By Jenn Judson, Defense News
June 29, 2016 - WASHINGTON — The US Army is turning to foreign systems for an interim solution for advanced protection for its combat vehicles against rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank guided missiles and other threats.
The service’s effort to rapidly integrate already developed solutions is heating up this summer as the Army tests out what will likely be four different solutions on M1 Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Stryker combat vehicles.
Such threats like RPGs aren’t just resident in one theater, but are problems world-wide for armored combat vehicles and it’s only growing, particularly in the Central and European Command area of operations.
Partly spurring the effort is the possibility that Russia is ahead of the US Army when it comes to armor protection as evidenced by the reported survivability of its tanks when up against Ukrainian anti-tank and anti-armor weapons in the ongoing conflict along Ukraine’s border with Russia.
The Army’s laser focus on fighting wars in the Middle East over the last 15 years caused it to prioritize developing other capabilities needed for combat in the CENTCOM arena such as counter-improvised explosive device capabilities like Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected Vehicles.
Three out of four of the solutions the Army will rapidly put through the paces in demonstrations this summer come from foreign countries — with two from Israel — that have, out of necessity, already developed and fielded or are preparing to field active protection systems. The plan is to integrate these systems, following this year’s demonstrations, onto combat vehicles as an interim solution to first be sent to Europe.
While the Army has yet to make its fielding plans known, a widely held belief is that the service will field a brigade’s worth of each vehicle with APS, according to Daniel Goure, an analyst at the Lexington Institute, who is familiar with the program.
“We are always looking for ways to enhance the protection provided in our combat vehicles and recognize Active Protection Systems (APS) as one of our highest priorities towards this end,” according to the Army’s Combat Ground Systems program office spokeswoman Ashley Givens.
The Army is working with the science and technology community to develop the Modular Active Protection System (MAPS), the Army’s S&T cornerstone APS effort, Givens said.
But MAPS — the objective capability — is years away and in the interim the Army needs to address urgent operational needs.
Givens said the Army intends to install and characterize a range of matured and improved commercial APS solutions across the ground combat portfolio.
“By prototyping these integration activities cooperatively with Army S&T, potential APS vendors and our platform integrators, we will be able to posture the Army with solutions that can be more rapidly integrated and greatly reduce both acquisition and operational risk,” she said.
Katrina McFarland, the Army’s acquisition chief, told Defense News this month at Eurosatory, a large land warfare conference in Paris, the service was in the final stages of signing — if it had not already signed — an agreement with Israel to figure out how to integrate its Trophy system onto a US Army combat vehicle.
Trophy — a combined hostile fire detection and active protection system for vehicles — was designed and manufactured by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems for the Israeli government and has performed exceptionally well during border patrols in the Gaza Strip as well as during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, according to Rafael representatives at Eurosatory.
Rafael showed videos of the system in action at its booth, particularly one of Trophy countering an RPG in the close quarters of an urban environment. After what appears to be a deadly direct hit on a tank, the smoke clears to reveal a completely unblemished vehicle, even with soldiers directly exposed to the blast.
Additionally, McFarland said the Army is looking at another Israeli offering — Israeli Military Industry’s (IMI) Iron Fist — and one non-foreign offering Artis Corporation’s Iron Curtain, which originally began as a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program.
McFarland didn’t mention Rheinmetall Defence, a German company, that is also hoping to reach an agreement to test its Active Defense System out on US vehicles.
Of all the systems being tested, it is widely believed that Trophy will be the easiest to integrate. For one, it has DRS Technologies in the US as a partner.
“We’ve partnered with Rafael for the last five years to bring Trophy or Trophy-like technology to the US to meet the evolving survivability requirements of the Army and Marine Corps that was born out of some previous attempts by Rafael to get Trophy into the US market dating back to even [Future Combat System] days,” Mike O’Leary, who is in charge of the effort at DRS, told Defense News.
DRS in turn was able to expand its own survivability technology base, he added.
Trophy is the only system that has been fielded on approximately 100 vehicles and has been used in combat extensively since 2009.
Iron Fist was being developed head-to-head with Trophy to be fielded by the Israeli government, but was never integrated.
Trophy has a unique countermeasure based on multiple miniature explosively formed penetrators in a package sitting on a very fast-acting gimballed launcher, O’Leary said. “That pattern of pellets flies out and intercepts the threat precisely at a certain point on the threat to ensure it defeats away from the platform.”
A large proportion of Trophy today in support of the Israeli production line is produced in the US and DRS has an agreement with Rafael that production for any US program would be done in the US as well, according to O’Leary.
Trophy is also integrated on the Israeli Merkava tank, which is most similar to the Abrams.
“My understanding is that Trophy is going to be probably the easiest, in part because it’s already been done,” Goure said.
He added that Iron Curtain would most likely be integrated onto the Stryker vehicle while Iron Fist would fit best on the Bradley. “I just don’t know what they are going to do about the Rheinmetall system,” Goure said.
Rheinmetall said at Eurosatory that its ADS system is designed to be flexible enough to use on a wide range of vehicles from light to heavy. While Rheinmetall officials said they believed Trophy was destined for Abrams, ADS could most likely go on Stryker platforms but also on Bradleys.
The ADS system has 360-degree, early warning detection and uses redundant electro-optical sensors — which are more effective in multi-hit scenarios — to confirm the threat target which then triggers an optimized effector to disable the incoming warhead, according to Rheinmetall.
Iron Curtain’s unique attribute is that it can potentially defeat targets within inches of vehicles as opposed to meters further out. Iron Fist — designed for Israel’s Namer heavy infantry fighting vehicle — is a system that uses electro-optical jammers, smoke screens and a hard-kill interceptor.
While the Army continues to work within the science and technology community on MAPS, Goure warned that if the Army likes a system that works through the interim effort it might want to “just call it a day and buy a bunch and then use the extra research and development money to go figure out the answer to another big problem it’s got.”