One of the keys to an effective counterinsurgency/counterterrorist strategy is the ability to defeat asymmetric threats. In Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. forces have confronted an array of asymmetric weapons intended to defeat armored vehicles including improvised explosive devices (IEDs), mines, rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), and anti-tank missiles. These weapons have caused thousands of casualties and damaged or destroyed hundreds of vehicles. The Israelis learned a similar lesson in their 2006 fight with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Dozens of Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers, including their most advanced main battle tanks, the Merkava 4, were destroyed by advanced anti-tank missiles.
The U.S. has taken aggressive action to counter the new threats. Virtually every soft-skinned vehicle in Iraq has been equipped with armor to reduce the threat from IEDs and RPGs. Many armored vehicles have been provided additional so-called slat armor to create a steel cage effect as an RPG defense. Reactive armor, designed to counter shaped charge warheads on anti-tank missiles is being deployed on Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The Department of Defense has initiated a new program for so-called Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles specifically designed to defeat the range of asymmetric threats that exist in Iraq.
All the solutions described above are essentially passive responses to the threat. What Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon have demonstrated is the need for an active protection system (APS) for armored and unarmored vehicles. All APSs involve a threat detector/tracking module and a defense weapon launcher. An active defense system is technically extremely challenging. The system must detect, accurately classify, closely track and launch a countermeasure within a few seconds regardless of environmental conditions and with an eye towards minimizing collateral damage.
There are a number of APSs being developed. The Israelis are developing the Trophy system which uses a “shotgun-like mass of fragments to defeat RPGs and missiles.” The U.S. Army has selected the Raytheon Corporation’s Quick Kill APS for deployment on the Stryker wheeled combat vehicle and the Future Combat System. One reason the Army selected the Quick Kill system is that it utilizes a “pop and pitch” interceptor, meaning that the interceptor launches vertically from the vehicle, pitches over, and intercepts and attacks the threat from above to destroy it. A vertical attack maneuver ensures that debris from the intercepted weapon is deflected downward, thereby minimizing the risk of fratricide or collateral damage. With a sixteen shot magazine and 360 degree coverage, Quick Kill is designed to defeat multiple, near simultaneous threats from any direction.
Some have criticized the Army for not adopting the Israeli Trophy system. Yet, in a shoot-off involving multiple systems, Quick Kill proved superior. Moreover, an independent study by the Institute for Defense Analyses concluded that Quick Kill is “considered to be more responsive to the very tight threat engagement timelines for certain types of threats.”
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