based on the larger (three times heavier) and better protected Stryker wheeled armored vehicle. This quickly resulted in a new Stryker variant called MSL (Maneuver SHORAD Launcher). The MSL Stryker is essentially made up of a modernized Avenger air defense system put on the back of a Stryker. Compared to old Avenger system mounted on a Humvee the new one can use a multitude of different missiles like AIM 9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and AGM-114 Hellfire II air to ground missiles adapted for use on ground vehicles. This had already been done with Sidewinder and been demonstrated with Hellfire. Furthermore it was now possible to mount a 30mm autocannon or even a laser to counter drones. Thanks to the Stryker 8x8 chassis the MSL systems had better off road capability and protection than the smaller and older Humvee design.

The Stryker MSL will serve not only as self-propelled air defense for moving army formations from enemy close air support aircrafts or attack helicopters but also as an anti-tank system when using Hellfire missiles. The U.S. Army expects to have SHROAD in service by 2019.

America and the West was fortunate that new SHROAD systems, and equipment that made them work, were already in development when the Cold War ended and not abandoned entirely during the 1990s and the War on Terror. The return of the Russian Cold War era threat made it an easy decision to revive the Cold War era SHORAD systems to deal with the threat that was suddenly there again. --Przemysław Juraszek




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