The U.S. Army will test a German active protection system to defend its armored vehicles from anti-tank rockets.
This marks a European entrant into a U.S. market that has been dominated by Israeli companies who have pioneered active protection system, or APS, technology. In particular, Rafael’s Trophy APS has been chosen by the U.S. Army to equip four brigades’ worth of M1 Abrams tanks, while IMI’s Iron Fist is being integrated into the M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles.
Under the $11 million contract with Germany’s Rheinmetall Protection Systems and U.S.-based Unified Business Technologies, the U.S. Arm’s new Vehicle Protective Systems program office will test Rheinmetall’s StrikeShield APS beginning in October 2020.
“The StrikeShield APS is a distributed, real-time system which was developed to protect the carrying platform against anti-tank rockets and missiles,” according to a Rheinmetall announcement. “It therefore can operate in the immediate vicinity of the vehicle to be protected. Additionally in StrikeShield the technical requirements of large caliber Kinetic Energy (KE) defeat are addressed, which is a unique combination of threats to protect against and reason for the promising overall outlook.”
Trophy works by using radar and electro-optical sensors to detect incoming anti-tank missiles, calculate their trajectory, and fire a salvo of shotgun-like pellets to destroy the missiles before they hit the vehicle. However, Pentagon auditors raised questions last year about the Army’s testing of Trophy, including whether the tests reflected combat conditions, as well as whether the 5,000-pound weight of Trophy would hamper vehicle performance.
Rheinmetall is touting StrikeShield as a hybrid approach that combines active systems, and passive systems that shield the active APS components. “The hybrid protection module allows for an integrated approach: passive protection components simultaneously serve as interface and shield for the components of the active protection system,” the company said. “Conversely, the StrikeShield APS components comprise ballistic functions and characteristics. The external protection layer protects these components against shell fragments, small arms fire and other sources of mechanical stress. The StrikeShield countermeasures are embedded in the first protection plate from the outside and serve simultaneously as part of the first layer of passive protection. The sensors of the system are contained in the space in-between.”
Significantly, Rheinmetall advertises StrikeShield as suitable for both tracked and wheeled vehicles. The U.S. Army is working on multiple new armored vehicle programs, including the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle replacement for the workhorse M113 family of support vehicles, the Mobile Protected Firepower light tank, and the Optionally-Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) replacement for the M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle. The next generation of armored vehicles is likely to be smaller and lighter than the Cold War Abrams and Bradley. This means that a 5,000-pound APS like the Trophy could be a problem for tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, let alone lighter vehicles like the Stryker, for which the Army is facing difficulties finding a suitable APS.
Nor is weight the only problem. While Iron Fist only weighs about 450 pounds – light enough to be mounted on a Bradley – the M2A3 version of the Bradley doesn’t generate enough electrical power to operate Iron Fist, Pentagon auditors warned.
Nonetheless, APS is a much better solution than earlier tank defense technologies, like explosive reactive armor that stopped anti-tank rockets by detonating charges on a tank’s hull (and near infantry standing near the vehicle). More important, tanks are more endangered than ever by smart weapons such as laser-guided anti-tank missiles (Russia claims Trophy can’t stop its missiles). APS gives the armored giants a new lease on life.
Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.
Image: Creative Commons.