Since the creation of the main battle tank during World War I, there has been a constant arms race between the development of anti-armor weapons and vehicle protection systems, however “Weapons’ ability to penetrate armor, however, has advanced faster than armor’s ability to withstand penetration”.
One of the technology being used to enhance the survivability is Active Protection Systems, or APS, that uses sensors and radar, computer processing, fire control technology and interceptors to find, target and knock down or intercept incoming enemy fire such as RPGs and Anti-Tank Guided Missiles, or ATGMs.
Israeli’s TROPHY deployed aboard Merkava IV tanks has proven 100 percent effective during multiple engagements in and around the Gaza Strip since its fielding, and especially during the Israel Defense Forces’ 2014 Operation Protective Edge. In dense, urban terrain and an intense electromagnetic environment, TROPHY™ successfully defeated attacks by both short-range, tandem RPG-29 rockets and long-range Kornet missiles. No tanks equipped with TROPHY™ suffered hits, casualties or residual effects – nor did any accompanying infantry troops – during any of these engagements.
Russia has introduced Afganit active protection system in its new Armata T-14 tank and is claimed to be a generation ahead of the Shtora, Arena and Trophy APS systems Russian Armata . In the operation to liberate the city of Aleppo, the Syrian army used a company of T-90 MA tanks. The APS on the T-90 MA (Shtora) tanks neutralized American BGM-71 TOW-2 anti-tank missiles.
Battle-tested and in continuous production, TROPHY™ is now being fast-tracked to qualification aboard U.S. combat vehicles as part of a broader assessment of APS technologies. The US Army is speeding up development work on its future Modular Active Protection System for combat vehicles. The MAPS is being developed as an open architecture system with a common controller, and will be capable of installation on a variety of ground vehicles. Vehicles slated for use of APS systems are infantry fighting vehicles such as Bradleys along with Stykers, Abrams tanks and even tactical vehicles such as transport trucks and the emerging Humvee replacement, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.
APS on Abrams tanks, quite naturally, is the kind of protective technology which could help US Army tanks in tank-on-tank mechanized warfare against near-peer adversary tanks, such as a high-tech Russian T-14 Armata tank.
The first phase of MAPS development will be completed in 2019, Erik Kallio, assistant associate director for Ground Systems Survivability, said in the same interview. There is also a plan to begin using the first prototypes of a common controller toward the end of the year. Once the common controller is available, the Army will begin “layered testing,” mixing both soft-kill and hard-kill countermeasures, Col. Glenn Dean told Defense News in a March 27 interview at the Detroit Arsenal in Michigan.
Successful fielding of APS will reduce the effectiveness of anti-tank guided missiles and shoulder-fired weapons such as rocket propelled grenades. This will change battlefield dynamics by increasing the importance of cannon, anti-tank guns and tanks,” according to Military Balance 2016 report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Israeli firm Rafael’s TROPHY APS system
There are a number of APS products on the market, but a highly mature system currently being tested by the US Army is the TROPHY™ system. As the Army continues to develop MAPS, it says it is pursuing parallel plans to identify and field a viable, non-developmental APS on its combat vehicles in two years. Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, chief of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, said existing APS technologies have proven effective against existing and emerging threats and the time has come to deliver that capability to soldiers and Marines in harm’s way.
TROPHY™ sensors detect and identify incoming threats anywhere around the vehicle. Then hard-kill countermeasures are fired to neutralize the ordnance before it can strike the vehicle. With no extra weighty armor or decrease in vehicle performance, TROPHY™ dramatically improves the survivability of the crew and vehicle under its protection.
The system employs actively scanned radar to provide continuous 360-degree protection of the vehicle. Radar is considerably superior to other sensors as a primary threat detector due to its greater effectiveness in adverse combat conditions like smoke, sand, dust, mud, glare and battlefield explosions. U.S. Army requirements demand that an APS must be capable of protecting vehicles under all conditions.
Once the threat is detected, the onboard computer classifies the threat and, if a hit is probable, the countermeasure launcher slews into position and launches a tight pattern of explosively formed penetrators that neutralize the warhead before impact or detonation. TROPHY™ allows the user to customize its protection based on existing threats, the operational environment, and published rules of engagement.
Emphasizing the new concept of Networked Threat Awareness and Response, TROPHY™’s job isn’t done when an enemy missile is defeated. The same sensors that track the shots at the vehicle also paint a target on the shooter. The system automatically locates the shooter, allowing an immediate response from the crew. They can focus on returning fire, maneuvering out of contact, activating slew-to-cue weapons and sensors or calling for fire support.
At the same time, TROPHY™ automatically transmits the engagement data to the battle management network, giving friendly forces immediate enemy information. Free from worry about enemy rockets and missiles, and empowered with unparalleled threat awareness, armored forces can now regain their signature dominant offensive power and momentum on the battlefield.
The Israeli Ministry of Defense and Defense Forces put TROPHY™ through a four-year safety certification process before approving its operational use aboard the Merkava MkIV tank in 2010.
Rafael and DRS Technologies say they understand where the U.S. Army wants to go with APS in the future and have designed TROPHY™ with a built-in ability to accept future technologies and capabilities, aligning the non-developmental system well with the Army’s longer-term Modular Active Protection System (MAPS) program. The goal is a modular system into which new and emerging detection and defeat technologies can plug and play.
“Rockets, artillery, mortars, guided anti-tank weapons, those kinds of things are proliferating…so much that to put our Marines and our soldiers out into that kind of environment without that kind of protection…it is getting to the point where we have to have it,” Walsh said.
Israel’s IRON FIST
Israel’s IMISystems has also developed an APS system which uses a multi-sensor early warning system with both infrared and radar sensors.
“Electro-optical jammers, Instantaneous smoke screens and, if necessary, an interceptor-based hard kill Active Protection System,” IMISystems officials state.
IRON FISTcapability demonstrators underwent full end-to-end interception tests, against all threat types, operating on the move and in urban scenarios. These tests included both heavy and lightly armored vehicles.
“In these installations, IRON FIST proved highly effective, with its wide angle protection, minimal weight penalty and modest integration requirements,” company officials said.
Russia’s Afganit Active Protection System (APS)
Russia’s new T-14 Armata tank represents “the most revolutionary step change in tank design in the last half century,” says a leaked report of the British military intelligence obtained by The Sunday Telegraph newspaper in London.”For the first time, a fully automated, digitised, unmanned turret has been incorporated into a main battle tank,” The Sunday Telegraph quotes the report. “And for the first time a tank crew is embedded within an armoured capsule in the hull front.” “As a complete package, Armata certainly deserves its billing as the most revolutionary tank in a generation,” the report says.
Anti-missile countermeasures are also integral to the Armata’s design. T-14 will incorporate several active protection system called Afganit designed to kill incoming missiles before they even strike the tank. Afganit uses a small Doppler radar that operates in tandem with a set of sensors in the infrared spectrum to discover targets and measure the distance to them.
The Afganit microprocessor system calculates the trajectory of the rocket fired at the tank and fires explosive interceptors back at it. Afganit can track multiple targets and prepare to destroy two of them simultaneously. The interceptor tubes have a fuel block and a proximity fuse. Unlike other protection systems, Afganit tubes do not produce shrapnel. They use only the blast wave from the explosion to destroy the incoming missile or cause it to explode early.
UBT/Rheinmetall’s Active Defense System
German defense firms called Rheinmetall and IBD Deisenroth, Germany, joined forces to develop active vehicle protection systems; Rheinmetall AG owns a 74% share, with the remainder held by IBD Deisenroth GmbH.
Described as a system which operates on the “hard kill” principle, the ADS is engineered for vehicles of every weight class; it purports to defend against light antitank weapons, guided missiles and certain improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
“The sensor system detects an incoming projectile as it draws close to the vehicle, e.g. a shaped charge or antitank missile. Then, in a matter of microseconds, the system activates a protection sector, applying directed pyrotechnic energy to destroy the projectile in the immediate vicinity of the vehicle. Owing to its downward trajectory, ADS minimizes collateral damage in the zone surrounding the vehicle,” the company’s website states.
Artis Corporation’s Iron Curtain
A Virginia-based defense firm known as Artis, developer of the Iron Curtain APS system, uses two independent sensors, radar and optical, along with high-speed computing and counter munitions to detect and intercept approaching fire, according to multiple reports. Iron Curtain began in 2005 with the Pentagon’s research arm known as DARPA; the APS system is engineered to defeat enemy fire at extremely close ranges.
The systems developers and multiple reports – such as an account from Defense Review — say that Iron Curtain defeats threats inches from their target, which separates the system from many others which intercept threats several meters out. The aim is to engineer a dependable system with minimal risk of collateral damage to dismounted troops or civilians. The Defense Review report also says that Iron Curtain’s sensors can target destroy approaching RPG fire to within one-meter of accuracy.
“Iron Curtain has already been successfully demonstrated in the field. They installed the system on an up-armored HMMWV (Humvee), and Iron Curtain protected the vehicle against an RPG. Apparently, the countermeasure deflagrates the RPG’s warhead without detonating it, leaving the “dudded” RPG fragments to just bounce off the vehicle’s side. Iron Curtain is supposed to be low weight and low cost, with a minimal false alarm rate and minimal internal footprint,” the Defense Review report states.
The Pentagon has given Herndon, Virginia-based defense solutions company Artis the green light to integrate Israeli radars from Rada Electronic Industries Ltd. into its Iron Curtain close-in active protection system (APS). Netanya, Israel-based Rada announced it would provide its Compact Hemispheric Radar-based RPS-10 radar to support Artis’ active protection against rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) and other shoulder-launched threats.
Zvi Alon, Rada’s CEO, said the firm’s sensors are designed to fit any potential APS system for ground vehicles. “After successful integration and testing of the RPS-10 with an Israel APS (Iron Fist), we are very happy with the opportunity to prove its operability as part of the Iron Curtain.” Dov Sella, Rada’s chief business development officer, noted that Rada’s strategy targets “all APS manufacturers.”
“Because our system is software-defined, we can adapt ourselves to all APS systems. Our radar is product-agnostic and presents a very attractive combination of price and performance. We believe it is one of the world’s most advanced capabilities for detecting threats and transmitting information in real time to APS countermeasures,” Sella said.
US Army seeks Modular Active protection system to Detect, Track and Destroy Enemy Fire
General Dynamics Land Systems, maker of Abrams tanks, is working with the Army to better integrate APS into the subsystems of the Abrams tank, as opposed to merely using an applique system. A particular threat area for Abrams tanks is the need the possibility of having enemy rounds hit its ammunition compartment, thereby causing a damaging secondary explosion. Peck said General Dynamics plans to test an APS system called Trophy on the Abrams tank next year.
The government is investigating across RDECOM science and technology program, Modular Active Protection System (MAPS), which will shift how the Army develops, procures and fields active protection technology. Instead of developing a complete solution for a particular vehicle or threat scenario, an envisioned modular controller will be capable of installation on a variety of ground vehicles.
The MAPS effort establishes an APS Common Architecture (CA) and APS common controller (algorithms and software) applicable across all military vehicles. MAPS is developing the APS CA to have standard interfaces that enable adaptable APS solutions that can be integrated across Army vehicle platforms as required. The APS CA provides the flexibility, potential component commonality and growth capability to enable “Best of Breed” components.
In order to test and validate MAPS and the APS CA, a soft-kill demonstrator and a hardkill/soft-kill demonstrator will be developed and tested in FY17 and FY19, respectively. The goal of this effort is the development and demonstration of an effective APS capability and APS CA that establish and document standardized interfaces, subsystem specifications and a verified and validated APS simulation tool.
The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) is seeking through RFI the availability and development status of technologies capable of providing threat cueing intended to be integrated into a larger Active Protection System for a wide variety of U.S. Army ground vehicles.
The associated sensors and countermeasures will be compatible with the controller, allowing different sensor and countermeasure solutions to be deployed on present and future vehicles. The objective of these cueing sensors is primarily to alert the crew or APS to the launch of an RPG, ATGM, Tank Fire or Recoilless Rifle, and to be able to provide azimuth and elevation of the origin of those threats.
A variety of sensors will be employed on board the vehicle to provide the capability of detecting and tracking multiple munition and directed-energy weapon threats. Signal and information processing technologies will provide the “brains” to enable the vehicle commander to select the most appropriate countermeasures. Countermeasures will include not only active protection but electronic devices, obscurants, decoys, and other technologies for hit and detection avoidance.
The Hit Avoidance Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) Program addressed the challenges of integrating advanced sensing and information technologies into an effective vehicle-mounted survivability system. A key element of this program was the development of a Commander’s Decision Aid (CDA). The CDA provides information processing and resource management capabilities that integrate user, vehicle, and off-board data to classify threats and recommend appropriate countermeasures.
The critical component of an active protection system will be its countermeasure. Countermeasures will provide an effective means of deflection, disruption, or “hard kill” of anti-armor weapon threats such as tank rounds, missiles, and artillery fire. Warheads, armor plates, and other devices launched from vehicle platforms are being developed (or adapted) as potential active protection countermunitions.
Some examples include Momentum Transfer Armor, Multiple Explosively Formed Projectile (EFP) Warhead, Blast Deflection Warhead, and “Birdcatcher” Net. The complete defeat of threats, which are not induced to miss the vehicle, may require some passive base armor on the vehicle to defeat the residual threat following the countermeasure intercept.
Advanced concepts featuring lightweight high-strength materials are being investigated to achieve passive “debris-defeat” mechanisms at acceptable weight densities. Multiple EFP warheads are being developed to provide full spectrum capability to the Army’s future Active Protection System (APS), a global security architecture designed to prevent a ballistic missile threat.
Performance requirements of AP countermeasures and other active protection system components will vary with the types of anti-armor threat, which are primarily categorized into two classes-chemical-energy (CE) and kinetic-energy (KE) munitions. Successful development of active protection systems to defeat CE threats, such as the relatively slow-moving and large-signature missile, poses several technical challenges. Even more challenging, however, are counter-KE systems, which must be considerably more accurate, agile, and robust. The extremely fast-moving and low-signature KE threats must be detected at further distances, tracked at higher data rates, intercepted closer to the vehicle, and ultimately consumed by robust passive base armor on the vehicle.
Despite these technical risks, considerable progress has been made. An extremely sensitive Passive IR Tracking Sensor has demonstrated the ability to accurately track KE projectiles at range rates and data rates at or near the program requirements. Subscale experimentation of the Momentum Transfer Armor, Radial Shaped-Charge Warhead, and Multiple EFP Warhead countermeasures has demonstrated the ability to successfully intercept KE threats.
A challenge with the technology is to develop the proper protocol or tactics, techniques and procedures such that soldiers walking in proximity to a vehicle are not vulnerable to shrapnel, debris or fragments from the explosion between an interceptor and approaching enemy fire.