Heavily involved in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Army spent the last decade ramping up the force protection for its soldiers. It did so by investing in an array of technologies such as vehicle-borne and man portable Improvised Explosive Device jammers, enhanced armor, double V hulls for Stryker vehicles, remotely operated turrets and sensors to detect snipers and other threats. These investments had the effect of significantly reducing U.S. casualties and enabling ground forces to gain and maintain the initiative in counterinsurgency operations.
The possibility that significant numbers of U.S. ground forces will be involved in combat in the near term is growing. In the Middle East, the weakness of indigenous forces and the continuing strength of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) raises the likelihood that the U.S. will be required to contribute its own ground forces to the fight. ISIS and other terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah have acquired large arsenals of modern anti-tank weapons, some specifically designed to defeat advanced protective armor. In addition, U.S. European Command has just published its theater strategy in which deterrence of Russian aggression is the first priority. The Russian threat is considered so serious and urgent that the U.S. Army is investing tens of millions of dollars to up gun a number of Stryker vehicles deployed to Europe with a more lethal 30mm cannon.
The next step in both protecting and enabling U.S. ground forces is the deployment of an active protection system (APS) on ground vehicles. As the name suggests, unlike existing force protection measures which deal with incoming threats passively, an APS senses an incoming threat such as an anti-tank guided missile or rocket-propelled grenade and deploys a countermeasure to defeat it away from the vehicle. Passive and active force protection measures are complementary and even mutually reinforcing.
There are several versions of an APS the Army can acquire today. One, the Israeli Trophy system, is combat tested. A brigade of Trophy-equipped Merkava tanks were employed during the 2014 conflict with Gaza in extremely complex urban terrain. The Merkavas led the way, providing security against anti-personnel threats. The value of APS was clearly demonstrated; some 15 Merkavas were reportedly attacked with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) or anti-guided missiles (ATGMs) and none were lost. With an APS, Israeli tanks could operate in coordination with dismounted infantry to achieve maximum combat effectiveness.
Trophy employs four very small ELTA-built radars to provide 360 degree coverage. The Trophy can detect RPGs, ATGMs and kinetic rounds from tank cannons and rapidly respond by firing small shaped charges at the incoming target.
Other companies also have seen the logic of providing active protection for both tracked and wheeled vehicles. Similar to Trophy, Raytheon’s Quick Kill employs a multi-mission, fire-control radar to detect and track multiple incoming threats and launch hard-kill countermeasures. Another U.S. company, ARTIS, developed the Iron Curtain system for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Employing both radar and optical sensors, Iron Curtain is reported to be able to defeat incoming threats in close proximity to the defended platform. Iron Curtain has been integrated successfully on the MATV and Humvee.
The Army wants to develop its own modular active protection system (MAPS). The centerpiece of MAPS will be an open-architecture controller that would allow, in theory, the use of any of the above mentioned systems or to employ a mix-and-match approach using components from different APS systems to achieve the optimum defense for each specific type of vehicle.
But even as the Army proceeds with its own developmental program for MAPS, the threats to its vehicles are growing. Consequently, the Army wisely is considering a phased strategy in which it would deploy now one or more non-developmental APS systems on a portion of its vehicle fleets. It makes sense to provide an active protection capability now, particularly for forward deployed or early entry forces while undertaking an effort to develop an improved system. Addition of an APS on a portion of existing vehicle fleets, both combat and support, can be done as part of current upgrade and maintenance activities and involve participation by Army vehicle depots.
The addition now of an APS to the Army’s inventory of force protection measures makes eminent sense. It will improve the deterrent and warfighting capabilities of U.S. ground forces, allow the Army to experiment with this new capability, thereby informing its MAPS development effort, support the technical and industrial base for vehicles and potentially save lives in the event there is a situation that requires “boots on the ground.”
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